I know a bank where the wild thyme blows ...

Cheap flights to Athens mean that a month from now you could go in search of the 'wood near Athens' where the action in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' takes place. Moira O'Neill investigates

Today, the search for possible contenders for Shakespeare's wood in A Midsummer Night's Dream is hindered by the fact that Athens is definitely not a green city. The view from the top of the Acropolis is one of a sprawling white metropolis in every direction, though 50 years ago the city was a great deal smaller, and woods would have been seen on the horizon.

The ancient Athenians used the word polis to describe the city of Athens. However, they also sometimes used polis to refer to the rocky outcrop of the acropolis, the sacred heart of the city. In ancient times the polis of Athens was not easily defined and there was an ongoing debate among the intellectual elite as to the outer limits of the city.

Philosophers argued over whether the Acropolis walls or the long walls built under Themistocles marked the city's boundaries, and the farming inhabitants of the demes who lived many miles from the Acropolis argued that they too were included in the city. It is possible, therefore, that Shakespeare's wood could be "near Athens" in the sense of near to the Acropolis and the Agora, the ancient sacred and political centres of the city.

These days, the only surviving green areas near to these classical ruins are the National and Zappeion gardens which boast subtropical trees, peacocks, waterfowl, ornamental ponds and a botanical museum. However, these gardens did not exist in Shakespeare's day; they were created only during the last century.

But you will find greenery, lots of it, if you go to the north-east suburban limit of Athens to Lykabettos, the highest of the hills of the city. It still has wooded slopes where visitors can walk in the shade, but is now a green island in a sea of houses.

Travelling in the same direction 14km farther north east of Athens you'll find Kifissia, an attractive and popular "garden city" on the south-west slopes of Mt Pentelikon. The shade of its pine trees offers a welcome relief from the glare of Athens. A few miles farther north of Kifissia, Ekali, a pleasant summer resort is also situated amid pine woods.

Heading out to Eleusis west of Athens, you will pass the botanic garden on your left with its tall poplars. A little further on, Plato's Olive Tree is one of the few survivors from the famous grove that once bordered the Kifissos from Kolonos to the sea. Along the same route, laurels sacred to Apollo once flourished in the area around the Monastery of Dhafni, which owes its name to these trees.

Wooded hills can also be seen to the west of the approach along the Mesogia road to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. However, I think that these woods are too far from the city to be a possible contender.

North west of Athens, Mount Parthina is cut by deep ravines and covered with pine trees. It has more than 1,000 plant species, several easy, well marked trails and two refuges.

The most appealing possibility for a setting for a Midsummer Night's Dream is somewhere on the west slopes of Mount Hymettos, which reach almost to the eastern outskirts of Athens. Here the aromatic plants and shrubs that produced the best food for bees in classical times are now less widespread, though terebinth, juniper, thyme, sage, mint and lavender are still to be found and you can easily imagine the intrigues of Puck and Oberon taking place in these fragrant surroundings. But what the place lacks in ebullient greenery it makes up for in love. A climb through the woodland around the 11th-century Kaisarianis monastery 5km from Athens will lead to a hilltop fountain idyllically set among pine, plane and cypress trees. The water that bubbles from this fountain was believed to have magical properties; it was dedicated to Aphrodite, whose temple stood nearby.

EasyJet (0990 292929) has promised a return fare of pounds 140 when it begins flights from Luton to Athens on 10 July. The impending arrival has caused the other airlines flying to Athens - British Airways (0345 222111), Cronus Air (0171-580 3500), Olympic (0171-409 3400) and Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747) - to lower their fares; for a trip from Heathrow in June, Cronus is quoting pounds 161 return.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary TA - West London - Autumn

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

AER Teachers: Graduate Secondary TA - West London

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

AER Teachers: Early Years Teaching Assistant Newham

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Outstanding East London primary school seeking an Ea...

AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assistants

Negotiable: AER Teachers: Southwark primary School looking for teaching assist...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935