Let’s be honest, Athens is not a pretty city. I was actually quite shocked when arriving and expecting to find a historical city that would compare to other European capitals like Paris or Rome, but Athens turned out to be quite different in many ways. Not only was Athens unique in terms of its ancient history with seemingly endless ruins laying scattered around town, but also because the entire city looked as if it had been built in the 1950s and 60s. The exceptions to this rule and the only places with historical architecture were the areas of Plaka and Anafiotika.
While the once residential area of Plaka had been turned into a neighborhood of restaurants and souvenir shops, the more remote location of Anafiotika had apparently helped to preserve the authentic village feel, right in the middle of otherwise hectic Athens. Having been built in typical Cycladic architectural style by construction workers who came from the islands of Anafi and Naxos to erect the palace for the German King Otto in 1843, picturesque Anafiotika easily became my favorite neighborhood after discovering how to actually get there.
“I lived three years in Athens before even realizing that Anafiotika existed” told me a Greek girl who had moved to Athens a few years back. And as it turned out, Anafiotika really was an easy-to-miss neighborhood that many people failed to explore when visiting Athens. But it was well worth the effort of climbing the steps beyond Plaka and finding the little access paths that lead to the remaining 45 cubic houses and two churches that escaped the wrecking ball. Today, this once illegally erected neighborhood in the shadows of the mighty Acropolis really did feel like a Greek island in the midst of modern-day Athens.
The Cycladic Village of Anafiotika
It was really interesting to see that Anafiotika looked exactly like all the images I had ever seen of the Greek islands. The only difference here was that this Cycladic Island was situated in the middle of a big noisy city, instead of being surrounded by the waters of the blue sea.
Anafiotika Gardens and Public Spaces
Interestingly enough, but only a few houses within Anafiotika did not appear with a fresh coat of white paint. This unrestored building for example illustrated beautifully that the color schemes of the cubic houses had changed over the years. Besides white, 10 shades of yellow and 3 of light blue could be found, leaving it to our imagination how the entire village must have looked like in previous times.
The simple Colors of Anafiotika
If you are visiting Athens and would like to look beyond the modern façade of this once ancient city, definitely make sure to stop by Anafiotika. This area of whitewashed houses with their tiny alleyways, narrow stairs, enclosed courtyards, dead end passages, colorful Bougainvillea and many stray cats, is nowadays a protected landmark. The lack of tourist facilities not only provides an authentic neighborhood feel, but also a not-to-miss experience when visiting Athens.
Google Maps doesn’t locate Anafiotika correctly, but:
- Coming from Monasteraki Square, walk straight through Plaka until you actually reach to the Acropolis Hill, then keep to your left to find Anafiotika.
- When coming from the Acropolis metro stop, walk as close as possible along the Acropolis hill (the hill is on your left), towards Plaka and Monasteraki. You will reach Anafiotika automatically.
TIP: Visit Anafiotika early in the morning. On the one hand this is the only time of the day when the sun actually bypasses the Acropolis Hill and lights up the little white houses and on the other hand, the morning is the perfect time to enjoy the tranquil island atmosphere.
Is Anafiotika “Island” and it’s architecture something you would enjoy visiting?