Ilissos was and will be the sacred river of the Athenian. Connected from the ancient times with places of recreation worship and mystery it was a river full of stories but mostly myths. It is maybe the only river world wide that it is written with every kind of way and we can’t tell for anyone of them that is wrong. At the shores and at the ancient writings we find these types:

Ιλισό // Ιλισσό // Ειλισσό // Ηιλισό

So Ilissos is one of the three rivers of the Athenians , the other two are Kifissos and Iridanos. Sadly all three of them had the same ending. The all ended up to be storm drains in a gray Athens and in a basin with so little natural spaces. In this article we talk about the way of the natural landscape of ilissos in time till the today Athens with the hope to see in one day in the light of the day. A wish that is truly very difficult to accomplish not due to technical or economic reasons but mostly because the thing that is mostly needed for this change is the way of thinking and our consciousness related to the city place, that is actually the hardest thing to accomplish. To change the mind of people.

Ilissos and its way

Ilissos originates from the northwest mountain hills of Imitos and passes though the basin having a serow way end at the Fliriko. In its way goes by 10 municipalities that we call Ilisiakous.

The origins of Ilissos

Ilissos is the river that brings together all the waters of the northwest foot of mountain of Imitos. From Holargo it begins the first field and in its way connects with those of Papagow, Zografos , Kessariani and then Virona.

The natural bed and the estuary of the river

Ilissos from antiquity till today at the beginning of the 20th century , it had the same river bed and the same attitude considering its flow. It had an intense and a perennial stream in the winter , dry or with so little flow in the summer. The backwater of the river, in the land of attic, as a region is generally a dry one. The periodical raindrops, that happen mostly in the winter , all the creeks and the arroyos they get full with water.

Kifissos just as much as Ilissos, before their settlement ,they flew into the so called “Big Eleon” without their water reaching the sea. In cases that the rain shower was much heavier Kifissos just as much as Ilissos they flawed, mostly Eleonas , modifying it to a grate deadlock.

Ilissos so didn’t have a different end at the bay of Falliriko , just like happens now but it contributed with Kifissos at the today region of Renti. The waters of the river beds of the two rivers scattered at the lower region of Renti- Moschato- Neo Faliro and all that water together flows into the bay of Falliro with not very deep river beds and a series of bridges for the habitats to get to the shorescreating the well known Delta of Falliro.

Χάρτης 1: Χάρτης του λεκανοπεδίου του 1784 όπου φαίνονται οι κοινές εκβολές του Κηφισού και του Ιλισσού στην περιοχή του Ελαιώνα και του Ρέντη

The map from above is the one of Jean Denis barbie du Bocage. He is the son of jean-Guillaume Barbie du Bocage(1795-1848) they were French map writers that they craft took place in Paris at the end of 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th century. Those maps, where compiled from Jean Jacque Barthelemy : the travels of Anaharsi the younger in Greece and it was published in the 1788.

Ilissos the river and its relevancy with the city after the revolution of 1821.

The Athenians and the design of the city

As known, the Turkish guard deported permanently from the fortress of Acropolis the 31st march of 1833. In the past time , especially during the ages of 1830-1833, took place very intense wars in the area. This , combined with the fact that the Protocols of independence foresaw indisputably the liberation of Athens, it allowed the gradually rebirthing of the city.

Kleanthi – Schaubert Plan

In November 1831, architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert, students of perhaps the most important German neoclassical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, settled in Athens, where they set out to systematically survey the city’s potential, and then drafted a plan for the war, settling there in the capital of the neo-pagan state.
Indeed, in May 1832, the post-Kapodistrian Provisional Government commissioned them to draw up a New Plan for the City of Athens, regardless of whether or not it would become the capital. The plan was drafted and submitted in December 1832, and on June 29, 1833, it was approved by the Regency, which had meanwhile taken over the reins of the State, and was ratified by a Royal Decree on July 6 of the same year. (map 2)

By the end of the year, its implementation had begun. However, as soon as its lines were laid on the ground, and the areas that would be expropriated for the construction of public buildings, the formation of parks and the road network, as well as for archeological excavations, were materially perceived, a wave of protests erupted from the owners, while accusations of speculation were also launched.
In May 1834, Viceroy Maurer visited the city to study the situation on the spot. The outcry of which led to the Royal Order suspending the implementation of the plan on June 11, 1834.

Klenze Plan

Then the then famous Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze was summoned to look into the matter. Klenze’s visit lasted from July to September 1834 and resulted in the elaboration of a New Plan, or rather a revision of the original. Its main features were:

  • The reduction of the total area of the city
  • The partial reduction of the area of the excavations, with a limit of Adrianou Street
  •  The restriction of the width of the streets and the surface of the squares, as well as
  • The abolition of city avenues within the city
  • The suspension of the phenomenon of the partition of the Old City (instead of drawing a number of new roads, it was proposed to arrange the old streets, with slight widenings and alignments here and there) and, finally,
  • The transfer of the Palaces and therefore of the entire administrative center of gravity of the city from Omonia Square to the heights of Kerameikos.

The Klenze Plan was approved on September 18, 1834, while at the same time stipulating that on December 1, that is, in less than two and a half months, the seat of State would be transferred to Athens from Nafplio. The plan was implemented immediately. Klenze’s amendments reduced the difficulties, but did not eliminate them. The beginning of the demolition for the opening, first of all, of the new streets of Aeolos, Ermou and Athena, clashed with the reactions of the residents, to whom the Government had not granted new plots in another place, as agreed. The work was interrupted several times, in order to continue with the help of the police, and under the protests of the Municipal Authority itself.

Before the Government’s inability to financially support the planned expropriations, it was decided, on November 11, 1836, to reduce the archeological site, known as the Hansen-Schauber Modification. Other smaller-scale modifications followed throughout the 19th century.

The issue of the palace

At the same time, the issue of the Palaces remained pending. The possibility of erecting them on the Acropolis itself, based on Schinkel’s plans, was also considered at the moment, but the idea was also criticized by Ludovico of Bavaria himself.
Finally, the famous Bavarian Friedrich von Gaertner was summoned, with the exclusive object of the Palaces. Gaertner chose the neck between Lycabettus and the Acropolis, outside the Mediterranean Gate of the Wall, and drafted the relevant plans for the construction of the Palaces, where they were finally built (today’s Parliament), with a similar arrangement of the surrounding area. Restricted road reforms in the area of the Palaces also took place in 1837, with the so-called Hoch plan.


The practical consequence of these successive changes was:

  • on the one hand, the maintenance of a large part of the Old City, and therefore the delay of the planned expansion of the capital to its new limits, and
  • on the other hand, the reorientation of the City towards the final point of construction of the Palaces, with its use, therefore, to the east of the axis of Athena section.

This utility is expressed, for example, by the disproportionate development of the Stadium (and then the University) in relation to Piraeus, Klafthmonos Square in relation to Koumoundourou Square, and so on. Athens was slow to expand into all of the accommodated plans. Indeed, for decades its boundaries remained essentially those of the old city. It is interesting to note that areas that are today the center of the city, such as Omonia itself and the entire north side of Piraeus, remained almost deserted until 1870-1880. In 1855, for example, not only was Omonia still completely unbuilt, but the whole area north of Sophocles street in general.

The result of all this was Ilissos, which from ancient times until then was a river outside the city, slowly beginning to fit within the limits of the developing capital, mainly to the east, and now its periodic floods are not only felt but also catastrophic.

The Germans of Otto in Athens

Ferdinand Aldenhoven, an infantry officer, surveyor and engineer from Cologne, must have arrived in Greece with Otto and his Bavarian entourage and remained for about ten years. He printed in Athens a topographic plan of Athens engraved by A. Forster (1837). In the map he drafted shortly after his release, Ilissos remains out of town and the new palaces (today’s Parliament) have been located. It is the time when the expansion of the city to the East, that means, to Ilissos (map 4) begins.

Χάρτης 4. Σχέδιο των Αθηνών του Aldenhoven (1837)

Fifty years later, another German mapped the whole of Attica, Johann August Aupert. Johann August Kaupert was born in Kassel, Germany on May 9, 1822, in the state of Hesse in what was then the German Federal Empire. He studied and worked as a surveyor and from 1869 as a cartographer in the general staff of the Prussian army, where he contributed significantly to the creation of the 1: 25,000 and 1: 100,000 scale maps of the general staff.

From 1875 to 1877 he accompanied the German archaeologist Ernst Curtious (Ernst Kourtius) as a member of the mission of the German Archaeological Institute in Greece in collaboration with the Imperial Prussian Ministry of Ecclesiastical, Educational and Medical Affairs of Athens and for the mapping.

His collaboration with the Kurtious in 1878 led to the publication of the Atlas of Athens, and later the monumental Karten von Attica – Maps of Attica (1881-1903) in which the also German archaeologist Arthur Milchhoefer participated, a project that was completed after his death on February 11, 1899 and is an invaluable presumption of landscape and archeology for the Attic land. The work Karten von Attica was published by Reimer B., and printed by the German lithographer Korbeweit in Berlin. Kaupert was awarded the University of Strasbourg in 1889 with an honorary doctorate.

On the map of Cape Town, Attica (map 5) the city has begun to approach Ilissos noticeably. In the red circle below and to the left we note the area of the study which still remains purely agricultural.

We are now at the end of the 19th century in a Greece and an Athens that is still trying to find an identity through solving chronic problems of both politicians and technicians. The political personality of the country is dominated by the political personality of Charilaos Trikoupis.

The Charilaos Trikoupis era

With the government he formed in March 1882, he reorganized the police, the gendarmerie and the Military School of Guards. He enacted laws on qualifications, permanence and promotion of civil servants. He decided to drain Lake Kopaida and build a railway network. It is characteristic that, while in 1882 there were only about 9 kilometers of railway lines that connected Athens (Thissio) with its port, Piraeus, in 1893 there were 914 kilometers of railway lines and another 490 were under construction. To finance the projects, he took two large loans and imposed a tax on tobacco and wine. The opening of the Corinth Canal was achieved thanks to Trikoupis, who sought a very optimistic modernization, which, however, presented problems, as the changes did not find suitable ground due to the problematic Greek economy and the conservative spirit of the time. A typical political opponent in his time was Tselepitsaris, who organized marches with slogans against Trikoupis.

Characteristic of its progressiveness is its audacity, for its time, its vision for the connection of the narrow Rio-Antirio, an idea that was realized more than a century later, in 2004, with the construction of the Rio-Antirio Bridge, which was named after him. on May 25, 2007.

In general, the action of Charilaos Trikoupis in Greece is considered one of the most decisive for the country’s transition to the 20th century. His work often provoked divisions and reactions at that time, but its results in many cases are visible even in later and modern Greece.

Starting from, the Governments of Charilaos Trikoupis, as we find out, are starting to prepare studies for various technical projects in Greece among them and for the settlement of the Ilissos River.

At the same time, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, on the occasion of the catastrophic floods of Kifissos and Ilissos, among others, the professor and rector of the National Technical University, Angelos Ginis, studied the possibility of separating the two rivers, that means, the creation of a new and special riverbed for Ilissos to flow into the Faliriko bay. In this way, Kifissos would be relieved of the great storms and the risk of flooding of Eleonas would be significantly reduced.

Angelos Ginis (1859-1928) was a Greek civil engineer, professor of bridge construction, port and plumbing at the National Technical University of Athens, and an academic. He was born in Spetses. He studied at the Technical University of Dresden and from 1912 held a managerial position at the National Technical University of Athens (director of the School of Civil Engineering, the equivalent of today’s rector), from which he contributed to its progress and development. His efforts resulted in the publication of Law 388/1914, in the first article of which the Polytechnic was named “National Technical University of Athens”, in the establishment of new faculties, reorganization of the Students and the issuance of an operating regulation. Guinness wrote many studies of public works and the studies of almost all the ports of Greece. He wrote university books, such as Road Construction, Graphic Statics, Port Works and more. He died in Athens at the age of 69.

He was one of the 39 first Greek academics in history, regular members of the Academy of Athens, who were not elected but were appointed by the founding act of the Academy in 1926. , built between 1930 and 1935, was named after him.

Returning now to the end of the 19th century, two floods of the era that are worth dwelling on:

– the flood of St. Philip (1896) and

– the flood of 1899.

The flood that struck Athens and Piraeus on Thursday, November 14, 1896, on the day of the Feast of the Apostle Philip, caused the death of many people and caused enormous material damage as a flood of St. Philip. The 1899 flood occurred on November 18.

The Decision for the Diversion of Ilissos

As we understand in such a climate, the need to resolve the issue of floods in Attica was imperative and Gini’s study was finally approved. Ilissos decided to acquire a new bed with an estuary in the bay of Faliriko.

The separation started from Evangelistrias Street (the street has the same name today) in Kallithea, about 260 meters before the bridge of Harokopou Street and about 200 meters before the third floor bridge of ISAP. (Figure 3). The study was conducted around 1905. The length of the new Ilissos riverbed was about 3,200 meters. Ilissos from then until today expels its waters in Faliriko bay and this new riverbed is the natural border between Kallithea and Moschato.

The Decision for the Undergrounding of Ilissos

Then two decisive factors led to the final decision on the approval and implementation of the undergrounding of Ilissos. On the one hand, the huge increase in population in the 1920s due to the arrival of refugees from Asia Minor and the proximity of many new buildings in Ilissos, and on the other hand, the sanitary conditions by the river as long as it functioned as a waste disposal site. This deterioration combined with its flooding, which was now quite noticeable in the coastal inhabitants, matured the public opinion to accept its undergrounding with a positive response, without, however, missing the reactions from few but enlightened people.

At the same time, the respective urban plans had already provided for the conversion of the riverbed into roads, for reasons of urban continuity. The reason for this thought was the expansionist action of the inhabitants, who had built stilts even in the riverbed, as well as a large number of bridges, which testified to the urban planner of the time high frequency of movement and therefore the need to eliminate the limit. Another reason given for the creation of a closed pipeline from the beginning for a large part of the stream is the economic interest of this solution, as the relatively small “maximum supply” of the section in question did not justify the construction of a very expensive open section.


The subsequent urbanization, however, led to a universal deterioration of the river’s nature, through its arrangement in a concrete pipeline and its gradual coverage from the road. The above project is directly related to the construction of the sewerage network of Athens, which had been discussed since 1887. The final study was given in 1931 to the Italian engineer Fantoli and the construction of the works began in the area of the Gendarmerie School (Michalakopoulou Street). in 1936. During World War II only maintenance work was carried out and the arrangement continued into the 1950s.

However, the city’s need for transportation systems gradually led to the coverage of the initially open cross-sections. Finally, the riverbed was covered by road to the bridge of Harokopou Street in Kallithea, with the only exception of a small section near the church of Agia Fotini, between the Stadium and the bridge of Anapafseos Street (today’s intersection of Ath. Diakou and Ardittou). which was described as “sacred” due to the many archaeological findings.

Ilissos In Athens Today

Ilissos exists today and flows underground. We close our article with its digital imprint on the surface of the modern city of Athens and with the wish as we said in the introduction to see it in the light someday.

@The original in greek artricle, first – publiched in geomythiki, was written by Theodosopoulos Dimitris and Kokkinos Thisseas.

@The traslation was made by the Kedros Team




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