The shape of Olympus was formed by rain and wind, which produced an isolated tower almost 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) above the sea, which is only 18 kilometres (11 mi) away at Litochoro. Olympus has many peaks and an almost circular shape. The mountain has a circumference of 150 kilometres (93 mi), an average diameter of 26 kilometres (16 mi), and 600 square kilometres (230 sq mi) of area. To the northwest lies the Vlach village of Kokkinoplou. The Makryrema stream separates Olympus from the massif of Voulgara. The villages Petra, Vrontou and Dion lie to the northwest, while on the eastern side there is the town of Litochoro, where Enipeas bisects the massif of Olympus. On its southeastern side, the Ziliana gorge divides Mount Olympus from Kato Olympos (Lower Olympus), while on its southwestern foothills, there are the villages Sykaminea and Karya. The Aghias Triadas Sparmou Monastery and the village Pythion lie to the west. Olympus' dry foothills are known as the Xirokampi, containing chaparral and small animals. Further east, the plain of Dion is fertile and watered by the streams which originate on Olympus.
Mount Olympus is formed of sedimentary rock laid down 200 million years ago in a shallow sea. Various geological events that followed caused the emergence of the whole region and the sea. Around one million years ago glaciers covered Olympus and created its plateaus and depressions. With the temperature rise that followed the ice was melted and the streams that were created swept away large quantities of crushed rock in the lowest places, forming the alluvial fans, that spread out all over the region from the foothills of the mountain to the sea.
The complicated geological past of the region is obvious on the morphology of Olympus and its National Park. Features include deep gorges and dozens of smooth peaks, many of them in altitude of more than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), including Aghios Antonios (2,815 metres (9,236 ft)), Kalogeros (2,700 metres (8,900 ft)), Toumpa (2,801 metres (9,190 ft)) and Profitis Ilias (2,803 metres (9,196 ft)). However it is the central, almost vertical, rocky peaks, that impress the visitor, over Litochoro, where the relief of the mountain displays on the horizon an apparent V, between two peaks of almost equal height. In the left limb is Mytikas (or Pantheon - 2,918 metres (9,573 ft)), Greece's highest peak, and on the right one Stefani (or Thronos Dios (Throne of Zeus - 2,902 metres (9,521 ft)), that presents the most impressive and steep peak of Olympus, with its last sharply rising 200 meters presenting the greatest challenge for climbers. Further south, Skolio (second highest peak - 2,912 metres (9,554 ft)) completes an arc of about 200 degrees, with its steep slopes forming on the west side, like a wall, an impressive precipitous amphitheatrical cavity, 700 metres (2,300 ft) in depth and 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in circumference, the 'Megala Kazania'. On the east side of the high peaks the steep slopes form zonelike parallel folds, the 'Zonaria'. Even narrower and steeper scorings, the 'Loukia', lead to the peak.
Οn the north side, between Stefani and Profitis Ilias, extends the Muses' Plateau, at 2,550 metres (8,370 ft), while further south, almost in the center of the massif, extends the alpine tundra region of Bara, at an altitude of 2,350 metres (7,710 ft). Olympus has numerous ravines and gullies. Most distinguishable of the ravines are those of Mavrologos-Enipeas (14 km) and Mavratzas-Sparmos (13 km) near Bara and 'cut' the massif in two oval portions. On the southern foothills the great gorge of Ziliana, 13 km long, consists of a natural limit that separates the mountain from Lower Olympus. There are also many precipices and a number of caves, even nowadays unexplored. The form and layout of the rocks favor the emergence of numerous springs, mainly lower than 2,000 m, of small seasonal lakes and streams and of a small river, Enipeas, with its springs in the site Prionia and its estuary in the Aegean Sea.
In Ancient Greek religion and mythology, Olympus was the home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world. It is the setting of many stories in Greek religious and myth. The Twelve Olympian gods lived in the gorges, where there were also their palaces. Pantheon (today Mytikas) was their meeting place and theater of their stormy discussions. The Throne of Zeus (today Stefani) hosted solely him, the leader of the gods. From there he unleashed his thunderbolts, expressing his godly wrath. In Pieria, on Olympus' northern foot, the mythological tradition had placed the nine Muses, patrons of the Fine Arts, daughters of Zeus and the Titanide Mnemosyne.
According to several sources, including here, Mt Olympus was originally named Mount Belus. The history of Olympus has been turbulent, as its surrounding area was not only a sacred shrine but also a battlefield for the control of the access from Thessaly to Macedonia in ancient times. In the period of the Ottoman Empire the mountain was a hiding place and base of operations for klephts and armatoloi.
In Olympus, the second armatoliki was founded, led by Kara Michalis in 1489. The action of the klephts in Olympus led the Turks to visit their outrage on the klephts' ally-village of Milia (in the late 17th century), which they destroyed. In that period Livadi in Olympus became the seat of the armatoliki of Olympus and Western Macedonia, with their first renowned commander Panos Zidros. In the 18th century the Turks had to replace the armatoloi (who very often joined the klephts) with Moslem Albanian armatoloi who ravaged the countryside of Macedonia. However, Olympus' armatoloi, even after their capitulation to Ali Pasha, never ceased fighting on land and at sea. Among them who were active there and in nearby regions were Nikotsaras, Giorgakis Olympios and the legendary family of Lazaioi. In the early 20th century, even for some time after the liberation from the Ottoman Empire (1912), robbers were active in the region - the best known of them the notorious Giagoulas, while during the German invasion in 1941 the Greek army fought significant battles along with units of New Zealanders and Australians. During the German Occupation (1941 - 1944) the mountain was one of the centers of the Greek Resistance, while a little later the Greek Civil War (1946–49) started there, in Litochoro.
Ancient Greeks likely never tried to climb Olympus' peaks Parththeon and the Throne of Zeus (currently called Mytikas and Stefani respectively), which they considered to be the Twelve Olympians' home. But surely they reached the nearest peak, nowadays called Aghios Antonios, from where they had a view of the two peaks and where they left offerings, as recent archaeological findings indicate. In the modern era, a series of explorers tried to study the mountain and to reach, unsuccessfully, its summit. Examples include the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey (1855), the German explorer Heinrich Barth (1862), and the German engineer Edward Richter. Richter tried to reach the summit in 1911 but was abducted by Klephts, who also killed the Ottoman Gendarmes that accompanied him.
It was just one year after the liberation of Greece from Ottoman rule, on 2 August 1913, that the until then untrodden summit of Olympus was finally reached. The Swiss Frédéric Boissonnas and Daniel Baud-Bovy, aided by a hunter of wild goats from Litochoro, Christos Kakalos, were the first to reach Greece's highest peak. Kakalos, who had much experience climbing Olympus, was the first of the three to climb Mytikas. Afterwards and till his death (1976) he was the official guide of Olympus. In 1921, he and Marcel Kurz reached the second highest summit of Olympus, Stefani. Based on these explorations, Kurz in 1923 edited Le Mont Olympe, a book that includes the first detailed map of the summits. In 1928, the painter Vasilis Ithakisios climbed Olympus together with Kakalos, reaching a cave that he named Shelter of the Muses, and he spent many summers painting views of the mountain. Olympus was later photographed and mapped in detail by others, and a series of successful climbings and winter ascents of the steepest summits in difficult weather conditions took place.
Climbing Mount Olympus is a non-technical hike, except for the final section from the Skala summit to the Mytikas peak, which is a YDS class 3 rock scramble. It is estimated that 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus each year, most of them reaching only the Skolio summit. Most climbs of Mount Olympus start from the town of Litochoro, which took the name City of Gods because of its location at the foot of the mountain. From there a road goes to Prionia, where the hike begins at the bottom of the mountain.
The whole region of Pieria's Olympus was declared archaeological and historical site for the preservation of its monumental and historical character. Five km away from the sea is Dion, sacred city of the ancient Macedons, dedicated to Zeus and the Twelve Olympians. Its prosperity lasted from the 5th century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. The excavations, continuing since 1928, have revealed numerous findings of the Macedonian, the Hellenistic and the Roman period. Currently there is a unique archaeological park of 200 hectares, with the ancient town and the sacred places of worship, outside its walls. Many statues and other invaluable items are kept in the nearby Dion's museum. Pimblia and Livithra, two other towns in Olympus' region, are related to Orpheus and the "Orphic" mysteries. According to a tradition Orpheus, son of Apollo and Calliope (one of the Muses), taught here the mystic ceremonies of worship of Dionysus. By the sea, in a strategic position, at Macedonia's gates is located Platamon Castle, built between 7th and 10th century A.D. in the ancient town of Heraclea.
In Olympus' region there are also several Christian monuments, among them the highest-altitude chapel of Orthodox Christianity, that of Profitis Ilias, on the summit of the same name (2,803 m). It was built in the 16th century by Saint Dionysios of Olympus, who also founded the most significant monastery in the region. The Old Monastery of Dionysios (altitude 820 m) lies in Enipeas' gorge and is accessible by car from Litochoro. It was looted and burned by the Ottomans and in 1943 it was destroyed by the German invaders, who suspected it was a guerilla den. Nowadays it has been partially restored and operates as a dependency of the New Monastery of Dionysios, that is outside Litochoro. On Olympus' southern foot, in a dominant position (820 m) in Ziliana gorge, there is the Kanalon Monastery, 8 km away from Karya. It was founded in 1864 and since 2001 it has been restored and operates as a convent. Further west, in the edge of Mavratza stream, at 1,020 m, there is the Aghias Triadas Sparmou Monastery, that flourished in the early 18th century, possessed great property and assisted to establish the famous Tsaritsani' school. It was abandoned in 1932, but in 2000 it was completely renovated and reopened as a male monastery, affiliated to Elassona's diocese.
Generally speaking Olympus' climate can be described as one of mediterranean type with continental influence. Its local variations is the result of the impact of the sea and the rugged relief of the region. In the lower locations (Litochoro and the foothills) the climate is typically mediterranean, i.e. hot and dry in the summer, while humid and cold in the winter. Higher it is more humid and severe, with more intense phenomena ; in these locations it often snows all over the winter, while raining and snowing is not unusual, even in the summer. The temperature varies in the winter from -10 °C to 10 °C and in the summer from 0 °C to 20 °C, while winds are an almost everyday occurrence. Generally the temperature falls 1 °C per 200 m of altitude. As the altitude rises, the phenomena are more intense and the variations of temperature and humidity are often sudden. The coastal northeast slopes of Olympus receive more rain than the continental northwest, so, as a result, there is a clear difference in vegetation. being more abundant in the first of them. Hottest month is August, while coldest is February.
The mountain's highest zone, over 2,000 metres, is snowcapped for about nine months (September to May). In some places the winds gather snow, 8–10 metres thick, ('anemosouria' in Greek), while in some deep ravines the snow is maintained all over the year (everlasting snow). For this Olympus' alpine region, recordings have been made in the 1960s in the highest-altitude weather station in Greece, that was established on the summit of Aghios Antonios (2,815 m), providing a number of interesting data for the mountain's climate. Τhe average temperature is -5 °C in winter and 10 °C in summer. The average annual precipitation heights vary from 149 cm at Prionia (1,100 m) to 170 cm at Aghios Antonios, about half of them rainfall and hailstorms in summer and the rest snowfall in winter. The weather may change several times in the same day. In summer rainfalls are frequent, commonly as evening thunderstorms, many times accompanied by hail and strong winds. However water springs over 2,000 metres are scarce and visitors should ensure that they have always water and of course the necessary clothing for any weather conditions.
The research of Olympus' plants started in 1836, when the French botanist Αυcher - Εlογ studied them. According to this and later studies, the National Park of Olympus is considered one of the richest flora regions in Greece, with about 1,700 species and subspecies, that represent some 25% of Greek flora. Of them 187 are characterized as significant, 56 are Greek endemic and of them 23 are local endemic, i.e. they can be found only in Olympus, and 16 are rare in Greece or/and have there the limits of their spread within Northern Greece.
Most of those found in lower altitude are the common Mediterranean and central European species. Jankaea heldreichii, a plant relic of the Ice age, is of particular interest for the botanists. Τhe intense diversity of the landscape, the varying orientation of the slopes and their position in relation to the sea affect locally Olympus' climate and so a local microclimate prevails, combined with the geological background and the soil favor the growth of particular vegetation types and biotopes. Generally Olympus' northeast side is densely forested, as it receives the most rainfall, while the southwest one has significantly sparser vegetation. Moreover, there is a clear sequence of the vegetation zones in accordance to altitude, in Olympus there is no such a regularity. It is due to the great microclimate variety, caused by the region's landscape.
In Olympus there are generally four sequent flora zones, but not clearly separated:
In the altitude between 300 and 500 metres occurs the evergreen broadleaf trees' zone (maquis. Along with oak (Quercus ilex) and Greek strawberry tree there occur kermes oak, strawberry tree, Phillyrea latifolia, bay laurel, cedar and others. Of the deciduous species most common are flaxinus ulmus, Montpellier maple, Judas tree, terebinth, Cotinus coggygria and others.
The evergreen broadleaf trees' zone is gradually replaced by ecosystems of European black pine, that forms compact clusters, with no intermediate zone of deciduous oaks, although trees of these species occur sporadically within clusters of black pine. On the northern slopes of Xirolakos valley, at altitude between 600 and 700 metres, there is a high forest of downy oak of about 120 hectares.
Τhe black pine dominates on the eastern and northern side of the mountain, between 500 and 1,700 metres. In this zone there is also hybrid fir in small groups and scrubs or small clumps, particularly in the lower region and in the sites Naoumi (west) and Stalamatia and Polykastro (east), where it is mixed with black pine and Bosnian pine. In this zone there is also beech. While in the neighboring mountains Pierians and Ossa it creates an extended vegetation zone, in Olympus it is restricted to small clusters, appearing as islets, mainly in more humid locations and the best soils. A particularly rich variety of trees and shrubs is found in Enipeas' gorge. One can see there elm, cherry plum, European yew, hazel, holly, cornus mas, manna ash, maple and a considerable variety of herbaceous plants. Gorges and ravines are covered by oriental planes, willows, black alders and riverside greenery.
Typical species of this zone is Bosnian pine. This rare kind of pine occurs sporadically higher than 1,000 metres and gradually replaces the black pine, while over 1,400 metres it creates an almost unmixed forest. Οver 2,000 metres the forest becomes sparser, reaching to 2,750 metres, thus creating the highest forest limit (highest limit of forest growth) in the Balkans, or even in Europe. Another feature of this zone is that over 2,500 metres the trees appear in a crawling form. The region, where Bosnian pine grows, is mostly dry and its slopes are rocky. There are no springs or water streams. The vegetation growing there is adapted to specific local conditions and represented by typical shrubs, graminaceous, chasmophytes etc., while the flora includes many endemic species of the Balkans.
Beyond Bosnian pine's zone follows an extensive zone, without trees, with alpine meadows, consisted by a mosaic of grassland ecosystems, depending on the topography, the slope and the orientation of the ground. In general, this alpine flora with more than 150 plant species, contains snow accumulation meadows, grassy swamps, alpine scree and rock crevices. On the meadows, the rocks and the steep slopes live most of the endemic Olympus' plants, among them some of the most beautiful wildflowers in Greece. Half of them are found only in the Balkans and 23 only in Olympus and nowhere else.
- Achillea ambrosiaca
- Alyssum handelii
- Asprerula muscosa
- Aubrieta thessala
- Campanula oreadum
- Carum adamovicii
- Centaurea incompleta
- Centaurea litochorea
- Centaurea transiens
- Cerastrium theophrasti
- Erysimum olympicum
- Festuca olympica
- Genίsta sakellariadis
- Jankaea heldreichii
- Ligusticum olympicum
- Melampyrum ciliatum
- Poa thessala
- Potentilla deorum
- Rynchosinapis nivalis
- Silene dionysii
- Silene oligantha
- Veronica thessalica
- Viola striis - notata
Οlympus' fauna, that has not been systematically studied so far, includes considerable variety and is marked by important, rare and endangered species. Large mammals, that lived formerly in the region, like deer, have disappeared. In ancient times there were lions (Pausanias), while at least until the 16th century there were bears (Life of St. Dionysios the Later). There have been recorded 32 species of mammals, including wild goat (Rυρicapra rupicapra), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), wildcat (Felis sylvestris), beech marten (Martes foina), red fox (vulpes vulpes) and red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). There have also been detected 108 species of birds (like sparrowhawk, cinereous vulture, rock partridge, white stork, rock dove, European robin, lanner falcon, peregrine falcon, tree falcon, golden eagle, short-toed snake eagle, booted eagle and hoopoe). Many of them, particularly the birds of prey, are scarce. In addition there are the common reptiles of Greek fauna (22 species like snakes, turtles, lizards, etc.) and some amphibians (8 species) in streams and seasonal ponds, as well as a great variety of insects, particularly butterflies.
Greece's highest mountain, dwelling of the Twelve Gods of antiquity, has been the first region in the country to be applied specific protective rules, by its declaration as a National Park in 1938. The aim of this declaration was ΄΄...the preservation in perpetuity of the natural environment of the region, i.e. of wild flora, fauna and natural landscape, as well as its cultural and other values...΄΄. In addition the declaration has aimed promoting scientific research along with environmental education for the public and tourist development in the region. Specific laws prohibit all forms of exploitation on the eastern side of the mountain in an area of about 4,000 hectares, that is the core of the Park. A wider region, around this core, has been designated ΄΄peripheral zone of the National Park΄΄, so that its managing and exploitation to be done so as not to adversely affect the core's protection. At present, the park has been expanded to 24,000 hectares. Administratively it belongs to Pieria's and Larissa's Prefectures and specifically to the municipalities Diou-Olympou and Katerinis (Pieria) and Τempon and Elassonas (Larissa). Its lowest altitude is 600 metres and its peak, Mytikas, at 2,918 metres. In 1981 UNESCO proclaimed Olympus ΄΄Biosphere Reserve΄΄. European Union has listed Olympus in the ΄΄Significant for Birdlife Regions of European Union΄΄. It is also registered in the list of Natura 2000 European Network as a special protection area and a site of Community interest.
The Park is protected by specific legislation. Under the ΄΄Special Regulation΄΄ entrance to the Park is allowed only by the existing roads and traffic is allowed from sunrise to sunset only on formed paths. The visitor should also know that the following activities are not allowed :Entrance to children under 14 years unescorted.
Parking in places other than the specific parking lots.
Felling, humus transportation, rooting and collecting shrubs, plants and seeds.
Hunting any animal by any means throughout the year.
Collection and destruction of nests, eggs or chicks and general disturbance and destruction of fauna species.
Damage to geological formations.
Free movement of any animals accompanying visitors.
Olympus' massif is found about in the middle of continental Greece and it is easy to approach from the national and railway network Athens-Thessaloniki and from secondary roads that connect towns and villages around the mountain, with principal base for excursions the picturesque town of Litochoro, where there is a lot of hotels and taverns. In addition, on Pieria's coastal zone there are many camp sites and lodgings. The nearest international airport is that of Thessaloniki and the closest to Olympus railway stations are those of Litochoro, Katerini and Leptokarya. There is frequent service of KTEL buses and a taxi stand in Litochoro's central square.By air: Makedonia Airport in Thessaloniki, 80 km away from Katerini and 150 km from Elassona.
By train: Athens-Leptokarya (regular line), Athens-Katerini (Intercity) and Thessaloniki-Litocoro (Suburban).
By bus: Athens-Katerini (437 km), Thessaloniki-Katerini (68 km), Katerini-Litochoro (25 km), Athens-Larissa (354 km), Larissa-Elassona, Elassona-Kokkinopilos (22 km), Elassona-Karya (36 km).
To Litochoro via Road P.A.TH.E. (412 km away from Athens, 93 km from Thessaloniki).
To Elassona via National Roads Athens-Larissa (354 km) and Larissa-Elassona (38 km).
To Karya via road Larissa-Rodia-Sykaminea-Karya (48 km, 6 km of them dirt road).
To Karya via Road P.A.TH.E. and road Leptokarya-Karya (24 km), or Neos Panteleimonas-Kallipefki-Karya (37 km).
To Kokkinopilos from Elassona via road Katerini-Foteina-Elassona (46 km) or via forest road Foteina-Petra-Kokkinopilos.
"Spilios Agapitos". The first and evener refuge of the region is at the site "Βalkoni" (or "Exostis") at 2,100 metres (6,900 ft) altitude, in the center of Mavrologos and belongs to Greek Federation of Mountaineering Club (E.O.O.S). Ιt provides 110 beds, water, electricity and telephone facilities, heating, blankets and a restaurant, managed by Maria Zolota and her husband Dionisis. It operates from May to October, 6-10 p.m.
"Vrysopoules". The second refuge is westerly, behind Mavratzas' gorge at the site Vrysopoules (1,800 m) and is accessible also by car from location Sparmos. It is managed by Κ.Ε.Ο.Α.Χ (Army Skiers) since 1961. It provides 30 beds, a kitchen, water, electricity, central heating and a fireplace. It is open all year round, but to overnight a military license is required.
"Christos Kakalos". Ιt is at the southwest edge of Muses' Plateau (2,648 m), belongs to Greek Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (Ε.Ο.Ο.Α) that operates it from May to October and provides 18 beds, electricity, blankets, a kitchen and tank water. It is managed by one of the best experienced Greek climbers, the geologist Mihalis Stylas.
"Stavros" ("Dimitrios Bountolas"). It is on Olympus' eastern side, 9.5 km on asphalt road away from Litochoro, at 930 metres (3,050 ft) altitude, in Dionysios Monastery forest. It belongs to the Greek Mountaineering Club of Thessaloniki, operates all year round, mainly as refreshment room and restaurant and can host 30 persons. It is managed by Doultsinou family.
"Giosos Apostolidis". It is on Muses' Plateau (Diaselo - 2,760 m) and belongs to the Club of Grrek mountaineers of Thessaloniki. It can accommodate 80 persons, it provides electricity, water, a fireplace and an equipped kitchen and it is open from June to October. It is managed by Dimitris Zorbas.
"Petrostrouga". It is on the second, more common, path to Olympus (D10); it is the same path to reach to Muses' Plateau. Τhis refuge is at 1,900 metres (6,200 ft) altitude, surrounded by perennial Bosnian pines. It can accommodate 60 persons, it provides an equipped kitchen, electricity, water and a fireplace and it is open all year round. It is managed by the Hellenic Rescue Team. It provides organized medical equipment and one of the three emergency heliports in Olympus (the others at Skourta and Spilios Agapitos) and emergency wireless inside and out of the refuge.
Aghios Antonios: emergency refuge on the summit Aghios Antonios (2,818 m). It is equipped with emergency items by the Hellenic Rescue Team. In the refuge there is wireless for communication in case of emergency.
Kalyva tou Christaki: emergency refuge in ΄΄Megali Gourna΄΄ (2,430 m) along the Path E4, Kokinopilos - Skala. The refuge does not provide emergency items (there are only beds) but is only for protection from bad weather.
Kakalos: emergency refuge at the "oropedio ton mouson"
It belongs to the Greek Mountaineering & Climbing Federation (www.eooa.gr) and is located at the eastern margin of the Plateau of Muses at an elevation of 2,650 metres (8,690 ft). It was named after Christos Kakalos the Olympus hunter and guide who together with the Swiss climbers Fred Boissonnas and Daniel Baud Bovy made the first recorded ascent to Olympus highest peak Mytikas on 2 August 1913. It has a capacity of 25 people and offers lodging, food and toilets. It is open from mid May to end of October and from December to mid April.
Mount Olympus and the national Park around it were selected as the main motif for the Greek National Park Olympus commemorative coin, minted in 2005.
On the reverse, the War of the Titans on Mount Olympus is portrayed along with flowering branches on the lower part of the coin. Above the scene is written, in Greek, "National Park Olympus".