ATHENS.- “The Acropolis?… It’s over there.” The inhabitants of Anafiotika never tire of responding to tourists lost in the alleys of their tiny little known and picturesque district of Cycladic architecture embedded in the sacred rock of this city.
The district, on the northeast side of the Acropolis of Athens and its illustrious temples -such as the Parthenon-, is home to a hundred stone houses of about 50 square meters, white and with tiny windows, traditional architecture of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. .
Anafiotika is one of the old working-class neighborhoods in the historic center of modern Athens, with a building dating from 1834. Eri Paklatzidi, a civil engineer at the Archaeological Service of Athens, recalls: “At that time, the workers of the Cyclades and especially from the island of Anafi, famous for its stonemasons, were summoned by King Otto I to rebuild Athens, the capital of the young Greek state”.
Athens had been destroyed after the war of independence (1821-1829) against the Ottomans “and these workers had to build the official buildings, including the royal palace, which became the residence of the president of the republic after the abolition of the monarchy in 1973,” he says.
To accommodate their families, the workers of Anafi built their houses in the style of their island and at the limit of illegality, at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis, near the historic center and the district of Plaka, a neoclassical neighborhood that is now a tourist epicenter.
“Anafiotika has historical value, it’s a journey through time that represents popular architecture with Cycladic elements,” says architect Panayiotis Paraskevopoulos, who lives in Plaka.
Some of these houses have been abandoned or bought by new owners over time. Few descendants of the Anafi families remain today.
At the end of the 1960s, the houses were integrated into the archaeological zone of Athens, but 30 years later about twenty of them were demolished to allow the restoration of the old pedestrian path around the Acropolis in the works. preceding the 2004 Olympics.
Most of the district, however, has been preserved after the Ministry of Culture named it “architectural heritage”. This decision implies a series of restrictions and regulations in case renovation works and extensions or additional constructions are prohibited.
Paklatzidi explains that the Ministry of Culture “owns this area” and is responsible for preserving these houses. But it is the 40 families who live in Anafiotika that guarantee the survival of the neighborhood, according to authorities and experts.
The infrastructure of most of these houses is “basic and often does not meet modern standards for accommodation”, says Paraskevopoulos. He also adds that “the tenacity and the commitment of the inhabitants in their neighborhood” prevent the houses from collapsing.
Locals often struggle with bureaucracy and fear the tendency to overexploit the area, one of the most touristic in the country. “It’s not easy to live here,” says Alexandra Katsourani, who has lived in Anafiotika for three decades and is part of a neighborhood protection committee.
“We are fighting to keep our homes. At the same time, we must comply with the regulations with limited financial means and, above all, prevent any attempt to become [un] Giant “Airbnb”, he laments.
The Ministry of Culture is trying to reassure the inhabitants: commercial exploitation of the area to set up hotels or restaurants is prohibited. Yet many residents fear that new tenants will give in to the temptation to rent their homes to tourists.
Mila Mihaylova, a 25-year-old Bulgarian tourist, takes advantage of the shade of a jasmine to protect herself from the sun and says: “We didn’t know anything about this particular district and we found it by chance while descending from the Parthenon.” This is not the only one. In the neighborhood, several signs indicate where you have to walk to reach the top.