Anafiotika : A Greek island in the middle of Athens

It was a hot and sunny day and while I was wandering in Athens, I ended up close to the Acropolis once again. There, right at the beginning the paved Dionisiou Areopagitou street and directly opposite to the Acropolis Museum, there is a small road that leads to one of the most picturesque neighborhoods of the city. Built on the slopes of the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, Anafiotika is a district that looks like a Greek island in the middle of Athens.

The history of this area begins shortly after the founding of the Greek state. It was when king Otto wanted to make Athens a glorious city again, by building palaces, public buildings, mansions etc. Anafiotes (the people from Anafi island) were famous craftsmen and used to build their houses using stone, following the traditional Cycladic architecture, and therefore Otto offered them jobs. So gradually more and more builders left their island to come to work in the newly established capital city of Greece. Many of them brought also their families together, so they looked for a place to move. The northeast side of the Acropolis was meant to be their new home, as they created there a district that is continuously inhabited since then.

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From the very first meters of Thrasyllou street, that is one of the main entrances to Anafiotika, you get this feeling that you leave behind the hustle of Athens center, which is just a few minutes walk, and you enter a total different place. The bougainvilleas, roses and other plants that cover the streets together with the first houses that you meet, give you an idea of what follows next. It is quite impressive though that there is hardly a trace of metal or cement, and even the few modern buildings have been built in a way that respects the aesthetics of the remaining area. The 50 residents that still live here today are very proud that they have managed to maintain the traditional character of their neighborhood.

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When you reach the heart of Anafiotika, you will immediately feel like traveling to a Greek island. The narrow, slightly uphill streets lead visitors between small, stone – made and white houses, that even though most of them are more than one hundred years old and look in bad shape, in fact many of them have never been abandoned. When the weather is warm and sunny, you can even see the residents, especially the older ones, sitting in their yards, taking care of their plants or pers and chatting with people, whether they are neigbours or just strangers who came by. Besides, this is probably one of the advantages of living in an area like this, without blocks of flats, office buildings etc. People are more outgoing and friendly.

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Like in most of the Greek islands or small neighborhoods, the layout here is an unknown word. So it's relatively easy to get lost, although this is not always a bad thing. In fact, it is most likely that it will lead you to discover some hidden alleys or houses with stunning view. You should also have in mind that in Anafiotika, most of the streets do not have any name. Moreover, the locals have taken care and managed to restore and operate today both of the churches there were built here, Agios Simeon (Saint Simeon) and Agios Georgios ton Vraxon (Saint George of the Rocks).

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Reaching the end of your journey and going towards the next district, called Plaka, you can admire the church of Metamorfosi tou Sotiris (Church of the Transfiguration) dating from the 11th century, as well as the house of Kleanthis (a famous Greek architect of the 19th century), which housed the first university of Greece and now a museum.

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Surely after that you realize how does it feel like living a simple, but at the same time, full life in a city of three million inhabitants, just a few meters from tall buildings and the most iconic Greek landmark. Today there is a short battle with bureaucracy and the modern era, in order to save this rare area. So, if you ever come to Athens and pay a visit to the Acropolis, don't forget to spend some minutes in Anafiotika too!

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