The Secret Cycladic Village under the Acropolis
If you find yourself in the Anafiotika neighborhood of Athens, you might wonder where on earth you are, and where Athens went.
Where's all the graffiti? The kamikaze motorbikes? The honking of traffic?
Why is it so peaceful?
If you hunt for it, you will find a tiny, wonderfully scenic village just above the lively Plaka neighborhood of Athens. The cubic whitewashed homes, tight little alleys, brightly painted doors and flamboyant sprays of bougainvillea might mess with your head a little and have you wondering how you ended up in a small horio in the Cyclades, far off in the blue Aegean.
You could be forgiven for thinking it...after all, you're in the middle of Athens, a frenetic modern metropolis, but somehow here it's very still, very flowery and if you look upwards...oh, hello, Acropolis!
Scattering down from the northern slope of the great rock itself like a cluster of crumbling sugar cubes, the tiny houses of Anafiotika have a unique origin story. In the early 19th century, King Otto, or Othon in Greek, wanted to revamp his palace and Athens at large, now that it was free from Ottoman control.
He invited skilled carpenters and builders to come to the newly-minted capital, some of whom were from the Cycladic island of Anafi. Those builders set up their homes on the rocky flanks of the Acropolis, and built them in the style of their beloved island home, calling the new village "Anafiotika" - little Anafi.
Most of the original neighborhood is gone, and fewer than 50 houses currently remain, as much was torn down during archaeological excavations. Many people who live there today are descendants of the original occupants.
I found the online directions on actually getting there rather vague. Start in the Plaka, but beyond that, sources rambled and varied. We ended up asking a priest coming out of his church, and with his directions we were finally able to find it, despite frequently wondering if we were going the right way or if we were going to end up in some perplexed local's doorway.
This is a walking destination - you can't drive to the middle of it. We climbed stairs and wound around little lanes with the usual prolific Athenian graffiti on the walls, until we found ourselves surrounded by lush trees and the blocky little houses with their ceramic-tiled roofs. The area is almost heartbreakingly picturesque, all the more so for the unexpectedness of it all. The graffiti was mostly gone, and in it's place were potted herbs and flowering vines. We meandered through the very narrow alleyways, past lounging cats and fragrant pots of basil. At various points we were rewarded with a view of the north face of the Acropolis wall and the Greek flag flying above it.
This must have been roughly the place where, during the Nazi occupation of Athens, a young Greek soldier named Konstantinos Koukidis hurled himself to his death. He had allegedly been an evzone on flag guard duty on 27 April 1941, when a German officer ordered him to surrender and take down the Greek flag in order to replace it with the swastika. Koukidis is said to have hauled down the blue and white flag, wrapped it around his shoulders, and jumped from the Acropolis rock to his death rather than hoist up the hated flag of the enemy.
Facing away from the Acropolis, there's an expansive view of the city, with Mt. Lycavitos in the distance.
If you find yourself in Athens with some time to explore, make Anafiotika a part of your trip. Wander through the oleander and hibiscus-lined alleyways and see a quiet corner of the city you may have never expected. It's a place that's well worth the effort.