Exploring the Dragon House of Athens

The most famous dragon houses (drakospita / δρακόσπιτα) in Greece are the Dragon Houses of South Evia. Dragon houses are generally made of square and elongated stones, which are placed on top of each other, without other binders and are held only by their weight. The gaps are filled with other smaller stones. The roof is also made of huge stones according to the corbelling system. It is clear that their builders had deep knowledge of statics, but also of the cyclopean technique.

Apart from Evia, however, there is also a dragon house very close to the centre of Athens, on the mountain of Hymettus (Υμηττός), in the municipality of Vyronas (Βύρωνας) and specifically in the area of Koutalas (Κουταλάς). The dating, the origin and use of the building, which is mainly known as the “Dragon House / Drakospito of Hymettus” (Δρακόσπιτο του Υμηττού), has not been sufficiently investigated and for this reason there are various theories.

Our team has compiled the most popular theories circulating on the internet and presents them to you, along with rich photographic material from our recent visit to the site.

Just one hundred and fifty metres from the Dragon House, are the ancient quarries of Koutalas, which today are used as the climbing field called Karavi (Καράβι).

Ancient quarries of Koutalas / Karavi
Ancient quarries of Koutalas / Karavi
Ancient quarries of Koutalas / Karavi
Ancient quarries of Koutalas / Karavi

According to one theory, the building – the only one preserved from a series of similar buildings, the remains of which are visible in the surrounding area – was built by the ancient workers of the quarries as a sanctuary in honour of Hercules, who was considered their protector.

Αnother theory holds that the building is the work of Dryopes (Δρύοπες), the ancient tribe that settled in 1,200 BC in the southern part of Evia after its expulsion from the area of ​​Parnassos. Scholars believe that the dragon houses of the Dryopes were built as sanctuaries in honour of Zeus and his wife Hera.

Other scholars believe that the Dragon House was built by slaves who worked in the quarries and came from Karia (Καρία). In Karia, located in the area of ​​ancient Bodrum in Asia Minor, similar buildings have been found and were associated with the worship of chthonic deities.

An extensive study of the Dragon House of Hymettus has been done by Stavros Oiconomidis and has been published in the Archaeological Analects from Athens (Volume 42, 2018). This study refers to the book by J. Carpenter and D. Boyd on dragon houses. These two scholars place the building in the 1st BC century and connect it with the use of the nearby quarries of Koutalas during the Roman Era.

Finally on the internet there is a reference to an article by Professor G.K. Gardikas with the title Ymittos in the Proceedings of the Archaeological Society (sub. No. 151 of 1920). In this article the Dragon House is mentioned as a cave with many inscriptions and two reliefs depicting a sitting woman and a lion’s head. According to Gardikas, the building was dedicated in Charites, Pan and Apollo. The same scholar states that Plato’s (the ancient Athenian philosopher) parents brought him to the sanctuary as an infant in order to make a sacrifice and ask for his protection from the gods.

The building is located on the edge of a steep mountain slope and has stunning views of Athens. It has an almost circular plan with a maximum diameter of 5.30 metres and a maximum height inside of 1.85 metres. It has two openings, one bigger as an entrance and the other smaller as a skylight. In the centre of the building there is a carved stone which is considered an altar for worship use, while on the walls there are carved notches for various uses. Finally on the wall towards the smaller opening there is probably a face carved in the stone.

An interesting detail is that during our visit, in a recess in the walls of the Dragon House, we found a small vial with a piece of paper and a pencil in it, with which some of the visitors had written down their names.

Dragon House of Hymettus
Dragon House of Hymettus
Dragon House of Hymettus – The entrance from the outside
Dragon House of Hymettus – The skylight from the outside
Interior of the Dragon House of Hymettus – In the center the altar and the recesses in the walls
Interior of the Dragon House of Hymettus – Altar and entrance
Interior of the Dragon House of Hymettus – Entrance
Interior of the Dragon House of Hymettus – Skylight
Interior of the Dragon House of Hymettus – Face carved in the stone
Vial with guest names
Remains of other buildings around the Dragon House
Remains of buildings on the path to Karavi

A relatively easy way to reach the Dragon House of Hymettus is to follow this hiking route starting from the Monastery of Agios Georgios Koutalas (Μοναστήρι Αγίου Γεωργίου Κουταλά) in Vyronas. First follow the dirt road that starts from the Monastery in the direction of the mountain. Then turn left on the second dirt road you encounter and after following it for a few metres at the next junction follow it to the right. After about 200 metres on the right side of the road you will find the letter “K” painted red on a rock. You follow this path (which along its entire length is marked with red signs) until you reach Karavi. From there, in a south-southwest direction, a path of about 150 metres starts from the edge of the slope that leads you to the Dragon House. The latter part needs a little attention because it has a slight slope in some places.

Finally, a short video from our visit to the Dragon House through the path that starts from Karavi.

The mere existence of such an unknown and mysterious place a few hundred metres from the city centre is a good reason to visit it. The atmosphere around and inside the building, and the unique panoramic view will reward you for the effort you make to reach it. Only during your visit respect the place that has survived so many thousands of years.