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Athens Travel Guide

Anafiotika

Set in the shadow of the Acropolis and often compared to the whitewashed villages of the rural Greek islands, the Anafiotika quarter is populated by many descendants of the Anafi stonemasons who arrived from that small island in the 19th century to work in the expanding capital. It remains an enchanting area of simple stone houses, many nestled right into the bedrock, most little changed over the

years, others stunningly restored. Cascades of bougainvillea and pots of geraniums and marigolds enliven the balconies and rooftops, and the prevailing serenity is in blissful contrast to the cacophony of modern Athens. In classical times, this district was abandoned because the Delphic Oracle claimed it as sacred ground. The buildings here were constructed by masons from Anafi island, who came to find work in the rapidly expanding Athens of the 1840s and 1850s. They took over this area, whose rocky terrain was similar to Anafi's, hastily erecting homes overnight and taking advantage of an Ottoman law that decreed that if you could put up a structure between sunset and sunrise, the property was yours. Ethiopians, imported as slaves by the Turks during the Ottoman period, stayed on after independence and lived higher up, in caves, on the northern slopes of the Acropolis.

Today, the residents are seldom seen—only a line of wash hung out to dry, the lace curtains on the tiny houses, or the curl of smoke from a wood-burning fireplace indicates human presence. Perched on the bedrock of the Acropolis is Ayios Georgios tou Vrachou (St. George of the Rock), which marks the southeast edge of the district. One of the most beautiful churches of Athens, it is still in use today. Ayios Simeon, a neoclassical church built in 1847 by the settlers, marks the western boundary and contains a copy of a famous miracle-working icon from Anafi, Our Lady of the Reeds. The Church of the Metamorphosis Sotiros (Transfiguration), a high-dome 14th-century stone chapel, has a rear grotto carved right into the Acropolis. For those with children, there is a small playground at Stratonos and Vironos.

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