Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sites: Philopappos Hill Athens

Philopappos Hill provides one of the most spectacular views in Western Civilization. Here we explore the vegetation- no mention made of the monuments.

Monday Class, April 2nd 2012. Our CYA students climbed up Philopappos Hill, located opposite of the Acropolis of Athens . The objective was to apply a rapid assessment vegetation study of the field layer.  The field layer relates to the grasses and forbs on the ground - below the trees. Actually all trees here have been planted - so this aspect of the vegetation should help gain a better appreciation of urban greenery. We do things like this as a field lab projects. The parks are our outdoor classrooms. After being instructed, the students were off  - working hard and learning to observe and interpret. This was a rapid study - we ascended from the Acropolis Metro station at 16:50 and were back at 18:15. Good class.
The lower part of the hill was plated primarily with pines, olives and cypress, but soil conditions where degraded, rocky arid-like soil after centuries of  grazing, rock-flinching, burning, wood-cutting. These trees are over 60 years old but very thin and brittle-looking. 

Protocol in hand, how to choose a site to survey? Representative patch attributes after surveying of the general area helped. Much of this lower site was trampled.
The lower site was full of Stinging Nettle! Damper micro-habitat under the trees. Species poor under the tree!  Its still just like a plantation - I think it would look better as phrygana (with scattered trees). 
We climbed to the top of the hill in 10 mins. flat. A brisk walk - warm,sunny, green. Lots of grassy areas mainly with oats and barley - many hues of green in the field layer. However I was surprised at the low species richness - few flowers for peak blooming time!
Gynandriris sisyrinchium is an Iris that flourishes in parts of the tiny steppe-like patches in the openings of the planted trees on top of Philopappos Hill. 
Gynandriris sisyrinchium is called colloquially by gardeners as "Barbary Nut". The neat thing about it is that it flowers in the late afternoon. So if you go walking at mid-day you'll often see none!
Variety of short grasses and forbs on the hill-top beside the monument. We interpreted that human trampling probably affects the patchy pattern of the field layer here. I saw a painted butterfly here - some students found beetles; and I assume a lot of the dead snails were predated upon by beetles. So there is life here. 
I was surprised at how lush the vegetation was and how green but generally, on other hills in Athens (such as Tourkovounia Hills) the species-richness is much higher. 
I can bet that these carefully positioned marble ruins (from classical times) are a great habitat for skinks, centipedes, millipedes, maybe even a snake. 
Another view of the heavy ancient marble slabs - an interesting landscape element - good for wildlife that can hide in the crevices around them.
Paved pathway built after Pikionis' design in the 1950s. This kind of stone work is to be seen primarily  around the Acropolis and on this hill and is a masterpiece of park-scaping worldwide. 


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