Athens is famous for its Acropolis, but it is another landmark that dominates the city’s skyline, namely the hill of Lycabettus. Covered with pine trees and crowned with a tiny whitewashed church, the hill is the highest point in the city centre, acting as an orientation point for locals and visitors alike. Different areas are perched on its slopes, some reaching high up into the pine forest and offering amazing views over the Athenian grid, the Parthenon and all the way down to the Saronic Gulf and the island of Aigina. Follow us as we take a typical art walk around the slopes of Lycabettus, from the upscale Kolonaki to Exarcheia, to discover Athenian galleries, shops and urban stories that bring together high and low, through fine art, handicraft and street culture.
We start on the eastern slopes of Lycabettus and the area of Kolonaki, where many high-end boutiques and galleries are based. Contemporary art is at home here, as it is fine jewellery and fashion made by Athens-based designers. Visit Kalfayan gallery to discover its contemporary space where works by local artists are exhibited in a naturally illuminated interior, or the recently opened Nitra gallery, to discover younger artists from Greece and abroad. A walk uphill will reward you with impressive views: you can either visit Dexameni Square for refreshments and a rare view of the Parthenon in the distance, or if your time allows it take the underground elevator to the top of Lycabettus for coffee and unparalleled views of the entire Attica basin.
A flight of steps down from Dexameni Square will bring you on Irodotou street, where you can visit Evripidis Gallery, which specialises in painting and photography and also maintains an impressive art shop. Then walk down Skoufa Street to visit the church of St. Dionysius with its intricate neoclassical decoration. Just behind the church on Anagnostopoulou street you will find CAN Christina Androulidaki Gallery, where you can discover more young Greek artists with an international outlook. Walk west on Anagnostopoulou and descend a long staircase into Didotou, to walk past the well-tended gardens of the French Archaeological School.
At the end of Didotou you have reached Exarcheia, the city’s anarchist area famous for its riots and the fact that no bank dares to open shop here. Turn left on Zoodochou Pigis to visit the park on Navarinou Street; this park used to be a parking lot, but local activists squatted the land in 2009 and turned it into a green space for the local community. Today, tall trees offer shade and green to visitors, and the park is also used to grow vegetables, hold performances and festivals and as a space for people from the neighbourhood to gather and socialise. Italian artist BLU recently created a new mural on a building overlooking the park, depicting dandelions growing high into the sky — a symbol of regeneration and hope that comes in contrast with the concrete jungle surrounding the park.
Leaving the Navarinou park don’t forget to pay a visit to Thaleia’s bookbindery, a quaint little workshop that preserves an old craft and reinterprets it in a new way. Thaleia “inherited” the shop from its previous owner, and is now the fourth bookbinder working from the same little shop on Zoodochou Pigis. Exarcheia used to be the area where most publishing houses had their offices, so bookbinders also had their guild here, with many of them based on Metaxa street. Today, only a handful of traditional bookbinders remain, and Thaleia is one of them: she uses traditional techniques and creative methods of binding books by hand, stitching them with linen thread and even creating her own marbled paper to decorate them. Inside Thaleia’s bookbindery you’ll find only a couple of very old electric machines; all the rest she does by hand, from pressing the pages of an old worn book back into shape to stitching and folding a brand new leather cover on a beloved tome.
After paying a visit to Thaleia, walk down Metaxa street to see for yourself the many bookbinderies and printers there, until you find Cheapart Gallery at the end of the street. This is a non-profit gallery run by an artistic couple, and showcases both Greek and foreign artists in its space inside a neoclassical building right on Exarcheia Square. Take a stroll along the square and take a coffee break here, or continue further uphill to discover more interesting century-old buildings and tree-covered alleys. Halfway up Strefi Hill you’ll find Kallidromiou street, where every Saturday morning there’s a colourful grocery market with local produce, fish, nuts and flowers. Small cafés where only locals go are ideal for coffee or drinks, and Ama Laxei restaurant has the most amazing courtyard in the area, but bear in mind that it doesn’t accept reservations.
From Kallidromiou street you can see the Lycabettus rising over the apartment buildings, an imposing rock covered with trees and its little chapel reminding more of some Cycladic village that the centre of a metropolis. Now think that you began your walk on the other side of the hill, in Kolonaki, and how different these two areas are; it is exactly this variety in character and colour that makes Athens such a unique city, and a place worth exploring all year round.
This art walk is part of Und. Athens, a new city guide that seeks to discover, document and promote alternative creativity in Athens. Visit und-athens.com for more stories from the Athenian alternative scene, or contact Epitome for insider’s tips, suggested routes and itineraries for your trip to Athens.
Cover photo by Giorgos Vitsaropoulos.
Giorgos Vitsaropoulos & Katerina Tsakiri-min
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