Attica’s Fair Skies
“O ouranos Attikis, aithrios esti (“The sky of Attica is fair”) is an ancient saying about the almost perfect, light, dry climate of Attica, Greece. Attica is that peninsula of land on which Athens sits, in its basin in the north, bounded by 3 ancient mountains- Himmitos, Pendeli and Parnitha. Heading south, after about 50 km the peninsula tapers to the point of land that is Cape Sounion, whose Temple of Poseidon is one of the most photographed sunset places in the world. This region of Greece, in a country renowned for its beautiful climate, has the best climate of all.
It was under this “fair sky of Attica” that one of the most remarkable civilizations in world history took root and flourished. Its remains are found in the center of Athens, in the state of the art Acropolis Museum, in the National Archeological Museum, and in ruins scattered throughout the Attic peninsula from the Acropolis to Sounion.
Modern Attica includes the 7 main Saronic Islands, so-named because they are mostly in the Saronic Gulf, the body of water bounded by Attica on the east and the Peloponnese on the west, with the island of Aegina in its center.
The “Athenian Riviera,” the west coast of Attica starting at the commercial hub of Glyfada, just 10 km south of the city center, and stretching another 40 km to the tip of the peninsula at Sounion, is a little-known area of clean beaches (the further south, the cleaner), boutiques, high-class restaurants, charming tavernas, freshwater inland mineral lakes (at Vouliagmeni), ending at the haunting, beautifully spectral ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.
Glyfada has been connected by tram with the city center since the 2004 Olympic Games, and the ride is leisurely and scenic, with the waters of the Saronic Gulf sparking in the sun on your right, the island of Aigina shrouded in marine mist in the distance.
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Aegina is a great destination for day trippers who wish to visit an island and stay in Athens as their base. It has all the amenities of a Greek island- beautiful beaches, picturesque villages, crystal-clear water- within a scant 1-hour’s boat ride from the port at Piraeus. The 2,500 year-old temple of Aphaia, on the highest rise of the island, overlooking the fishing and tourist village of Agia Marina, is a stunning place of calm and quiet, the wind blowing like a sieve through the pine needles around the temple, Athens clearly visible to the north. This temple, along with the temple to Poseidon at Sounion, and the Athens Acropolis, formed an equidistant “holy triangle.” It was said that a system of polished shields were used by lookouts stationed at Sounion and Aegina at the Temple of Aphaia as an early warning system for invading fleets still far out to sea.
A little further away is the island of Hydra. Its small, compact circular harbor is one of the most beautiful of any Greek island.
Rounding Cape Sounion and coming up Attica’s west coast, there are many beautiful fishing and tourist villages on can visit, along with nice beaches in towns like Lavrio and Rafina. Rafina is a major port, from which ferries leave for the Greek islands daily during the summer season.
There are many, many other places to visit in Attica, including the chic, far north Athen suburb of Kifissia, where the city’s upper class used to go to flee the heat of summer, the still-working marble mines of Mt. Pendeli, north of Kifissia, the 200 AD monastery of Kaisariani on the slopes of Mt. Himmitos, just 8 km east of the city center, and the Daphne Monastery to the west, on the Sacred Way leading from the Acropolis to Eleusina, where the Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated.
Attica cannot be exhausted in the short time most tourists spend there, usually on their way to an island destination. Attica itself, where the sky is always fair, is a worthy destination in and of itself.