Anafiotika (4)

The story of the founding of this small place at the foot of the Acropolis is priceless, just like each of its peculiar, pretty streets.

When you walk through this neighbourhood in the district of Plaka, you have the feeling of being on an island without sea. The ochre-whiteness of the houses, the winding cobbled streets, the basil plants peeking from the windows or the doors of the low houses and workshops will remind you of life in the small coastal villages. It feels strange not to be able to smell the sea from the tiny steps of Anafiotika or see the small fishing boats moored on the sand. There is no sea or sand, or fish, apart from those in the restaurants, because you are in the heart of the city.

It said that the Anafiotika neighbourhood was built to mirror the Cycladic island of Anafi, to the east of Thera. This is, they say, because when the Turkish King Otto decided to build his palace in 1832, he wanted the best builders, craftsmen and marble workers. They came from Anafi and, aware that they would be years away from home to carry out work for the king, they took the phrase "If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain" literally and decided to recreate their own home here in the city of Athens.

Where workers were employed full time in the neoclassical palatial residences, carving marble and building majestic structures during the day, at night they constructed whitewashed houses, stone by stone, adapted to the land on which they were built, and created a such a doll-like landscape that it is almost like a fictional backdrop.

The fact is that the Delphic oracle in ancient times issued the ban on building in the area to preserve the sanctity of the area surrounding the Acropolis. Either due to the legendary prohibition or to the decree of 1834 that declared the area an archaeological site, the arduous task of the Anafi locals in recreating their home was forbidden. Therefore, and not for the sake of romance, the work was carried out at night. This also took advantage of the Ottoman law, which said that the authorities could not destroy the new houses.

The growing influx of craftsmen, who arrived in Athens after the independence of Greece, helped speed up the construction of this neighbourhood.

Anafiotika is, however, one of the oldest settlements in the city. Prior the 19th century in which the neighbourhood was built as it can be seen today, it had already been home to the refugees from the Peloponnesian War and to the Ethiopian slaves during the Ottoman Empire. The prohibition of the oracle was, from time immemorial, overcome by the need for shelter by those coming to the area.

The streets of Anafiotika, with their off-white houses, their blue doors, their purple bougainvillea and their lazy dogs on the corners, are full of hand-painted wooden signs indicating how to climb to the Acropolis and not how to reach the sea, as it might seem.

If you have time, get lost in Anafiotika and listen to the silence of a neighbourhood built by and for craftsmen and that now opens its door, however narrow, to visitors interested in this charming maze.

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