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The Lake Stymphalia path: Following the steps of Hercules on a natural-cultural heritage journey

Lake Stymphalia is located in the mountainous region of the Peloponnese in southern Greece. It is one of the most important inland wetlands of its kind in the Mediterranean, harbouring such rare bird species as Aythya nyroca, Ixobrychus minutus, Ardea purpurea, which is why it is included in the Natura 2000 Network. According to Greek mythology, it is here that Hercules completed his 6th Labour, by defeating the Stymphalian birds.

The wetland presents a unique landscape where biodiversity intermingles with the ruins of the ancient city of Stymphalos and with the rich cultural heritage of the area. Ancient Stymphalos was inhabited from the 4th century BC until the 6th century AD. Nowadays, a big part of the city lies almost sunken under the Lake.

The dual identity of the site was used as the theme for the establishment of an interpretation trail “Man and Nature on the Paths of the Time” It was developed and built in collaboration between the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation, the municipality of Sikyonion, OIKOM Environmental Studies Ltd, the Society for the Protection of Prespa and the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving and co-financed by the EU LIFE programme. It is an easy, self-guided, linear hiking route of 1.8 km (duration: 2 hours’ roundtrip) that links the Environment Museum of Stymphalia with the wetland and the archaeological site.

Information signs are placed along the trail, highlighting the ecosystem of the Natura 2000 site, its cultural landscape and its archaeological finds. A bird observatory offers an unobstructed view of the Lake while providing information on the protected bird species. So far (April-September 2017), the path has been visited by around 1500 individuals, including school groups, scouts, NGOs, mountaineering clubs, etc.

An exhibition on the lake and Natura 2000 entitled “The Sixth Labour” has also been installed at the local museum in order to raise awareness about the lake’s rich heritage and the need to protect it. Commenting on the Lake’s mythological past, the exhibition gives Hercules’ labour a new meaning: if mutually respected, man and the environment can co-exist in harmony. In recent times, the lake has suffered significantly from incompatible agricultural practices and bird hunting activities, these issues are now also being addressed through other aspects of the LIFE-Stymfalia project.

The ongoing exhibition attracted more than 47,000 visitors in the last 2 years and has inspired several parallel educational and cultural events.

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