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OLYMPUS NATIONAL PARK

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OLYMPUS NATIONAL PARK




OLYMPUS THE FIRST NATIONAL PARK

In 1938, Olympus, the highest Greek mountain, the residence of the twelve ancient gods, was the first area which was declared as a National Park. About 50 years ago a special regime was enforced to protect this unique part of the country.

The aim was the preservation of the natural environment; of the flora, fauna and natural landscapes, as well as of its cultural and other values. Scientific research had to be supported and people had to become aware of the environmental conditions. Furthermore tourism had to be developed in the widerarea.

Scientific laws prohibit any kind of exploitation in the east side of the mountain, about 10,000 acres, which constitutes the core of the National Park. The wider area around it was designated as “peripheral zone of the National Park” so that its management and exploitation won’t affect negatively the protection of the core.

Today, after special studies the National Park is about to be extended to 43,000 acres. The core shal also be extended so as to include specific areas which need rigorous protection.

Olympus is internationally known for its important ecological characteristics and incomparable natural beauty as well as for its strong relationship with ancient Greek mythology. The importance of the National Park has been recognized not only in Greece and Europe but all over the world. In 1981 UNESCO declared “Olympus a Biosphere Reserve”. The European Community has included Olympus in the list of “the Most Importance Bird areas of the European Comunity”.

The designation of Olympus as a National Park was a good beginning. Today there are ten National Parks all over the country which include an excellent variety of biotopes and a unique collection of wild life.

Other types of areas protected by the Ministry of Agriculture are 19 “Aesthetic Forests” and 51 “Protected Natural Monuments”.

MITHOLOGY - HISTORY

The shape of Olympus, the polymorphous and changeable beauty of its nature, the fog covered peaks and low clowds bringing about frequent the under storms filled people with awe and admiration from ancient times. There are recent archeological finds that go back to the Iron Age. Prehistoric man chose to live at the foot of this glorious mountain. Inspired by the mystery he created the legends that gave birth to the Twelve Greek Gods.

The twelve gods live in ravines, <the mysterious folds of Olympus> according to Homer. They have their palaces there. Panthenon (today’s Myticas) is their meeting place. Their tempestuous discussion are heard by the god of gods Zeus sitting on his imposing throne (today’s Stefani). From there he unlooses his thunders to show <his godly wrath>. In Iliad Olympus is described as magnificent long glorious and full of trees.

At the foot of the mountain 5 kilometres from the sea a sacred Macedonian city is dedicated to Zeus (Dias) and is called Dion. It is estimated that it flourished between the 5th century B.C. and the 5th century A.C. The excavations that started in 1928 and are still going revealed archeological finds of the Macedonian, Greek and Roman Era. They are exhibited in the museum of Dion. Piblia and Livithra are two more ancient cities near Olympus and are closely related to the legend of Orpheus and the Orphic Secret ceremonies. Near the sea strategically placed stands the castle of Platamona. It was built between the 7th and 10th centuries A.C. in the ancient city of Heraclea.

The history of Olympus continued being turbulent even under the Turkish occupation. The mountain was used as a hiding place for the famous “armatol” fighting the “yoke of the tyrant”. During the German invasion in 1941, the Greek army along with Australian and New Zealand units fought important battles. Later on the Greek Resistance found a nestling place there.

The whole Pierian Olympus has been declared an archeological and historical place in order to preserve its monumental and historical physiognomy.

THE SPECIAL INTERESTS OF THE NATIONAL PARK

The natural features, the scenic beauty, the mythology, the history of Olympus can appeal to any visitor depending on his interests and age:

- The mountain climber will find difficult steep slopes to enjoy.

- The hiker will have the opportunity to admire the continually changing scenery and the big variety of plants and animals.

- The scientist will see and study the geology, geomorphology, ecology, the flora and the fauna.

- The children will get to know and love nature early caring for its protection.



GETTING TO THE NATIONAL PARK

The mountain range of Olympus is situated in the centre of continental Greece and it is easily accessible through the highway and railway networks of Athens-Thessaloniki, as well as by secondary roadsconnecting the towns and villages round the mountains.

There are some forest roads, and several paths in the Park that offer the visitor the opportunity to get into close contact with the extremely diverse vegatation and landscape. Experienced climbes can also find special routes up the steep slopes.

Two beautiful mountain path starts from Litochoro and go up to the top of the mountain. The first follows the Enipeas ravine and the visitor, after five hours walk reaches the site “Prionia” (attitude 1,100 m.), where there are facilities for rest and information. This site, “Prionia” also is accesible by car, after a drive of 18 km from Litochoro. At the 4 th km of this route there is a guard-house, where the visitor can get information about the National Park.

At the 10 th km of the same route from Litochoro, at the site “Stavros” there is the mountain resort of “Dim. Boudolas” (altitude 944 m.). Along the road there are some car parking places and view points.

Four kilometers before the end of the road, at the site “Gortsia”, where there is a car parking site, the visitor will find the beginning of one of the paths that leads to the highest peak of Olimpus. After a five hours walk the mountaineer reaches the “Mouses” plateau at an altitude of 2,600 m., where he can rest at the two refuges to be found in the area, the “Giossos Apostolidis” and “Christos Kakalos”. The rest of the journey to the top is easy and takes about one hour walk.

Another interesting walk to the top of Olympus stars from “Prionia” and the mountaineer can reach the resort of “Spilios Agapitos” (altitude 2,100 m.) after two and a half hours walk. From there the path leads to the highest peak of Olympus after again a two and a half hours walk.

On his way up the visitor can have moments of rest near springs and can find informative signs in various spots as well as guiding maps.

THE PLANTS AND ANIMALS OF THE OLYMPUS NATIONAL PARK

The plant research of Olympus started about 150 years ago. In 1836 the French botanist Aucher Eloy started studying Olympus plants. Many other scientists continued his studies. More than 1,700 kinds of plants have been recorded up to now, that is 25% of the Greek flora.

Most of those plants exist in low altitudes. They are the usual Mediterranean and centre-European kinds. The tree fossil, Jankaea heldreichii, from the glacial era presents great interest to the scientists. In the treeless alpine zone there are 150 kinds of plants. Half of those can be found only in the Balkan Peninsula and 23 in Olimpus and nowhere else.

The fauna hasn’t been studied systematically yet. There are however 32 kinds of mammals that have been recorded. Some of them are The wild goat (Rupicapra rupicapra), the deer (Capreolus capreolus), the wild boar (Sus scrofa), the wild cat (Felis silvestris), the ferret (Martes foina), the fox (Vulpes vulpes), the squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris); 108 kinds of birds have been spotted. Many of these, especially the birds of prey, are rare and strictly protected under international agreements.

There are also the usual reptiles of the Greek region (snakes, tortoises, lizards, etc.) and some amphibians in the gullies and the seasonal lakes. Olympus is famous for its big variety of insects especially butterflies.

It is believed that lions existed in ancient times (Pafsanias) and up to the 16th century bears roamed about the mountain.




THE GEOLOGICAL EVOLUTION OF OLYMPUS

Olympus is a relatively newly formed mountain. It’s age is not more than 200,000,000 years old. It is a rather small mountain with a roundish shape. About 200,000,000 years ago the biggest part of Greece was lying in a shallow sea. Today’s rocky ground includes many elements that were formed there. Different geological events that followed caused the emmersion of the whole area.

1,000,000 years ago glaciers covered the mountain. Because of the rise of the temperature, the ice melted and torrents were created dragging down big quantities of fragmented rock and forming alluvium.

The influence of rain and wind in combination with the violent outbursts of nature created today’s shape of Olympus that stands like a gigantic castle in the northern part of Thessalia.

The complex geological history of the area becomes evident from the geomorphology of the whole mountain: 52 peaks (the lowest 760 metres, Paleokastro, and the highest 2,917 metres Myticas) wide gorges, deep ravines (Mavrologos, Makrirema, Xerolaki, etc.) amphitheatrical glens (small and big Kazania, small and big Gourna, Dristela) caves and precipices many of which are still unexplored.

The climate favours the emergence of many brooks, small seasonal lakes and a small river named Enipea whose springs are in Prionia and its estuary in the Aegean Sea.

CLIMATE AND VEGETATION

The climate of Olympus in the lower areas is typically Mediterranean hot and dry during the summer and humid during the winter. It changes though as you get higher. It becomes more humid and colder. As a result there is snow and rain not only during the winter months but sometimes during the summer ones as well. The temperature varies from -10°C to -20°C in winter and from 0°C to 20°C in summer. Windy weather is an everyday phenomenon.

Vegetation differs because of the slopes being at different altitudes facing different directions. Furthermore, the short distance from the sea, only 20 km, and the great difference in altitude from the sea level contributes to the creation of various types of vegetation with many peculiarities.

There are four different vegetation zones without clear boundaries between them.

In the Mediterranean zone (altitude 300 to 500m) there are the most common kinds of holm oak (Quercus ilex), the Greek strawberry tree (Arbutus adrachnae), the kermes oak (Juniprus oxycedrus) etc. There are also certain kinds of decidous trees: the flowering ash (Fraxinus ornus), the Montpellier maple (Acer monspessulanum) and turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus).

From 600 to 1700m is the second zone. Main type of vegetation is the black pine (Pinus nigra var pallasiana) that forms massive clumps. In smaller groups appear: The King Bori’s fir (Abies hybridogenus), the beech tree (Facus moesiaca), few wych elm (Ulmus glabra), the cherry elm (Prunus cerasifera), the yew (Taxus baccata), the hazel (Coryllus avellana), the cornelian cherry (Cormus mas) and a significant selection of mossy plants. The ravines and the gullies are covered with oriental plane (Platanus orientalis), grey sallow (Salix cinerea), alder wood and riparian vegetation.

Over the altitude of 1,400m. there are coniferous, that can survive in cold climates, such as: A rare pine called Pinus heldreichii which replaces the black pine gradually and creates an unmixed with any other trees forest up to 2,000m.

At the altitude of 2,500m. and up to the highest peak a mosaic of alpine ecosystem replaces the coniferous zone. In the meadows on the rocks and the steep slopes grow some of the most beautiful wild flowers.



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