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Society

Trampling Tourists Changing Face of Athens’ Historic Plaka Neighborhood

February 26, 2023

Residents of Athens’ iconic Plaka neighborhood are facing the dilemma of too much tourism. The area is a tourist trap, filled with trinket shops and cafes, and is a magnet for visitors. However, residents fear that the area’s charm and tradition will be destroyed. Plaka, situated beneath the Acropolis, is home to many of the city’s remaining neoclassical buildings, defining its unique architecture.

During peak months, the warmer weather draws so many tourists that the neighborhood now looks like Santorini at its busiest. The Daily Beast recently featured an article noting how the government’s promotion of tourism, tourism, and tourism as the country’s biggest revenue engine is luring visitors and making Plaka appear like a faux ancient Greek Disneyland.

Architect Giorgos Zafeiriou has been living there for decades, in a building he bought and renovated in 1988, a three-story structure that’s more than 130 years old, what Athens used to look like. From the terrace he can see the Parthenon up close, as can many of his neighbors who are lucky enough to share the view that brings people, even if outside their windows and below it is a cacophony.

The residents say that it’s not tourism that’s ruining the neighborhood – they’ve lived with that – but over-tourism and what they characterize as blind government greed that ignores what it will do the neighborhood. “When somebody tells me ‘What a beautiful neighborhood you live in’, I usually reply by ‘Thank you, but I want to keep living in here and the neighborhood to continue being beautiful,” said Zafeirou. He is also President of the Plaka residents initiative and they’ve had it with the noise and the hustle and bustle that’s relentless and goes on into early morning hours, making it difficult to sleep.

Much of Athens is a hodge-podge of abandoned buildings, graffiti-covered structures and an endless sea of filthy, grey concrete buildings that’s the antithesis of those in the Plaka, the city having to build structures fast after the 1950s end of the Greek Civil War as people left the countryside for the city. Athens used to be avoided by tourists because of that ugliness, or used as a jet pit stop on the way to islands and other destinations but in recent years as it’s becoming spruced up and the young have built a buzz with unique coffee shops and restaurants, once funky neighborhoods have become popular.

PUMP DOWN THE VOLUME

When visiting the capital of Greece, the Acropolis and Parthenon are often top on the list of must-see places, as well as the Plaka, which adjoins Monastiraki, the center of activity during the 2004 Olympics. In an article written by Demetrios Ioannou, he suggests that the Plaka is one of the most popular areas for Instagrammers in the country, but that opinion is not shared by the residents. At an event organized by the Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ELLET), Maria Kokkinou, a permanent resident, expressed her concerns to the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyiannis, and an audience regarding the increase of tourists since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a very difficult summer, sleeping with earplugs and closed windows because even the double glazing cannot limit the noise. The traffic is unbearable, Plaka is full of black vans with tinted windows blocking the streets, taking up our parking spaces,” said Kokkinou. She also warned, “If all the houses become tacky souvenir shops, the tourists will stop coming too.” Residents say that a 1999 Presidential decree that was supposed to protect the character of Plaka has been ignored, and despite the ceaseless loud music and bustling restaurants, they still find overtourism to be the root of their problem.

Lydia Carras, President of ELLET and a local in the area, said, “In the last two years, the situation has become unbearable. There are days when you literally leave your house and can’t take a step.” Plaka, which has been occupied for over 5,000 years, has lost the reason why people come, according to residents. Architect Giorgos Zafeiriou, who has been living in Plaka for decades, emphasized the importance of residents to maintain the charm of the area, saying, “All historic city centers, if they lose their inhabitants after a while, they languish.” Carras warned that the state and the municipality must take action to protect Plaka and its unique characteristics, or risk losing all its residents.

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