Exarchia, an Athens neighborhood

Our apartment is not far from Exarchia Square, the center of the neighborhood of the same name. We didn’t select our apartment because it is here, though we wanted to be centrally located. Now that we’re in this zone of Athens, we are discovering our surroundings have quite a story.

The first thing you notice here is the graffiti. There is graffiti from the ground up farther than a person can climb, jump, or paint from a stepladder. Early in the day, the graffiti is most noticeable because it covers the metal shutters that are pulled down over the doors of most businesses. As businesses open and roll their shutters up during the morning, less graffiti is visible, though there’s plenty left. At first we were shocked. Our apartment is in a nice building, and next door is a pleasant cafe. Still, every wall is graffitied and the result is a bit oppressive.

We walk past buildings with extensive murals that seem to be an effort to deter graffiti painters with a pre-emptive strike. In some places it seems to work.

Exarchia Square has been the center of counter-culture groups, students, and generally left-leaning people for some time. The current conservative government does not like this neighborhood at all. I wondered why the garden in the center of the square was blocked off with sheets of metal fencing. I figured it was being refurbished. Not at all! The garden is being cut down in order to build a Metro station, despite an alternative open area without mature plantings being available nearby. Local sentiment is that the neighborhood is being punished for its political leanings. When a demonstration against the Metro was held in August, police were stationed on the corners of the square. They are still there every day and night, eight or more riot police, dressed in camo, armed, some with riot shields leaning on their legs. It is intimidating, and it is supposed to be. I didn’t get very good photos because I didn’t want to be noticed taking them.

Here’s an article about the situation:

In An Iconic Athens Square, A Fight for the City’s Future

On Sunday, there was a large demonstration in downtown’s main Syntagma Square demanding the Greek government accept some responsibility for the fatal train crash last week. We did not know about it and our plans took us elsewhere, but as we were returning, we ran into the tail of the demonstration ending at Omonia Square. We emerged from the subway to see black-clad demonstrators parading toward the square, some carrying long sticks that they pounded on the ground to punctuate their chant. We headed away from the action toward home, but had to pass a line of police who seemed to be monitoring the end of the march. They were wearing full gas masks, and there was a faint tang of tear gas in the air. It made me blink, though nothing worse, but encouraged us to keep moving. At the same time, we passed couples and families out for a Sunday stroll. It was strange indeed, suggesting Athens has been living with protest for quite some time.

As we suspected, when we rode the Metro a couple of stops to Akropolis the next day, we found a neighborhood largely graffiti-free. The authorities appear to spend their energy keeping the touristy areas clean, rather than concerning themselves with a zone that is full of residential buildings, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and small shops, not to mention the supposedly leftist residents.

Though there are green spaces to walk to, Athens doesn’t boast a lot of parks. Exarchia Square is tiny for all the uproar it has generated. Other nearby squares would barely be considered parklets in the US. Omonia, the large square nearby with our closest Metro stop, consists of a fountain ringed by a strip of grass. There’s not anyplace to walk, other than the usually crowded sidewalk.

The dearth of parks is perhaps made up for by the number of coffee houses and cafes. Every block has a cafe of some sort, from dark wood facades with elegant tables and chairs, to a cafe constructed entirely from Coca Cola crates. Everyone seems to have a regular hangout. When the Lonely Planet guidebook said that Greeks aren’t much for breakfast unless you mean coffee and a cigarette, I laughed, thinking that had to be out of date. It’s not.

For those of us who don’t survive on Turkish coffee or cold brew, Greek pastries full of nuts and soaked in honey are everywhere, too, and delicious. My breakfasts may not be especially healthful, but they are deeply satisfying (I do also eat some of the delicious Greek yogurt; I’m not living exclusively on sugar.)

Exarchia may be a neighborhood filled with turmoil, but in between events, there are plenty of corners where you can sit at a table, sip a coffee and nibble a delicious pastry. Just make sure to head home if someone wearing a gas mask walks by.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

2 thoughts on “Exarchia, an Athens neighborhood

  1. Our original plan was to be here in 2020, too! We finally made it, and March is a lovely month to be here. I think there is a lot for you to see here. My daughter visited Kefalonia last year and that sounded lovely. And all the islands…..the Peloponnese is our other stop, in early April.


  2. Lovely post. We were supposed to spend a week in Athens in March 2020 but you can guess what happened…We really have to put Greece back on our list of destination. (Suzanne)


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: