The National Garden
The National Garden has small ponds, narrow paths and tall trees which offer plenty of oxygen and whose shade offers a welcoming place for people to sit and relax. While walking down the many narrow paths inside the garden you have the feeling that you are in the countryside and not just a few feet away from the centre of Athens. This green oasis does not only have a historically notable name, but also a complex and interesting history.
Let us then begin with its history. Once upon a time, there was a king whose name was Othon, the first king of modern Greece. In accordance with his own Bavarian heritage, the King decided to build a palace right in the centre of Athens that would be more impressive than the one in Versailles and at the same time reflect the nobility of Greece. The result was the building that now houses the Greek Parliament. Nearby he decided to build (1839-40) the first official park. He first called upon the French botanist and landscape designer Louis Barrault to supervise the construction of this huge garden. When Barrault tired from all the planting, Prussian botanist Friedrich Schmidt assumed the responsibility of finishing the task. Schmidt had studied under the Bavarian Smarat and had the brilliant idea of transporting an estimated 15,000 plants from Genova. The King asked Gerasimos Metaxas, an engineer with the Greek army, to do all the technical work, that is build the narrow pathways, the ponds, complete the paving, and of course take care of the plumbing. Yet, nothing would have been completed on time if it were not for Othon's wife, Queen Amalia. The garden's design and the planting took some time, as it was not easy to transport so many plants and have the irrigation system ready to water them all. Initially, only 3 hectares were planted with the 15,000 plants from Italy. Later on, plants were brought from France, Spain, Germany, Algeria, Egypt and other nearby countries. Many species of ornamental plants that are now very popular in Greece were first planted on Greek soil in the National Garden. The same holds true for many species of the Greek flora, not to mention the palm trees which still give the National Garden its distinctive quality. In 1851-52 all the area that we see today was completed. In 1860, a committee of town planners charged with the city plan finalized the garden's boundaries and formalised its use, and in 1927, the garden ceased to be a private royal garden and became a public park, open to the public. It was during that time that it was rechristened the National Garden.
A Cultural Garden
The National Garden is not only a place where you can enjoy a breath of fresh air. Queen Amalia wanted the park to include cultural elements as well, to be a place that would make her walks spiritually as well as physically invigorating. So, inside the park you will find:
- A children's library with two reading rooms and nearly 6,000 books. One of the reading rooms is for reading stories and listening to music and the other, - the entrance hall -- is specially designed to acquaint its young visitors with its books and various activities. The first Saturday every month the group "Paramithosentouko" (story chest) organizes readings of Greek traditional fairytales accompanied by live music. The library is open daily from 9.00 - 15.00, except Sunday and Monday (Tel: 210-3236503).
- A playground in a large space (half a hectare) on the east side of the park (near Irodou Attikou Street) for lots of fun and games.
- A small collection of animals and birds (also on the east side of the park) consisting of ducks, geese, guinea fowl, peacocks, parrots, wild goats, a donkey, etc.
- A small botanical museum, featuring a collection of specimens of the ornamental plants present in the park.
- A sun dial located at the Amalias Avenue entrance so that you always know what time it is!
- The mosaic floor of a Roman villa (425 m2) located near the Vassilissis Sofias Avenue entrance.
- The remains of Roman baths which are located near the children's library. There is a section of the marble epistyle (with a Latin inscription) of the Adrian aqueduct which is in the area of Kolonaki.
- The iron polygonal seat of Queen Amalia which is located on a high rock (near the playground), where she used to sit and admire the ancient monuments.
- Six busts of historical figures (poets, politicians, musicians, etc.)
- Five trellises with climbing plants, the biggest of which (near the artificial cave) has got a pebble floor (465 m2) and a small fountain.
- Six small ponds, the biggest of which (around 1,000 m2) is located in the centre of the park and has got a wooden bridge, a small waterfall, and two small islets, which double as fountains. These ponds also function as water reservoirs for watering the entire area.
- And so the story ends and they lived happily ever after in our magical garden.
For Adults and Children
The National Garden is a park ideal for walking. It is located in the centre of Athens, next to Syntagma Square. It is open from sunrise to sunset and there is no admission fee. There are four different entrances: one on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, one Irodou Attikou Street, one on Vassilissis Amalias Avenue, and a small side entrance from the Zappeion Gardens. You can get there on lines 2 and 3 of the Athens Metro (Syntagma stop), by tram, by trolleybus, and by bus. (For more information, call 185 or visit www.ethel.gr, www.oasa.gr, www.ametro.gr, www.isap.gr, www.athens-trolley.gr). National Garden, 1 Amalias Avenue, 105 57 Athens. Tel:+30 210 7215019, +30 210 7216542; fax: +30 210 7215019)
How big is the National Garden?
The National Garden covers a total area of 15.4 hectares and it is a closed park with huge areas with trees and plants which alternate with narrow, shaded pathways. Its pathways have a combined total length of 7.5 km. The clumps of trees and bushes and the flower-beds cover an area of 12 hectares. There are 7,000 trees - and 40,000 bushes in the park, 25 percent of which are deciduous and 75 percent evergreen. Of all the ornamental species (trees, bushes, climbing and mossy plants), 100 are part of the Greek flora and 400 have come from abroad. The first two hothouses in Greece were built in the National Garden, while the water used for irrigation comes from an ancient aqueduct, originally built by Peisistratos, the ancient tyrant, (6th century BC) which provides 1,085 m3 of water a day, with the help of five wells, each giving 315 m3 of water.
The Rebuilding Begins
Given that such a long time has passed from the time the National Garden was built, the Greek authorities have decided that the time has come for a general overhaul of the whole park. For that reason, a group of 14 scientists from the National Technical University of Athens will be in charge of the entire process. In about 18 months, all the unpaved pathways will be paved, all the other pathways and squares will have their paving replaced, the zoo buildings will be renovated and, finally, the playground will be expanded. Plans also call for the installation of a drainage system, new lighting, water purification system, filters and biological processes. There will also be specially designated areas to promote environmental awareness. When it is finished, the National Garden of Athens will be on a par with the greatest parks in Europe. The story goes on.
Getting to Know the Park
To avoid getting lost among the narrow pathways, you can always call +30 210 3231841 to get information on scheduled guided tours. The point of departure for these tours is at the Vassilissis Sofias Avenue entrance.