Spring is a magical time to see the ancient and contemporary treasures of Athens. The weather is delightful, and the city celebrates the Athens in Bloom festival with streets and squares blanketed in flowers, as the Greek capital welcomes spring with a contemporary floral display. In this starkly white, stone city, the sight of delicate flowers and blooming orange trees growing out of the sidewalks emphesizes its surreal edge. The festival of flowers originated in the 1930s in Kifissia Park, and grows more spectacular every year. Floral displays are set up in the heart of Athens and in the National Gardens, with the most cutting edge displays in Syntagma Square. Tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, narcissi, dahlias, roses, begonias and carnations are exhibited alongside rare plant species from around the country.
Some of the Athens in Bloom celebrations are held in the National Gardens, beloved by painters, pistachio vendors, stray cats and tourists overwhelmed by the sights. The perfumed shade of the gardens affords sweet respite from history and food.
The gardens, formerly known as the Royal Garden, were the scene of an unusual turning point in Greek history. In 1920, while walking in the gardens, King Alexander was bitten by a monkey. This accident resulted in his death, and changed the course of Greek history.
In 1920, Greece was ruled by King Alexander and the government of Eleftherios Venizelos remained committed to the Megali Idea (The Great Idea) for Greece to regain control of portions of Asia Minor on the Ionian coast from the Ottoman Empire. The death of King Alexander ushered the return of his father, King Constantine I who had been deposed for his pro-German sympathies during the First World War. Upon his return to power, King Constantine assisted in the defeat of his political nemesis, Venizelos in the General Election. As a result of this change in political environment, the Allied Powers withdrew their support. The result was the 1922 Great Fire of Smyrna and the 1923 Exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey known collectively by the Greeks as the "catastrophe".