The hanging gardens of Athens

Everyone who’s been to the Acropolis can testifyearly spring walk in Athens (11) that modern Athens looks like a vast concrete expanse covered by nothing else but buildings, packed closely together. Green spaces are few, small and far between: a mere 2 m2 per person, as opposed to the internationally recommended 15 m2 per person. Even gardens have become a thing of the past, as houses were replaced by blocks of flats.

Yet Greeks are a stubborn race. They may not have gardens, but that won’t stop them from gardening if they have a mind to. So the balconies, large and small, were gradually converted into small gardens, whose foliage and flowers do much to improve the looks of modern architecture.

Some balconies look almost like forests, with entire trees patiently grown in huge pots.


Others prefer to grow flowers, especially bright-colored ones; bougainvillea and geraniums are the most popular…

…but by no means the only ones:


Basil, a holy plant to the Greeks, is a must:


Others grow herbs, even fruit trees:


Some will plant a vine on the sidewalk, then train it up until it reaches their floor:


Others transform the flat roofs of their buildings into gardens:

Those who have large balconies often turn them into veritable jungles:

Those who do not, still find a way to grow something green, in what little space they have…

… or they will create some.


The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the World: an artificial hill with terraces onto which different plants were grown in imitation of a wooded hill. Legend says that they were constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar II to please his wife who was homesick for the hills of her native Media (NW Iran; the real story may be different).

To me, the hanging gardens of Athens are an even greater wonder, created not by order of a powerful king but by ordinary people, inspired by a love for beauty and nature. Put together, the hanging gardens of Athens would not make a single hill but hundreds, perhaps more, as they cover the entire plain of Athens, from the sea to the sides of the surrounding mountains.

A testament to the power of the anonymous to create beauty in the ugliest circumstances, the concrete jungle of Athens has been transformed into a vast terraced garden by in a process that involved millions of hours of work by millions of dedicated men and women.

And that, to me, is a far greater wonder than that of Babylon.



2 comments on “The hanging gardens of Athens

  1. Thanks so much for the great post. I thought all your pictures of all the wonderful balconies were so beautiful. I loved the vine growing from the sidewalk up the wall. What wonderful dedicated gardeners:)

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