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 our 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 wider area.
Specific 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.
Olympus is internationally known as 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 Important Bird areas of the European Community”.
Mount Olympus is located on the border of Macedonia and Thessaly between the prefectures of Pieria and Larissa. The highest point of Mount Olympus, Mytikas, is located 263 km from Athens and 78 km from Thessaloniki as the crow flies and 18 km from the coast of Pieria and 24 km from Katerini.
Olympus expands over approximately 500 km2 and covers an essentially circular area with a width of approximately 25 km and a circumference of 80 km. The Olympus National Park covers an area of 238,411,000 m2 with the heart being 40 million m2.
Mount Olympus is highest mountain in Greece and the second highest mountain in the Balkans. The terrain contains many charming and splendid features amongst which are sheer rocky peaks, deep gorges, alpine fields and thick forest all combining to create the rare magic of Mount Olympus. In total there are 52 peaks ranging from altitudes of 760 m to 2918 m which combined with the sheer ravines create scenes of unique beauty.
The strata of Mount Olympus started to form over 200 million years ago at the bottom of a comparably shallow sea from which it emerged and began to gradually take its shape. During the period of the Ice Age some significant changes took place in to the shape of the mountain as the ice melted bringing huge layers of rock from the peak of the mountain to its foothills. With the melting of the last ice around 10,000 years ago Mount Olympus took on its final shape.
There are no lakes on Mount Olympus with the exception of the small periodic lakes in the areas of Bara and Dristela which are formed by melting snow. Furthermore a small man-made lake was created in recent years at the mouth of Xerolakki Stream above the village of Petra. Officially no mention has been made of large caves, which does not of course rule them out. However, there are frequent many small caves, chasms, caves created by the snow and crevices. Many of the streams have a water flow through out the year and due to the exceptional quality of the water it is channelled directly into the local water supply. There are many streams on Olympus, but few are to be found at an altitude of over 1000 m.
The climate of Olympus is affected by its geographical location, size, strata and the exposure of the mountain slopes. Generally speaking it has a Mediterranean climate, warm and dry in the summer and wet in the winter. For approximately seven months of the year it is covered in snow (from November to May). Mount Olympus has a high level of precipitation throughout the year in the form of snow in the winter and rain and hail in the summer. In fact the level of precipitation on Olympus is 3 to 4 times higher than that in Athens or Thessaloniki (1100 to 1800 mm of precipitation a year, while in Thessaloniki precipitation is 500 mm and in Athens 400 mm annually). Half of the precipitation falls as snow and the other half in the form of rain and hail.
The average temperature in the winter ranges from -20o C to +10o C and in the summer from 0o C to 20o C, though this is not to say that there are not some exceptions that fall outside these ranges. Every 100 m up Mount Olympus the temperature drops by approximately half a degree. Thus if at sea level the temperature is 20o C at the same time on Mytikas Peak (2918 m) the temperature will be approximately 5o C. Finally strong winds are a common phenomenon on Mount Olympus and sometimes the wind reaches speeds of over 100 km per hour.
MYTHOLOGY – HISTORY
The shape of Olympus, the polymorphous and changeable beauty of its nature, the fog covered peaks and law clouds bringing about frequent the under storms, filled people with awe and admiration from ancient times. There are recent archaeological finds that go back to the Iron Age. Prehistoric man chose to live at the foot of this glorious mountain. Inspired by its 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. Pantheon (today’s Mytikas) is their meeting place. Their tempestuous discussions are heard by the god of gods Zeus sitting on his imposing throne (today’s Stefani). From there he unlooses his thunders showing “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 on, revealed archaeological 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.
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 Olympus has been declared an archaeological and historical place in order to preserve its monumental and historical physiognomy.