Friday, 9 January 2015

Greece: Exarcheia, the vibrant, colorful downtown world of Athens!

Kallidromiou Street building

The downtown district of Athens, Eksarcheia, is a dynamic and vivid neigborhood of a thousand different faces!

"Two months have gone by since we have not seen each other, a whole century and nine seconds. The stars have lost their shine when you left". Poetry is written on the walls of Exarcheia, -a downtown district in Athens-, filling them like open notebooks.  Every city has the need of its Eharcheia, as a refuge for souls who seek, who search and want to be searched, or just flirt with the spirit of revolution.  Kreuzberg in Berlin or Lavapiés and Malasaña in Madrid demonstrate their unique character: a youthful spirit combined with an unyielding power and energy that stems from colorful, noisy and vivid neighborhoods.

Perhaps the most multicultural district of Athens and all Greece, Exarcheia is definitely open to all, despite the various tags that many have occasionally tried to stamp to it.  Its dynamism, its multicolored crowd of students, immigrants, conscious citizens, surpasses any prejudices and invites you, on a Friday night, to feel its pulse in cool small bars playing jazz or in small taverns in narrow alleys.  This lively district doesn't belong anywhere specifically and is constantly evolving; neither ideologically nor politically can it be defined, as it belongs to all who want to explore its narrow cobbled alleys and its beautiful small bars, cafes and taverns.

Here also, you can search for dusty old books in small, forgotten bookshops, retro vinyls in underground music-shops, taste sweet treats in "Sorolop" at Benaki street, climb up the Strefi Hill for a visit to the lively "Exostrephis" tavern  or just  walk the Kallidromiou Street, one of the most beautiful streets of Athens.  There, as well as in other famous streets of Exarcheia, like Tositsa, Benaki and Themistocleous you will be able to admire the chaotic beauty of the architecture of this downtown neighborhood.  From the so-called "Tower of Kallidromiou» an imposing abandoned mansion, and the "Blue combo building" a historical apartment building in the Exarcheia Square, to many other beautifully restored mansions, Exarcheia calls you on a historical tour in the heart of Athens in contrast with the modernist buildings full of graffiti. 


This legendary district is a vibrant and resonant incubator of ideas, as well as a traditional area of experimentation that leads the trends of the Greek capital.  And it does so with underground music scenes, such as the famous "An Club", alternative Greek-cuisine restaurants and taverns, and tiny cool bars that are constantly full of young people and positive energy.  The Benaki Street is now one of the most famous streets in the Athenian gastronomy map, as you can find excellent unconventional spots to eat and drink some good wine or "raki" (strong alcoholic beverage), and even post-modern restaurants that compete the more traditional taverns such as the historical "Rosalia" tavern in Valtetsiou Street, one of the oldest in Athens! 

Graffiti (photo by Katia Maglogianni)

 Exarcheia was the first place in Athens to integrate into the new environment of the economic crisis that hit hard Greece in 2010; many young people with an entrepreneurship spirit begun to experiment by opening original cafes, bars and small taverns with affordable prices and quality.

As a result, visiting crowds immediately rushed to embrace these efforts by filling up these new establishments, like the "Kokinos Lotos" bar, the "Saligaros" tavern and the "67" bar, and also other places made with a good mix of imagination and enterprising spirit.  All that never ending activity led to the famed "Botellon" effect (the Spanish term for drinking alcohol in public places, mostly squares) mostly in Eksarcheia Square and Valtetsiou Street,  though it looks like it is integrated within the general character of local entertainment as the bars around continue to be full of people. However, cleanliness is a big issue, especially every Friday and Saturday night, and it needs some extra care from the municipality services and some goodwill from the partygoers. 

Exarcheia district is definitely the beating heart of the youth of Athens.  It is a colorful, bustling neighborhood with no stereotypes, multicultural and open to everyone, from Erasmus students from all over Europe, from immigrants and tourists alike, up to the everyday Athenian buying his fresh fruits form the public market of Kalidromiou Street every Saturday morning (a definite must!), Exarcheia belongs to the whole world!

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on October 25, 2014 (transl. & edited from greek, original here)

Benaki Street (photo by Katia Maglogianni)

Old mansions
Athens scyline
Athens - Exarcheia between the hills