Avoid Anarchists in Exarchaeia, Athens

{Some places are “obscure” for a reason.}

A good rule of thumb: don’t disturb the anarchists. Seems pretty obvious, but I was intrigued to explore Exarchaeia, the anarchist neighborhood of Athens after spotting its listing on Atlas Obscura. This is one of those rare moments on my blog where I’m recommending you avoid an area I’m writing about.

Socrates graffiti neighborhood in Exarchaeia
Socrates smokes on a wall in Exarchaeia. A critique many anarchists share on Modern Greece living off of glory of Ancient times. 

Firstly, the anarchists take their artistic and sociopolitical thinking seriously, and do not want to see “outsiders” walking around, snappin’ Insta Stories and viewing them as a tourist attraction in Greece. For the most part, the residents are an eclectic mix of destitute intellectuals, who were educated in one of the surrounding four universities or those who may have been badly affected by the Greek financial crisis. Youth unemployment touched a record high of 60% in 2013 and currently the unemployment figures are around 40% for those under 30 years. You can see the resulting anger and frustration in Exarchaeia’s walls. Everything – from walls to door grates to trash cans – is covered in graffiti…and it’s the graffiti that led my friends and I into the alleys of Exarchaeia.

Exarchaeia 1
One of the few commissioned murals in the area. Painted using a broomstick and some scaffolding.

My friend, Kenya was resourceful in finding a free walking tour of the anarchist graffiti (power of the Internet). Our eerie, ghoulish fine arts major guide turned out to be a resident of Exarchaeia, which made him possibly the only person we could go into the area with without the menacing residents actively chasing us out. It was clear that he had cajoled them into letting him make a few quick euros through his tours, but equally apparent they weren’t approving. Our guide darkly joked that he has to change his route each week to avoid anarchists from planning an attack on his tour.

Exarchaeia 2
This artist has been very, very active around Athens! We spotted his style in many places around town, including this alley on the way to the Roman Agora.

As dangerous and exciting as that sounds, Reason #2 not to go into Exarchaeia (especially 100% at night) is because they routinely break out into riots that openly feature molotov flaming cocktails that the anarchists throw to attack the local police station — whose police officers coincidentally are NOT allowed to enter the inner neighborhood. This tiny police station, which houses riot police in full tear gas gear, holds the world record for the most attacked police station with 281 attacks in 2018.

Exarchaeia 4
Molotov Cocktail weilding anarchist

All that aside, we did get to learn some interesting stuff about the graffiti art scene! Turns out that Athens has seized the title of the Graffiti Capital of the World for the past three years, taking the spray can crown from Berlin. Apparently, there’s a global graffiti group that signs off “1 UP” (look for this around your city’s graffiti!) which means “One Under Pressure” — referring to the pressurized spray can used to create their art and the time crunch for illegal graffiti-ing. Exarchaeia 5

Every city and country has its own “tags” and these are tacked onto the initial “1 UP” code. Greece is 381 and therefore becomes “381 Fluor Tarta” meaning, 1UPAthens in their codes. A reoccurring theme across the neighborhood – including the creation of the self-funded and self-maintained urban garden – is the political thought and phrase, “You tried to bury me, but you forgot that I’m a seed.” Exarchaeia 6

I’m personally not so sure how I feel about sowing the seeds of anarchy, but I’d be curious to know what you think about this phrase and its usage in other contexts. Have you come across it before?

Leaving Exarchaeia’s tense environment felt like a breath of fresh air and relief. Explore – in the daytime – at your own risk, but I think this is on the Obscura side of Athens for a reason. Until next time, keep exploring! ❤ xoxo #nikitalyfe Exarchaeia 3

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

7 thoughts

  1. One of the funniest posts of all times!!! Tourists are never chased from exarheia. The problem in exarheia is that mafias have been pushed to traffic drugs in the area in order to make people sell their homes and leave because the airbnb business is very lucrative in the area. Anarchists try to make mafia leave the area. Tourists stay in airbnb flats which makes the problem worse but… They are not the aim of anarchists. The police have shown great brutality in the area even killing a 15 year-old boy. The riot police is there when they want to attack their political enemies but turn a blind eye to mafias leaving the residents unprotected. Sometimes they do fancy operations catching one or two of them and the “business” goes back to normal in half an hour. Exarheia has always been a lively area with young people sharing ideas. Your guide makes some money telling bullshit to people like you who think that exarheia is not a normal area with real residents but an adventure park for people like you who think that they walked the “dark side of a city” by taking some pictures of graffiti (what do these graffitis show i think escaped your mind). If you had decided to go like all people for a walk or tried to meet some of the people there or sat even for a drink in the area to mingle with people who don’t make money by telling bullshit, you would have seen that people in exarheia have no claws, horns or dangerous teeth. To be frank, when I read posts like this, I realize why all this business is actually damaging as it makes people see the people of the area as exhibits and not as real people so if you share this mentality, yessss, stay away from Exarheia. It is not the place for you, take a stroll in Plaka, Monasteraki or Koukaki (not) which is already turning into an uninhabited area only for airbnbs and tourists ” kicking the residents out of their homes.

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  2. This article is really full of inaccuracies and fails miserably to portray the reality of the Exarcheia neighborhood.

    Most of the residents are average Athenians who are fed up with their neighborhood being teargassed every day by the police, who’s responsible for hundreds of police brutality incidents and among other things the assassination in a cold blood of a 15-year-old teen 10 years ago by two police officers.

    The problem with the tourists is that they are using Air-Bnb flats in the neighborhood which drives the rents up for the average tenant. So basically it’s not that tourists are walking around doing nothing, it’s that they contribute to the worsening of the situation.

    The residents are not menacing tourist headhunters, they are plenty of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and bar in the neighborhood during the night and the people who hang out there have never been attacked by residents, whether they were tourists or locals. Again, there are multiple incidents with greek police breaking storefronts and throwing tear gas canisters in the shops.

    If one wants to go to Exarcheia it’s more than safe to go any time of the day, unless they are nazis or cops.

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    1. 1UP stands for One United Power, and not One Under Pressure, implying the universal solidarity within the members of the underground graffiti community.

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    1. i wouldn’t recommend that you go. it’s very dangerous, i went there last week, they have guns and people get attacked all the time. the government is also about to attack the neighbourhood and so you would be in huge danger.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LoL. Girl, you haven’t been even a kilometer radius close to Exarcheia if you write stuff like this.”They have guns and people get attacked all the time” Yeah, also werewolves jump off the alleys in the middle of the night. Beware of the beasts!

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