INTERNATIONALER TAG DER BIODIVERSTÄT 2010
 

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Greece: Exploring nature at the Akropolis

The Akropolis - a retreat for all sorts of life

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The Akropolis - a retreat for all sorts of life

For a collection of GEO articles on Biodiversity Day in Greek language, please go to the downloads section.


The Acropolis area is not only an ancient monument, it is a place to experience nature. Amid new and old buildings, gardens, little forests, river beds, archeological sites and streets a rich diversity of flora and fauna can be found - 500 macroscopic species all in all.


The Greek GEO edition wanted to show this and prove that biodiversity can exist despite urban expansion. This is why Nikos Petrou and Martin Gaetlich were asked to organize tours of the Acropolis.


Nikos Petrou is chairman of the Greek association of nature conservation (EEPF), Martin Gaetlich, a biology and environmental expert, is EEPF's director. He was the one to take groups of children and adults, some of them journalists on a discovery tour through the natural beauty of the Acropolis. The activities and following publications were under the patronage of the Greek Ministry of Environment and supported by the German Ministry of Environment.


Absorbed in our daily lives we often forget that we are sharing our habitat with many other living creatures and microorganisms, whether we like it or not. “We simply overlook the wild flowers blossoming on 'undeveloped' land and we know nothing about the birds and other animals living in our neighborhood”, says Martin Gaetlich and suggested that when confronted with Nature in urban environments we sometimes even experience a certain shyness instead of appreciating the situation.


It is the 11th of May: The group is strolling through the Plaka, the oldest quarter of not only Athens but Europe. The quarter's name originates from the Arvanitian expression Plakou Athina – meaning "the old Athens". The visitors' gaze drifts from the colorful products of the traders upwards, where in the corner of one of the heritage listed houses, from the opening of one of the twenty swallow nests of the Plaka, a forked tail appears. Two types of swallows grace the Athenian skys, the Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum) and the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Approximately three weeks after they hatch, the young birds leave the nest in which they were born and remain for a short time under the watchful eye of their parents, before undertaking the seasonal migration to Central and South Africa in fall.


In the narrow lanes off the main streets are the Begiona houses, there the GEO groups find Petunia, Lauretine (Viburnum tinus), Pittosporum and Bouganvillean, attracting butterflies and bees. Undisturbed, they fly around and Mr Gaetlich takes the opportunity for a little talk: In this area there are about 15 species of butterflies and more than a hundred species of birds, including the common swift – resembling swallows due to their forked tails, the Common Magpie (Pica pica), the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone), the Common Blackbird (Turdus merula), Sparrows (Passeridae), Pigeons (Columbidae) and the Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), while higher up, flying over the rock of the Acropolis are Common Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) that live on insects and small rodents. During the night you can hear the howl of the European Scops Owl (Otus scops) and the Little Owl (Athene noctua) as well as the chirping sounds of Crickets (Gryllidae), House Crickets (Acheta domesticus) and Cicadas (Auchenorrhyncha) in the summer.


In ancient Athens, the city hosted a large number of owls. This bird is the mythical symbol of the city and the goddess Athena. It decorated the Athenians 4-Drachma-coin, the most valuable coin of the known world until the Hellenistic period. "Cities create new ecological niches, which certain animal and plant species quickly use as habitat. The saying that nature hates a void, that is also confirmed in the urban ecosystem" states Gaetlich.


The next walk is leading to the "Horologiium des Kyrristos" or Tower of the Winds, a good example of Roman period architecture. It is located in a fenced in archeological site. On top of the tower a copper flag in form of a triton shows the direction of the wind. The vegetation in the area is rich: the Common sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus), Picris spec and Dandelion (Taraxacum spec.), both plants belonging to the Asteraceae, Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Wild Oat as well as some trees: wild fig, Pomegranate Tree (Punica granatum) and Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) in bright pink spring blossoms. Another tree species, meanwhile, widespread in Greece is the so called Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) originally introduced from Asia in the 18th century. The lichwort (Parietaria officinalis) is growing right in the middle of wild flowers whereas Cockleburs (Xanthium) causes agricultural problems and is therefore considered a weed by most people.


The road leads on through the pedestrian zone of Dionysiou Aeropagitou street. Pine Trees, Planes, Cypresses, Willows and Mulberry Trees refresh pedestrians and visitors in their welcome shade. The fight between the oak tree and the pine is always uneven, this is true for the whole of Greece and Attica as well. Says the guide, because their resistance is smaller than that of the enemy - be it against deforestation, grazing animals or fires. They also take longer until they are fully developed.


In the Acropolis area there are three types of oak trees: the deciduous Tabor oak, wild oak and the Kermes that are evergreen. A hoopoe with black and white wings and orange brown tuft is visible between the branches. Mr. Gaetlich tells us that around the Acropolis six or seven couples have been counted.


Mallows, nettles and honeysuckle surround a carob tree, whose fruit is used as chocolate substitute for sweets, while the large seeds were applied for centuries as a reliable measure of valuable materials. A little further down a Pittosporum is identified, a fragrant garden bush, that the bees love.


From the busy part of this area into the Koili Odos: This was a major street in the ancient world, where even today cart wheel tracks are still visible. The "GEO trail" reaches the area between the Philopappou Hill and the Nymph Hill. The human impact on nature is less here, so it provides a good opportunity to learn about native and rare plants on the Acropolis. The most important feature is Micromeria acropolitana, a small perennial plant that grows exclusively on the cliffs of the Acropolis and nowhere else in the world. It is a symbol of survival.


Other native species also grow around the Acropolis, such as Cornflowers (Centaurea attica, C. mixta raphanina), Inula verbascifolia methana as well as other rare Greek plants such as Peganum harmala and Biarum tenuifolium. The plants on the cliffs of the Sacred Rock are also significant for Greece, such as Scrophularia heterophyla, Inula verbascifolia methanea, the fern Cheilanthes vellea among others.


Under the protection of the archaeological sites of the Acropolis migrating birds such as The Gray Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Song Trush (Turdus philomelos), Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) stay during the winter months. In the Theater of Dionysus one can also observe the Starred Agama, a lizard, which usually lives in the dry areas of the Aegean Islands, Corfu and Paxoi and was probably introduced by man to the Acropolis.


The tour comes to an end and Mr. Gaetich's conclusion: "The city of Athens, as we see it today, like any other landscape is a palimpsest that emerged from development over the course of history - the result of successive uses of this area. By promoting nature within the cities, we do not only contribute to the revitalization of these cities, but to the creation of a new urban lifestyle also. And we have the opportunity to get in touch with nature and enjoy it, not only during holiday activities, but in our everyday lives."


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Downloads

Greece_Biodiversity_June_2010.pdf

GEO article on Biodiversity Action Day at the Acropolis (GEO Greece, June 2010, in Greek)

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Greece_Biodiversity_July_A_2010.pdf

GEO article on Biodiversity Action Day at the Acropolis (GEO Greece, July/A 2010, in Greek)

456 K

Greece_Biodiversity_July_B_2010.pdf

GEO article on Biodiversity Action Day at the Acropolis (GEO Greece, July/B 2010, in Greek)

382 K

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Video

Below is the first of three parts of the video on Biodiversity Action Day 2010 in Athens.
Please click on the following links to view  part 2 and  part 3.


Flash is required!

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Text: Litsa Totska