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Exarcheia: Most Misunderstood Neighborhood in Athens

Exarcheia Athens Greece
Exarcheia neighborhood in Athens. Credit: Constanza Gajardo L. / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Exarcheia’s reputation precedes it. If you ask any Athenian about the neighborhood, located near the University of Athens, you are bound to get a strong reaction.

Often referred to as the anarchist neighborhood of Athens, there is much more to Exarcheia than immediately meets the eye. Exarcheia is an area with much to offer for misfits of all kinds: migrants, students, artists, and intellectuals call this colorful neighborhood home.

The history of Exarcheia

Exarcheia’s reputation as an anarchist stronghold has some basis in the area’s history. The Polytechnio uprising of 1973, when students barricaded themselves inside the university to protest the military junta dictatorship, occurred in the area.

Over the years, Exarcheia has become home to all sorts of misfits in Athens. The area is home to many socialist, anti-fascist, and anarchist groups. It is also an area extremely popular with students, artists, and intellectuals of all kinds.

Exarcheia also opened its arms to migrants displaced during the migrant crisis of the mid 2010s, providing housing for migrants of all kinds through squatting in abandoned buildings.

An event that deeply shaped and defined the area was the tragic police killing of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos in 2008. The shooting of Grigoropoulos was a call to arms for the entirety of the neighborhood and the rest of Athens in December of 2008.

Since then, the street where the teenager was killed has been unofficially renamed “Alexander Grigoropoulou Street” and the community regularly contributes to a shrine which honors the boy’s short life.

Exarcheia today

Exarcheia.
The central square of Exarcheia. Credit: Badseed/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Due to policy changes by the New Democracy government elected in 2019, the face of Exarcheia today is very different from what it used to be.

Whereas in the past, police would often gather at the outskirts of the neighborhood, seemingly to keep residents in rather than enter the area themselves, this has changed drastically. Police can now be found patrolling in Exarcheia despite clashes with residents.

One of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ campaign promises was to impose order on the area. This has led to mass evictions of illegal squatters, with seven squats in the area being cleared out within Mitsotakis’ first two months in office.

Things to do in Exarcheia

The main square of Exarcheia is surrounded by little side streets which are bustling with life.

For those who don’t mind a bit of adventure (and a little bit of an edgier vibe), Exarcheia is the perfect place to go for a casual drink, a coffee or even to take in some of Athens’ most historic architecture!

The Blue Condominium

Exarcheia
The historic “blue” apartment building in Exarcheia, captured in 2008. Credit: Badseed/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Exarcheia apartment building shown above hides a long history. Known as the “Blue Condominium” of Exarcheia, it is one of the oldest apartment buildings in Athens and an important example of architecture of the period.

It was built over a single year, in 1932, and completed in 1933. It still stands over Exarcheia Square, on the corner of Arachovis and Themistokelous Streets.

Designed by architect Kyriakoulis Panagiotakos, it is widely regarded as a “must-see” architectural site in Athens.

Although originally painted a dark blue, the colour has since greatly faded in the Greek sun. Because of its name, the “Blue Condominium” is easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for!

Shops, bars and cafes galore

One of the unique things Exarcheia has to offer are its stores.

Chock-full of music, art, and general creative specialist stores, the area is perfect for artists of all kinds. Stores in the area tend to be small, independent businesses, and are usually fascinating to browse regardless of whether you make any purchases!

Another common type of establishment in the area are vintage stores.

Although second-hand clothing can be found in many “outlet” style stores around Athens, Exarcheia is unique in housing multiple vintage stores with a curated collection. These stores are perfect for those who want to purchase sustainable and budget-friendly fashion in Athens!

Exarcheia
Brightly-colored cafes in Exarcheia. Credit: Dimorsitanos/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

There is also a huge variety of bars and cafes in the area. There is certainly something suitable for almost every visitor!

Some bars have a very traditional feel, falling into the category of a Greek “kafeneio.” These establishments typically serve coffee, beer, ouzo and little else, and are the perfect place to gather with friends and play card games.

Other bars in Exarcheia are more artsy, attracting a younger crowd. These bars will typically have brightly colored furnishings and surroundings, and part of the experience is simply taking in the ambience!

Bars in Exarcheia are also as a rule some of the most affordable in downtown Athens, with some hidden gems serving cold, frothy glasses of draft beer for as little as €3 ($3.60)!

Perfect for people watching

Another great feature of Exarcheia is its naturally captivating atmosphere. Even if one does not want to spend any money in the area, there are plenty of things to do and see!

Firstly, Exarcheia is a great area for people watching. Since a lot of the residents and visitors of the area are part of a counterculture, many express themselves through their dress. Sitting in a quiet corner of the neighborhood and simply observing everything and everyone around can be quite stimulating!

Exarcheia
Large graffiti mural in Exarcheia. Credit: /Wikimedia Commons/

Another special part of Exarcheia is the graffiti which coats the walls of the area. Graffiti in Exarcheia, as in the rest of Athens, can range from simple name tags to highly elaborate and beautiful murals covering entire walls.

A lot of the graffiti in Exarcheia is political and anti-government, allowing those who are curious to gain an understanding of local concerns. Graffiti certainly adds to the feel of the city, making Exarcheia seem like it has a beating heart.

Another free thing to do in the area is climbing Strefi Hill, which sits at the edge of the neighborhood. Strefi Hill is a fairly easy climb, and often attracts groups of young people who cluster together on it. Once at the top, it is the perfect place to take in breathtaking views of the entirety of Athens!

Although Exarcheia isn’t for everyone, it is undeniably one of the most unique and full of life areas of central Athens, well worth spending an afternoon exploring!

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