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Mount Olympus

There are many mountains carrying the name Mount Olympus all over the world including one in ancient Phrygia, Cyprus, Utah, Washington DC, San Francisco and even one on Mars! However, Mount Olympus located in the northern part of Greece is the highest mountain in Greece reaching a massive 2,919 m in height and one of the biggest in Europe. It is located on the mainland of Greece in the province of Macedonia, about 100 km away from Greece’s second largest city Thessaloniki. Since the base of the mountain is located at sea level, it is one of the highest mountains in the whole of Europe in terms of the relative altitude from the base to the top. Around 10% of its total area of 98,800 acres is protected as national parkland. 

 

The Mythical Mountain

The highest point on Mount Olympus and indeed in the whole of Greece is known as Mitikas, which in Greek means “nose”. Mount Olympus is also home to the second highest peak known as Skolio, which is 2,912 m in height. In Greek mythology the mountain was looked upon as the “home of the gods”, specifically of the Dodekatheon or otherwise known as the twelve Olympians. The gods and goddess  thought to have settled upon the mythical mountain were; Zeus, the king of the gods; his wife Hera; his brothers Hades and Posiedion; his sisters Hestia and Demeter; and his many children, Ares, Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes. These goddesses and gods are believed to not have actually lived upon Olympus; rather this ancient legend was more of a symbol of the spirits of the gods proving the power of the revered mountain. The sanctity of the mountain, which still exists today, has lead to many churches and monasteries being built here over many centuries even pre-dating the Christian era. These buildings can be found in the caves and in the heart of the forests. As you go up the mountain the spirits of the old gods and goddesses are still a powerful presence, with boulders and rocks with inscriptions written in ancient script believed to be words of Zeus (the god of intellect).

Flora and Fauna

Mount Olympus is famous for its diverse range of plant and animal species located on the mountain. There are around 1,700 species of flora representing around 25% of all Greek plant life. The mountain has mostly a limestone base with a wide-ranging landscape, which includes scrub land, coniferous forest, bare rock, ravines, high pastures, streams and snowfields. Munch of the scrub land is found in the lowest area, as well as several special types of orchids, tulips and other flowers. Higher up on the mountain are pine forest with some beeches and firs and other tree species. There are around 32 different species of mammal alone here including deer, jackal, chamois, wolf, fox, ferret, wild pigs, wild cats and squirrels to name but a few. There are also several endangered species. There are also 108 species of birds, most of which reside in the thick forestland and rocky crags.

Tackling the Mountain

Located on the mountain at distances of 250 m are rest points for climbers; every pit stop gives a picturesque view over Greece. In the winter the entire mountain is covered in two meters of snow and only accessible to the most experienced climbers, even in the middle of the summer you will see some snow lurking at various intervals. Anyone wishing to undertake the very difficult climb up Mount Olympus starts from the small town of Litochoro, which took the name of City of Gods because of its location at the base of the mountain. The mighty Mount Olympus and the historical background of the gods inspire lots of visitors to flock the national park and the foot of the mountain. Visitors come from all different parts of the world to master the tough journey to the highest point in Greece. The total area was acknowledged to be Greece's number one national park. It includes eight pinnacles with the mighty "Throne of Zeus" reaching 2,909 m. If you intend to tackle any part of the mountain you need to be in good shape with some degree of mountaineering skill and a good head for heights!

Lots of Greek travel agents arrange trips to Mount Olympus with accommodation that includes a bed in a hotel in the town of Lithoro and a basic camp bed in the mountain hostels that provide a welcoming overnight stay for hikers. Hiking up Olympus has become such a massive tourist attraction that it is wise to either book for a room in one of the hostels especially if you undertake the climb during either July or August. As soon as you start the climb up the mountain tracks you'll rapidly appreciate why the ancients thought this was the precious home of the gods and you will never forget the experience as the views are really a once in a lifetime sight.