Hymettus – Kesariani before the emigration
Topography – Name
Every small and long story about Kesariani has Hymettus as a starting point. Hymettus is a mountain that forms a dividing wall between the basin of Athens and the plain of the Mediterranean areas that have been inhabited since the Neolithic Period (6th millennium).
It covers a total area of 81,230 acres and has a length of 20 km, stretching from Agia Paraskevi and Glyka Nera to Voula and Vari.
The mountain is divided by a large gorge into two parts. The north part, the Big Hymettus, with the highest peak of Evzonas at an altitude of 1,026 meters, and the southern part, known as anhydrated Hymettus or Elattonas, that reaches a height of 774 meters.
Hymettus has always served as a meteorological barometer, which means that by observing the peak of the mountain they would predict the weather (Theophrastus : <<On signs, water and spirits>> Γ 43).
Various ethnicities that inhabited or conquered Attica gave different names to Hymettus.
The Greeks named the mountain <<Crazy>>,the Turks named it <<Deli Dag>> which meant crazy mountain, and the Franks named it <<Monte Matto>> (crazy mountain) which is obviously an alteration of the original <<Monte Ymeto>>. All three of these names reveal the instability of the clouds at the summit of the mountain, which -as we already mentioned- was an indicator of the weather changes, according to the empirical meteorology of those times. According to another interpretation, the name <<Trelos>> (crazy) derives from the french words ‘très long’ which mean ‘ very elongated’.
In ‘Faidros’, Plato’s dialogue, it is stated that on the shady shores of the river Eridanus that starts from Hymettus:
<< The dryades, the amadryades, the nayades, the oryades worshiped music and dancing. The passers-by that would listen to those elves’ songs would loose their mind>>.
In mythology it is also mentioned that while the goddess Athena was bathing herself in the river of Ilissos, she was attacked by Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen that had fallen in love with her. She started to run towards the slopes of the mountain to get rid of him, but Hephaestus followed her. In order to repel him Athena injured his leg with her spear and got him lame. But his semen fell on her leg, so she wiped it with a piece of woolen fabric, turned it into a sack ant threw it on the land. The land was fertilized, and that’s how Erichthon was born.
Another ancient myth describes Prokrida’s murder by her husband Kefalos. Prokrida was the daughter of Erechtheus, the king of Athens. According to the myth, when Kefalos went hunting on Hymettus, he used to call for the cloud to come and help him, with the phrase <<Oh produgenos cloud>>. His wife was spying on him and thought he was adressing these words to his mistress. She tried to see her through the bushes but she accidentally shook the bushes. Kefalos thought she was a prey, he struck her with his lance and killed her
(Red Crater of 430-440 BC, exhibited at the British Museum and depicting the death of Proskrida)
Since the prehistorical times there was an excellent bioclimatic zone on the west side of the mountain. An ecosystem of exceptional beauty, with plenty of water and game.
According to archaeological discoveries (blades and pieces of obsidian stone) the area was inhabited from the Neolithic Age, while the name of the mountain itself is of pre-Hellenic origin (as the end-point proves).
Herodotus mentions pelasgian settlements in Hymettus and the surrounding areas: Sfitos, Kikina, Aixoni, Skyrides, Pera etc. (without mentioning the exact location and time).
When Athens begins to develop economically and culturally, the whole area of Hymettus appears as a center of worship of the ancient gods, but also as a place strongly related to health, because of the Hymettus springs that had healing properties.
The first written references of the name Ymittos (Hymettus) come from ancient sources such as Herodotus’ texts. Herodotus mentions the pelasgian settlements near the Ymittos mountain, such as Sfitos, Pera, Aixoni and others.
The traveler Pafsanias reports that there was a statue of Hymettus Zeus on Hymettus, as well as the altars of Oborus Zeus and Proopsios Apollo.
(Attica: “On the Hymettus, the statue is of Zeus the Hymettius, altars are also there of the gods Zeus and Apollo, the advent of the Epistle”).
Pafsanias also affirms that the Hymettus vegetation was very suitable for bees. He actually says : “Among all Athens’ mountains, Ymittos is the one full of bees, very hard-working but still humble …”
Theophrastus in “On signs, water and spirits” also mentions the altars of Oborus Zeus and Proopsios Apollo on Hymettus.
According to the information we have, the sanctuary of Aphrodite was located on the site of today’s Kalopoula.
Agriculture and livestock farming completed the list of people’s activities.
In the 8th century BC significant parts of land at the foot of Hymettus were conceded, and then the tithe tax was imposed (the tax that represents 1/10 of the crop).
In the 6th century BC Peisistratus, a tyrant of Athens, exempts from the taxation of the tithe especially the settlers of Ymittos, the breeders, the farmers and all the other users of the area.
In Pisistratos’ times, in 530 BC, a 2.800 meters long aqueduct was constructed, and it pumped water from the sources of Hymettus. In addition to that, a distribution network was created –it was the one providing water to the famous Enneakrounos- and blast-holes were placed in the area. Water was by then abundant and sufficient to meet the needs of the inhabitants of Athens.
In the 5th century BC Plato reports that the mountains of Attica are so degraded that they resemble bones of a sick human being.
In the 4th century BC the quarries of Hymettus were in operation.
At these times of great reconstruction of Athens, the main matters that were exploited were the high quality blue-marble of Hymettus and the yellowish limestone.
During Hellenistic and Roman times, Hymettus continued -to some extent- to preserve its glory as a spiritual, philosophical and religious center.
The Roman poet Ovidios visited Kalopouta in 26 BC and was very impressed by this place. He wrote the following verses about it:
<< Near the flower wreaths and diminishing hills
of Hymettus, a sweet sacred fountain anticipates death
The green edge full of fresh grass
The dense forest spreads its freshness
and the smell of laurel, myrrh and incense dance in a circle
bees transform myrrh into food.
There, under the gentle sound of foliage
the discreet and modest cypresses sway secretly under the density
in the middle of the tender bushes
And when the vivid wind waves its branches
its foliage gently whistles of enjoyment
and sing a secret psalm >>
Byzantium – Latin States
The emergence and consolidation of Christianity accosiated the city of Athens with idolatry. This fact –as expected- degraded the spiritual functions of the city. The region went through a period of stagnation, and then subsequent changes occured. The privileges of Athenians were respected by Constantine the Great and also by Mega Theodosius, Arkadios and Theodosios the little, despite the measures they took against the Olympic Games, the Ceremonies of Eleusina etc.
In 529 AD the autonomy of Athens was abolished by Iustinus. Iustinus used financial coercion to close the philosophical school of Athens, and this marked the end of Athens as a city of wisdom.
During the Byzantine period, several monasteries and chapels appeared, such as the Monastery of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary (known as “Kesariani Monastery”), the Monastery of Taxiarches (or “Monastery of Asterios”), the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, St. George Koutaleas Koutala and others.
The churches were built on the basis of scattered ruins of ancient temples, and perhaps on the locations of old “Tutorials”, which were philosophical schools (Michael Choniates refers to them in the 13th century). All these constructions consist proof of a steady human presence from antiquity to Byzantium.
According to archaeological research, the Kesariani Monastery was built in the 11th century AD. For many centuries it remained a landmark for the region, and gave its name to the city that was first founded in 1923 by refugees from Asia Minor.
The Kesariani monastery had a rich library and was an important center of philosophy, where the influential philosophers and scholars of the time taught (Georgios Plethon Gemistos etc.).
For more information click here Byzantine monuments of Kesariani
During the long period of Western occupation -well-known as Frankish rule- the functions and activities of the Monasteries of the region degraded. Athens experienced the French sovereignty (1205-1311), the Catalonian sovereignty (1311-1387) and the Florencial sovereignty (1387-1456). During the latter, the Venetians also prevailed for a short period of 8 years.
In 1458 the Turks conquer Athens and establish their domination. The famous Turkish traveler Evliya Tselebi devotes a few lines to Athens in his book “Journey to Greece”: “At the foot of Deli-Dag (meaning” mountain of the mad “, ie Hymettus) there is an old and famous monastery. Christians gather there and perform their religious ceremonies. Throughout the country of the disbelievers, the monastery is known as the Koch-bassi (head of ram). And you can not find anywhere else in the world such a nice climate and such clear water”.
Αn engraving of Hymettus of the 17th century
The temple of Agrotera Artemis in Ilissos, today’s Mets, near the road leading from Athens to Hymettus. 1808, J. Stuart et N. Revett Source: Laskaridis Foundation
After the founding of the Greek state (1832) and the establishment of Athens as the capital in 1834, due to the successive changes, until the end of the 19th century, the western slope of Ymittos was not inhabited or developed in the slightest.
During the period of Ottoman rule, they even closed the Monasteries of Hymettus by a decree that ordered the closure of all Monasteries that had fewer than six monks of the Greek territory. This led to withering and disaster.
View of the Sponsoring Monument of Thrasyllos (Panagia Spiliotissa). On the right we can distinguish the Adrian Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus 1843 – 1844.
(Edition 1867 – REY Version, Etienne. Voyage pittoresque en Grèce et dans le Levant fait en 1843-1844. Par E. Rey, peintre, & A. Chenavard, architecte, Professeurs à l‘Ecole des Beaux–Arts de Lyon, membres de l‘Academie des Sciences, Belles–Lettres Arts de ladite Ville, correspondants de plusieurs autres sociétés savantes, et Dalgabio, architecte. Journal de Voyage. Dessins et planches lithographiées par Etienne Rey, τ. Ι–ΙΙ, Λυόν, Louis Perrin, MDCCCLXVII [=1867]).
In the mid-19th century, according to the description of archaeologist Edmund About, Hymettus is “a sad mountain […] neither a tree nor a hill”
Alexandros Papadiamantis’s story “The Miracle of Kesariani” (1901) is particulary informative. It also refers to the popular belief in the miraculous water of the sources of Hymettus:
“It was a beautiful cave, on an enormous rock, with a gray color, which was spreading freshness all around. All we could smell was thyme, pine trees and wild shrubs. A crowd of people, a bunch of women, many men and even more children, some of them were standing, others were sitting, some were sick of various diseases, really messed-up, they were there and prayed. The water was cool, fresh water, holy water. The smell of that place was unique… “.
(The story of the great prose writer refers to the chapel of Ascension, just above the Kesariani Monastery).
The location of today’s Kesariani was herbaceous and had no trees left due to the systematic logging and husbandry. It was rocky, wooded and deserted. The only exception to that were the sources of the river Iridanus (the river doesn’t exist anymore), where we could find abundant vegetation and rich fauna along with the wooded slopes of Hymettus.All this wide area – which was not a pasture – was mainly used by the military, but it also served the needs of the state.
Up to the site of today’s Hilton hotel there were military facilities. In eastern Athens, in Goudi and Ilisia, there were barracks. From the late 19th century the residential web covered an area up to the homes of Mesolongi Square in Pagkrati and the small settlement of Zografos.
The Syngrou Hospital (which was donated by Iphigenia A. Syngrou in memory of her husband Andrea Syngrou, and was inaugurated in 1910) complemented the image of the area. The hospital was used to treat deprived people that suffered from sexually transmitted diseases.
The 1920 census shows only 11 residents in the settlement. According to oral testimonies, from the beginning of the 20th century these residents lived in the area opposite the Primary Schools on Iros Kostantopoulou Street. There were also individual shepherds and small dwellings on Formionos Street’s hill.
In the area where the church of Ag. Nicholas was later built, there were warehouses of war material and three state drugstores.On the foot of Hymettus, in the area of the Wilt Station (in the location of today’s cemetery), there were military installations.A decision to reforestate the pine-covered area of Kessariani was taken in 1917. However the reforestation never took place, as the tragedy of Asia Minor in 1928 brought an enormous wave of refugees, many of which created settlements in the areas that were to be reforestated.