Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and the second highest mountain in the Balkans. It is located in the Olympus Range on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, between the regional units of Pieria and Larissa, about 80 km (50 mi) southwest from Thessaloniki. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks, deep gorges, and exceptional biodiversity. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning “nose”, rises to 2,919 metres (9,570 ft). It is one of the highest peaks in Europe in terms of topographic prominence.
Olympus was notable in Greek Mythology as the home of the Twelve Olympians, on the Mytikas peak. Mount Olympus is also noted for its very rich flora with several species. It has been the first National Park of Greece, since 1938, and a World’s Biosphere Reserve.
Every year thousands of people visit Olympus to admire its nature, to tour its slopes, and reach its peaks. Organized mountain refuges and various mountaineering and climbing routes are available to visitors, who want to explore its nature. The usual starting point for it is the town of Litochoro, on the eastern foothills of the mountain, 100 km from Thessaloniki, where, in the beginning of every summer, the Mountain Olympus Marathon terminates.
The shape of Olympus was formed by rain and wind, which produced an isolated tower almost 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) above the sea, which is only 18 kilometres (11 mi) away at Litochoro. Olympus has many peaks and an almost circular shape. Satellite photo of Olympus’ region
The mountain has a circumference of 150 kilometres (93 mi), an average diameter of 26 kilometres (16 mi), and 600 square kilometres (230 sq mi) of area. To the northwest lies the Vlach village of Kokkinoplou. The Makryrema stream separates Olympus from the massif of Voulgara. The villages Petra Vrontou and Dion lie to the northwest, while on the eastern side there is the town of Litochoro, where Enipeas bisects the massif of Olympus. On its southeastern side, the Ziliana gorge divides Mount Olympus from Kato Olympos (Lower Olympus), while on its southwestern foothills, there are the
villages Sykaminea and Karya. The Aghias Triadas Sparmou Monastery and the village Pythion lie to the west.
Olympus’ dry foothills are known as the Xirokampi, containing chaparral and small animals. Further east, the plain of Dion is fertile and watered by the streams that originate on Olympus.
Olympus is one of the relatively later mountains of Greece, as it is estimated that the age of its main rock formations is no more than 20 million years, when the greatest part of Greece (and the Mediterranean Sea) was in the bottom of a shallow sea, where the main materials were deposited, that later formed the current rock formations. Various geological events that followed caused the emergence of the whole region and the sea. Around one million years ago glaciers covered Olympus and created its plateaus and depressions. With the temperature rise that followed the ice was melted and the streams that were created swept away large quantities of crushed rock in the lowest places, forming the alluvial fans, that spread out all over the region from the foothills of the mountain to the sea.
The complicated geological past of the region is obvious on the morphology of Olympus and its National Park. Features include deep gorges and dozens of smooth peaks, many of them in altitude of more than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), including Aghios Antonios (2,815 metres (9,236 ft)), Kalogeros
(2,700 metres (8,900 ft)), Toumpa (2,801 metres (9,190 ft)) and Profitis Ilias (2,803 metres (9,196 ft)). However it is the central, almost vertical, rocky peaks, that impress the visitor, over Litochoro, where the relief of the mountain displays on the horizon an apparent V, between two peaks of almost equal height. In the left limb is Mytikas (or Pantheon – 2,918 metres (9,573 ft)), Greece’s highest peak, and on the right one Stefani (or Thronos Dios (Throne of Zeus – 2,902 metres (9,521 ft)), that presents the most impressive and steep peak of Olympus, with its last sharply rising 200 meters presenting the greatest challenge for climbers. Further south, Skolio (second highest peak – 2,912 metres (9,554 ft)) completes an arc of about 200 degrees, with its steep slopes forming on the west side, like a wall, an impressive precipitous amphitheatrical cavity, 700 metres (2,300 ft) in depth and 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in circumference, the ‘Megala Kazania’. On the east side of the high peaks the steep slopes form zonelike parallel folds, the ‘Zonaria’. Even narrower and steeper scorings, the ‘Loukia’, lead to the peak.
Οn the north side, between Stefani and Profitis Ilias, extends the Muses’ Plateau, at 2,550 metres (8,370 ft), while further south, almost in the center of the massif, extends the alpine tundra region of Bara, at an altitude of 2,350 metres (7,710 ft).
Olympus has numerous ravines and gullies. Most distinguishable of the ravines are those of Mavrologos-Enipeas (14 km) and Mavratzas-Sparmos (13 km) near Bara and ‘cut’ the massif in two oval portions. On the southern foothills the great gorge of Ziliana, 13 km long, consists of a natural limit that separates the mountain from Lower Olympus. There are also many precipices and a number of caves, even nowadays unexplored. The form and layout of the rocks favor the emergence of numerous springs, mainly lower than 2,000 m, of small seasonal lakes and streams and of a small river, Enipeas, with its springs in the site Prionia and its estuary in the Aegean Sea.
There are multiple theories for the origin of the name: “sky”, “bright”, “high”, “rock”. One theory holds that Olympus is a prehellenic toponym that simply means “mountain”. In Turkish, the mountain is known as “Semavatevi”, meaning “heavens’ house”.
In Greek mythology Olympus was the home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world. In myth, Olympus formed after the gods defeated the Titans in the Titan War, and soon the place was inhabited by the gods. It is the setting of many Greek mythical stories. The Twelve Olympian gods lived in the gorges, where there were also their palaces. Pantheon (today Mytikas) was their meeting place and theater of their stormy discussions. The Throne of Zeus (today Stefani) hosted solely him, the leader of the gods. From there he unleashed his thunderbolts, expressing his godly wrath. The Twelve Olympians included also Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaestus. Ιn Iliad Olympus is referred as great, long, brilliant and full of trees.
In Pieria, on Olympus’ northern foot, the mythological tradition had placed the nine Muses, patrons of the Fine Arts, daughters of Zeus and the Titanide Mnemosyne : Calliope (Epic Poetry), Clio (History), Erato (Love Poetry), Euterpe (Music), Melpomene, (Tragedy), Polyhymnia (Hymns), Terpsichore (Dance), Thalia (Comedy) and Urania (Astronomy).
History of Olympus has been turbulent, as its surrounding area was not only a sacred shrine but also a battlefield for the control of the access from Thessaly to Macedonia in ancient times. In the period of the Ottoman Empire the mountain had been a hiding place and base of operations of klephts
In Olympus the second armatoliki was founded, led by Kara Michalis in 1489. The action of the klephts in Olympus led the Turks to break out their outrage at the klephts’ ally-village of Milia (in the late 17th century), which they destroyed. In that period Livadi in Olympus became seat of the
armatoliki of Olympus and Western Macedonia, with his first renowned commander Panos Zidros. In the 18th century the Turks had to replace the armatoloi (who very often joined the klephts) with Moslem Albanian armatoloi who ravaged the countryside of Macedonia. Howevers Olympus’ armatoloi,
even after their capitulation to Ali Pasha, never ceased fighting on land and at sea. Among them who were active there and in nearby regions are Nikotsaras, Giorgakis Olympios and the legendary family of Lazaioi.
In the early 20th century, even for some time after the liberation from the Ottoman Empire (1912), robbers activated in the region – best known of them the notorious Giagoulas, while during the German invasion in 1941 the Greek army fought significant battles along with units of New Zealanders and Australians. During the German Occupation (1941 – 1944) the mountain was one of the centers of the Greek Resistance, while a little later the Greek Civil War (1946 – 1949) started here, in Litochoro.
Most probably ancient Greeks never tried to climb Olympus’ peaks Pantheon and the Throne of Zeus (currently called Mytikas and Stefani respectively), which they considered to be the Twelve Olympians’ home. But surely they reached the nearest peak, nowadays called Aghios Antonios, from where they had a view of the two peaks and where they left offerings, as recent archaeological findings indicate. In the modern era, a series of explorers tried to study the mountain and to reach, unsuccessfully, its summit. Examples include the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey (1855), the German
explorer Heinrich Barth (1862), and the German engineer Edward Richter. Richter tried to reach the summit in 1911 but was abducted by klephts, who also killed the Ottoman gendarmes that accompanied him. This was probably politically motivated, as the region was still under Ottoman control.
It was just one year after the liberation of Greece from Ottoman rule, on 2 August 1913, that the until then untrodden summit of Olympus was finally reached. The Swiss Frederic Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy, aided by a hunter of wild goats from Litochoro, Christos Kakalos, were the first to
reach Greece’s highest peak. Kakalos, who had much experience climbing Olympus, was the first of the three to climb Mytikas. Afterwards and till his death (1976) he was the official guide of Olympus. In 1921, he and Marcel Kurz reached the second highest summit of Olympus, Stefani. Based on these
explorations, Kurz in 1923 edited Le Mont Olympe, a book that includes the first detailed map of the summits. In 1928, the painter Vasilis Ithakisios climbed Olympus together with Kakalos, reaching a cave that he named Shelter of the Muses, and he spent many summers painting views of
the mountain. Olympus was later photographed and mapped in detail by others, and a series of successful climbings and winter ascents of the steepest summits in difficult weather conditions took place.
Climbing Mount Olympus is a non-technical hike, except for the final section from the Skala summit to the Mytikas peak, which is a YDS class 3 rock scramble. It is estimated that 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus each year, most of them reaching only the Skolio summit.
Most climbs of Mount Olympus start from the town of Litochoro, which took the name City of Gods because of its location at the foot of the mountain. From there a road goes to Prionia, where the hike begins at the bottom of the mountain.
The whole region of Pieria’s Olympus was declared archaeological and historical site for the preservation of its monumental and historical character.5 km away from the sea is Dion, sacred city of the ancient Macedons, dedicated to Zeus and the Twelve Olympians. Its prosperity lasted from the 5th century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. The excavations, continuing since 1928, have revealed numerous findings of the Macedonian, the Hellenistic and the Roman period. Currently there is a unique archaeological park of 200 hectares, with the ancient town and the sacred places of worship, outside its walls. Many statues and other invaluable items are kept in the nearby Dion’s museum.
Pimblia and Livithra, two other towns in Olympus’ region, are related to Orpheus and the “Orphic” mysteries. According to a tradition Orpheus, son of Apollo and Calliope (one of the Muses), taught here the mystic ceremonies of worship of Dionysus. By the sea, in a strategic position, at Macedonia’s gates is located Platamon Castle, built between 7th and 10th century A.D. in the ancient town of Heraclea.
In Olympus’ region there are also several Christian monuments, among them the highest-altitude chapel of Orthodox Christianity, that of Profitis Ilias, in the same name summit (2,803 m). It was built in the 16th century by Saint Dionysios of Olympus, who also founded the most significant monastery in the region. The Old Monastery of Dionysios (altitude 820 m) lies in Enipeas’ gorge and is accessible by car from Litochoro. It was looted and burned by the Ottomans and in 1943 it was destroyed by the German invaders, who suspected it was a guerilla den. Nowadays it has been partially restored and operates as a dependency of the New Monastery of Dionysios, that is outside Litochoro. Close to the
old monastery is also the chapel of Birth in a wonderful scenery, in a cave with a spring, welling from a rock, where saint Dionysios lived at first as a monk.
On Olympus’ southern foot, in a dominant position (820 m) in Ziliana gorge, there is the Kanalon Monastery, 8 km away from Karya. It was founded in 1864 and since 2001 it has been restored and operates as a convent. Further west, in the edge of Mavratza stream, at 1,020 m, there is the Aghias
Triadas Sparmou Monastery, that flourished in the early 18th century, possessed great property and assisted to establish the famous Tsaritsani’ school. It was abandoned in 1932, but in 2000 it was completely renovated and reopened as a male monastery, affiliated to Elassona’s diocese.
Generally speaking Olympus’ climate can be described as one of mediterranean type with continental influence. Its local variations is the result of the impact of the sea and the rugged relief of the region.
In the lower locations (Litochoro and the foothills) the climate is typically mediterranean, i.e. hot and dry in the summer, while humid and cold in the winter. Higher it is more humid and severe, with more intense phenomena ; in these locations it often snows all over the winter, while raining and snowing is not unusual, even in the summer. The temperature varies in the winter from -10 °C to 10 °C and in the summer from 0 °C to 20 °C, while winds are an almost everyday occurrence. Generally the temperature falls 1 °C per 200 m of altitude. As the altitude rises, the phenomena are more intense and the variations of temperature and humidity are often sudden. The coastal northeast slopes of Olympus receive more rain than the continental northwest, so, as a result, there is a clear difference in vegetation. being more abundant in the first of them. Hottest month is August, while coldest is February.
The mountain’s highest zone, over 2,000 metres, is snowcapped for about nine months (September to May). In some places the winds gather snow, 8–10 metres thick, (‘anemosouria’ in Greek), while in some deep ravines the snow is maintained all over the year (everlasting snow). For this Olympus’
alpine region, recordings have been made in the 1960s in the highest-altitude weather station in Greece, that was established on the summit of Aghios Antonios (2,815 m), providing a number of interesting data for the mountain’s climate. Τhe average temperature is -5 °C in winter and 10 °C
in summer. The average annual precipitation heights vary from 149 cm at Prionia (1,100 m) to 170 cm at Aghios Antonios, about half of them rainfall and hailstorms in summer and the rest snowfall in winter. The weather may change several times in the same day.
In summer rainfalls are frequent, commonly as evening thunderstorms, many times accompanied by hail and strong winds. However water springs over 2,000 metres are scarce and visitors should ensure that they have always water and of course the necessary clothing for any weather conditions.
Greece’s highest mountain, dwelling of the Twelve Gods of antiquity, has been the first region in the country to be applied specific protective rules, by its declaration as a National Park in 1938. The aim of this declaration was ΄΄…the preservation in perpetuity of the natural environment of the region, i.e. of wild flora, fauna and natural landscape, as well as its cultural and other values…΄΄. In addition the declaration has aimed promoting scientific research along with environmental education for the public and tourist development in the region. Specific laws prohibit all forms of exploitation on the eastern side of the mountain in an area of about 4,000 hectares, that is the core of the Park. A wider region, around this core, has been designated ΄΄peripheral zone of the National Park΄΄, so that its managing and exploitation to be done so as not to adversely affect the core’s protection.
Nowadays, after a special study,the Park has been expanded to 24,000 hectares. Administratively it belongs to Pieria’s and Larissa’s Prefectures and specifically to the municipalities Diou-Olympou and Katerinis (Pieria) and Τempon and Elassonas (Larissa). Its lowest altitude is 600 metres and its
peak, Mytikas, at 2,918 metres. In 1981 UNESCO proclaimed Olympus ΄΄Biosphere Reserve΄΄. European Union has listed Olympus in the ΄΄Significant for Birdlife Regions of European Union΄΄. It is also registered in the list of Natura 2000 European Network as ΄΄special protection area΄΄ and ΄΄site of
Popular among visitors and hikers, are the many trails and paths of Mount Olympus. Most important of them is E4 European long distance path, that
runs west of Litochoro towards the peaks, through Enipeas’ gorge. There is also the National path O2, that connects the peaks southward to Pelion.
In many places there are sitting areas near springs and fountains for visitors. The Forest Service has placed in several locations information signs
with a map of the National Park and useful guidelines. Visitors who have time enough can climb to the peak by the second path and then descend by
the first, night stopping in one of the refuges
Olympus’ mountaineering paths start from Litochoro, Dion and Petra. Summer climbs usually start by early June and end in late September. During this
season the refuges below the peaks are open and the weather enables a climb without snow equipment and mountaineering experience that winter requires.
The climb to the highest peaks in winter can be done only by experienced mountaineers, for which there are also challenging climbing paths on steep
slopes. Beginners visitors should be limited to the summer months, when refuges operate normally.
Two popular trails for exploring Olympus start from Litochoro and reach to the peaks of the mountain. The first one follows Enipeas’ gorge and begins
with a five-hour hike to ΄΄Prionia΄΄ (elevation 1,100 m), where in the past operated a sawmill (Prionia means saws in Greek). This is also accessible
by car via an 18 km route. From Prionia, following the European Path E4, the climber, it is about a two and a half hour hike to the well known
refuge, ΄΄Spilios Agapitos΄΄ (2,100 m). From the refuge to Olympus’ peaks is another two and a half hours.
At the 10th km of the road from Litochoro to Prionia, at the site ΄΄Stavros΄΄, there is the refuge ΄΄Dim. Bountolas΄΄ (944 m), that, after the
construction of the road, operates primarily as cafe-restaurant. Along the road there are parking places, where one can stop and enjoy the scenery.
Four km before the end of the road at Prionia, in the site ΄΄Gortsia΄΄, where there is a car park, starts a second, alternative, path, that leads to
Olympus’ peaks. From this point, after about five hours of hiking, passing consecutively the sites Barba, Petrostrouga, Skourta and Lemo,
the climber arrives to Muses’ Plateau (2,600 m), where he can rest in two refuges, ΄΄Giosos Apostolidis΄΄ and ΄΄Christos Kakalos΄΄. From here
the path to the mountain’s peak is relatively easy and one can reach in about an hour.
΄΄Spilios Agapitos΄΄. The first and evener refuge of the region is at the site ΄΄Βalkoni΄΄ (or ΄΄Exostis΄΄) at 2,100 m altitude, in the center
of Mavrologos and belongs to Greek Federation of Mountaineering Club (E.O.O.S). Ιt provides 110 beds, water, electricity and telephone
(23520/81800) facilities, heating, blankets and a restaurant, managed by Maria Zolota and her husband Dionisis. It operates from May to October,
΄΄Vrysopoules΄΄. The second refuge is westerly, behind Mavratzas’ gorge at the site Vrysopoules (1,800 m) and is accessible also by car from
location Sparmos. It’s managed by Κ.Ε.Ο.Α.Χ (Army Skiers – tel. 24930/62163) since 1961. It provides 30 beds, a kitchen, water, electricity,
central heating and a fireplace. It’s open all year round, but to overnight a military license is required.
΄΄Christos Kakalos΄΄. Ιt is at the southwest edge of Muses’ Plateau (2,648 m), belongs to Greek Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing
(Ε.Ο.Ο.Α) that operates it from May to October and provides 18 beds, electricity, blankets, a kitchen and tank water. It’ s managed by one
of the best experienced Greek climbers, the geologist Mihalis Stylas.
΄΄Stavros΄΄ (΄΄Dimitrios Bountolas΄΄). It is on Olympus’ eastern side, 9.5 km on asphalt road away from Litochoro, at 930 m altitude, in
Dionysios Monastery forest. It belongs to the Greek Mountaineering Club of Thessaloniki, operates all year round, mainly as refreshment
room and restaurant and can host 30 persons. It’s managed by Doultsinou family (tel. 23520/81687).
΄΄Giosos Apostolidis΄΄. It is on Muses’ Plateau (Diaselo – 2,760 m) and belongs to the Club of Grrek mountaineers of Thessaloniki
(tel. 2310224710). It can accommodate 80 persons, it provides electricity, water, a fireplace and an equipped kitchen and it’s open from June to
October. It’s managed by Dimitris Zorbas.
΄΄Petrostrouga΄΄. It’s on the second, more common, path to Olympus (D10), it’s the same path to reach to Muses’ Plateau. Τhis refuge is at
1,900 m altitude, surrounded by perennial Bosnian pines. It can accommodate 60 persons, it provides an equipped kitchen, electricity, water
and a fireplace and it is open all year round. It’s managed by the Hellenic Rescue Team. Reservations can be done calling 2310310649. It provides
organized medical equipment and one of the three emergency heliports in Olympus (the others at Skourta and Spilios Agapitos) and emergency
wireless inside and out of the refuge.
΄΄Aghios Antonios΄΄. Emergency refuge on the summit Aghios Antonios (2,818 m). It’s equipped with emergency items by the Hellenic Rescue Team.
In the refuge there is wireless for communication in case of emergency.
΄΄Kalyva tou Christaki΄΄. Εmergency refuge in ΄΄Megali Gourna΄΄ (2,430 m) along the Path E4, Kokinopilos – Skala. The refuge doesn’t provide
emergency items (there are only beds) but is only for protection from bad weather.
Here are briefly mentioned all the basics one should beware in the two most common and clearly marked trails of the mountain, from Prionia and
Gortsia to the refuges and the final climbs to the peaks. For the other trails one should get information from the mountaineering clubs.
΄΄Prionia – Refuge Spilios Agapitos – Peaks΄΄
From 1,100 m to 2,100 m at Refuge Spilios Agapitos in a wide, beautiful trail through a forest of pine and beech. From the refuge to the clearly
trekking peaks Skala, Skolio, Aghios Antonios and to the more difficult Mytikas, one is moving, through trails in good condition, in forest of
Bosnian pine and then in alpine scenery.
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