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Exploring Anafiotika Neighborhood in the Heart of Athens

Plaka, the picturesque district below the north side of the Acropolis, is the oldest residential area in Athens. Among its many attractions, perhaps the most surprising is a Cycladic village that has kept its character better than most hamlets on the islands themselves.

The 17 th -century St George of the Rock marks the entrance to Anafiotika. White-washed steps lead to little white houses with blue and green gates and plenty of flowers – roses, bougainvillea, honeysuckle, geraniums – their blooms and aromas rising from tiny courtyards. The streets narrow into spaghetti-thin alleys, so narrow that a portly person can barely squeeze through. Some of these alleys end at people’s front doors, where a dog or cat may be sitting.

This is its story. After winning their struggle for independence from the Turks, the Greeks eventually decided to make Athens their capital based on its glorious role in antiquity. But the city had been neglected for hundreds of years, even before the Turkish occupation, and heavy street fighting during the Revolution destroyed so many buildings that some
contemporary accounts say only 60 houses were left standing.

Meanwhile, the Great Powers – England, France, and Russia – which had helped Greece win the war, had also appointed a ruler for the country, a 19-year-old prince, Otto of Bavaria. The new king arrived from Munich with dozens of advisors who dreamed of restoring Athens to its former glory. But the German architects needed Greek construction crews, so specialized laborers began pouring in from the islands, eager for work.

Although they were hired to build palaces, they had no lodgings of their own. Initially, they camped in shanties near their construction sites in the center, but they needed something permanent and cheap. This area below the Acropolis seemed ideal. Rocky and steep, it reminded them of home. Even better, it was empty and cost nothing since building here was against the law. Because the first two squatters came from Anafi, a speck of an island near Santorini, the district came to be known as Anafiotika.

Building this high up on the Acropolis was illegal even in antiquity. But it had often been popular with squatters. Refugees from the Peloponnesian Wars camped there and in Turkish times, Ethiopian slaves lived in and around the large caves under the Acropolis walls. An unwritten law, dating from the Ottomans and never rescinded, states that if you can put up a roof overnight, no one can oblige you to tear it down. A hundred years ago, more squatters came – refugees from Asia Minor. In the ‘70s, some houses were demolished in the search for antiquities. But opposition was so intense that the archeologists were forced to acknowledge that Athens modern history has value, too.

In the past decade, some of the facades in Anafiotika have received a new look: dazzling street art that somehow does not clash with the architecture and atmosphere and meets with the residents’ approval.

Anafiotika’s second church, St Simeon, marks the end of the village.

-Diana Farr Louis

Directed by Dionysia Kopana

Dionysia Kopana was born in Arcadia, Greece. She has studied film, psychology, and history of art, and has worked in television, advertising, and film production. She is also a photographer and columnist. She has directed Theatrical plays and has written Screenplays and Directed Photography.

She explores hybrid forms of narrative, and she loves essay documentaries. Since 2007, she has been teaching Film Directing and Creative Documentary. She collaborates on a continuous basis with The Creative Group for the Development of Young People’s Audiovisual Communication and Expression “Youth Plan” (Neaniko Plano). She has also given presentations at conferences on Audiovisual / Cinema Education.

Her films have participated in and won awards in numerous film festivals. She has served as a member in various critics’ committees and is a founding member of the Greek Documentary Association.

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