Abstract During the 1999 Athens Earthquake the town of Adàmes, located on the eastern cliff of the Kifissos river canyon, experienced unexpectedly heavy damage. Despite the significant amplification potential of the slope geometry, topography effects cannot alone explain the uneven damage distribution within a 300 m zone behind the crest, characterized by a rather uniform structural quality. This paper illustrates the important role of soil stratigraphy, material heterogeneity, and soil–structure interaction on the characteristics of ground surface motion. For this purpose, we first perform elastic two-dimensional wave propagation analyses utilizing available geotechnical and seismological data, and validate our results by comparison with aftershock recordings. We then conduct non-linear time-domain simulations that include spatial variability of soil properties and soil–structure interaction effects, to reveal their additive contribution in the topographic motion aggravation.