My Neighborhood: Mets, Kypseli, Ano Petralona and Neos Kosmos

Four influential Athenians guide us on tours through their neighborhoods.


Marilena KaramoleGou, co-founder of the publishing house Doma Books – Mets

By Kelly Stavropoulou

“Sky everywhere. 360-degree views. Mount Ymittos on one side, the Acropolis on the other. Lycabettus Hill a bit further, and in the distance, as far as the eye can see, the sea. The city is all around: rooftops with countless antennas, shiny solar heaters, laundry lines with clothes drying, as well as tidy balconies with potted flowers. On the streets below, there are cozy coffee shops and restored neoclassical homes. We’re in a neighborhood dominated by the First Cemetery of Athens, imposing in its expanse and silence. Mets is near the city center, but not at its core: in proximity to its conversations but away from its chatter. It straddles two hills, Ardittos and Logginos, along the ancient course of the Ilissos River that now lies beneath a busy thoroughfare. Here, mere mortals live side by side with the eternal dead.

 

“This is the Mets I discovered and fell in love with when I first came here: a happy contradiction of the old and the new, of the traditional and the modern. Picture a neighborhood where you can find trendy coffee shops abutting somber funeral halls where mourners are served Greek coffee and cognac, for one final toast to their departed. Mets is small, like a doma, but nonetheless feels much bigger than its actual size.

“On any given day, I’ll come across the man from the local betting shop playing backgammon with the owner of the funeral home next door, or help lost tourists find their Airbnb while I shop for vegetables at the grocer’s, or argue with drivers for driving too fast down narrow streets past old ladies feeding stray cats on the sidewalk. This is where I’ve put my daughter to sleep as notes from the piano of the late composer Thanos Mikroutsikos wafted in through the window. At the neighborhood café, I sip my coffee while two octogenarian physicists discuss beauty quarks and the latest discoveries at CERN and I watch ladies pop out to the shops in elegant dressing gowns.

“Τhe rents around here are as high as the soaring ceilings in the elegant mansions lining the streets. There’s never anywhere to park, and yet I always find a place. The marble artisans and the skilled wreath makers are always hard at work and always smiling. The Odeon Café (19 Markou Mousourou) is where I conduct all my business meetings, at the table next to the double bass. It’s on the same street as the grocery store owned by Tasos and Rena, where everyone shops on a daily basis, and Chrysa’s veterinary clinic, which welcomes all sorts of unexpected visitors in need of help.

DOMA BOOKS was named after the Greek word for rooftop apartment, doma, like the one Marina shared with her partner Thanos Samartzis in Mets. This publishing house is a labor of love – love for books, for Athens, and for the neighborhood itself.

“This is where Doma Books was born, in the rooftop apartment of a six-story building. Up high, word by word, sentence by sentence, our first book, ‘The Freedom of Epictetus,’ was created. The text was translated by my partner, Thanos Samartzis, from Ancient Greek. It was printed on our printer, and a few collectible, limited-edition copies were distributed to co-workers and friends. Over time, these books, which were bound by hand and numbered, traveled across Athens. This is where our publishing house and its journey began.

“The idea was to put out books that converse with the city and its residents, books with ambitions of traveling far; we published philosophy to start with, followed by history and literature. Ever since, Doma has continued to find depth and beauty in brevity, studying the specific in search of the universal, and addressing a generation in search of enlightenment through reading.

 

“In the summer of 2017, we moved our headquarters a few streets down to a space that once housed a bookstore on Markou Mousourou Street – it’s fitting that Mousouros himself was a prominent scholar and publisher of the Rennaissance era. The ground floor was empty, the shutters closed, and the 1930s mosaic tiles were covered over by laminate flooring. We removed the drywall and the fittings, revealed the original ceiling, and filled the space with books again. Today, five years later, we’re still here and growing.

“Our original doma, high up on the seventh floor, is still there. I visit when I need more air and fewer people, to find the sense of balance that comes with a perspective of the city from a distance. It’s our refuge, the place where we plan new things. Here, we understand that we are living the most daring and creative years of our lives.”

Giorgos Soumpasis, an entrepreneur – Kypseli

By Vlassis Kostouros

“To be honest, I didn’t choose the neighborhood, I chose the house, one with a balcony and natural light, something I’d missed very much. Kypseli was an area I had very little to do with; the only thing that used to bring me here was the classic bar Au Revoir (136 Patission). Yet here I am, and it’s very beautiful.

 

“How is it to live in the multicultural heart of Athens? There is definitely charm in this bubbling melting pot, even if sometimes it’s unsettling; in any case I am part of it now. I am a stranger among strangers here, and that’s liberating. When I’m out walking with my dog, Gatsby, I don’t really stop to socialize. Kypseli has become my comfort zone, with its little grocery stores and shops with Arabic and Polish products, its pop-up galleries and exhibitions, and its multi-ethnic beauty salons.

“The architecture is great, from the old single-family dwellings built during the initial phase of urban development, to the later residences and apartment buildings influenced by the Bauhaus movement and modernism. So many buildings demonstrate a freedom in the variety and the use of materials that’s both rational and aesthetically appealing: Atelier Spiteri, on Kikladon Street, designed by architect Aristomenis Proveleggios; the 1938 apartment building with the rounded balconies, designed by Ioannis Zolotas for the Lanaras family; the Municipal Market of Kypseli, designed by Alexandros Metaxas; and the Malcolm Villa, located on the grounds of the Aniaton Asylum. Among these architectural gems are scattered a number of smaller treasures, including a 1940 statue known as simply as “The Dog,” on the pedestrianized main thoroughfare of Fokionos Negri.

Giorgos Soumpasis, the lifestyle entrepreneur behind the popular Morning Bar, the hot restaurant Linou, Soumpasis kai SIA, and the clothing brand METHEN, has found his own haven in the multicultural neighborhood of Kypseli. Linou, Soumpasis kai SIA, 2 Melanthiou, Tel. (+30) 210.322.0300

“My own list of favorite spots keeps growing. You might see me shopping for vintage clothing at Beehive Second Chance Shop (65 Drosopoulou). Other hangouts of mine include the traditional kafenion Kasos, Orfeas Live Bar (25 Fokionos Negri) and Au Revoir for drinks, the restaurant Geitonia (77 Κypselis) for lunch, and Kick (26 Sporadon) and Williwaw (69 Kerkyras) for coffee. You can also get good takeout coffee and enjoy it sitting outside at Aghios Georgios Square – but only early in the morning, as it can get very crowded.

“Were I to open a place here, it would definitely be on Fokionos Negri, and it would simply serve a couple of classic desserts, either to go or to enjoy at one of the few tables I’d put outside. That’s it. I picture a little place with customers coming all dressed up, for no other reason than to enjoy a dessert. But I’m not planning on opening anything here now. I want to keep my living and working environments separate.

 

“We’ve already begun the renovation of Morning Bar in Koukaki, and I’d like to focus on some other projects, too. The restaurant is the most challenging venture, and we have the bar Plai (34 Odyssea Androutsou), and there’s METHEN; I love them all equally. The only other plan I’d like to concentrate on this year is to find time for myself and for the special people in my life.”

Terpsichori Savvala, ceramic artist – Ano Petralona

By Kelly Stavropoulou

“Whichever city I’ve lived in, I’ve always lived in the center. I can’t imagine not having a lovely café or a place to eat nearby, or a cinema within walking distance. What enchants me about our neighborhood, Ano Petralona, is that it has everything I could ask for, and yet none of it seems pretentious. The first time I thought about it as a place to live was on a walk on the lower slopes of Filopappou Hill, past the Church of Aghios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris. The network of footpaths here, designed by architect Dimitris Pikionis in the 1950s, is a work of whimsy worth experiencing; there are mosaic flowers fashioned from pebbles, a sun made from broken pottery shards, and much more. On some of the longer footpaths, large pieces of cement have been placed between the stones, like a modernist collage. I’m certain that my ceramics have been inspired by these designs, as well as by the decoration on the walls of the church, also renovated by Pikionis. Next to it is one of the most beautiful structures in Athens, a small covered rest area which remains gorgeous in spite of the neglect it has suffered.

 

“Just beyond the church I found the ancient road, which bisects a lovely little valley surrounded by wild vegetation and olive trees. There are no historic landmarks here except the road, so most people find no reason to visit, but I often come here on walks with my daughter. We pick flowers and she runs up and down, looking for insects in the olive trees. When we get tired, we sit down under a large eucalyptus tree, on pieces of marble that might be the remains of an ancient theater that once stood here.

Ceramic artist Terpsichori Savvala, who lives with her partner and their daughter in a duplex in Ano Petralona, was happy to show us around her beloved neighborhood.

“At the lower end of the valley, you’re in Petralona and, if you cut down a few blocks to Kallisthenous Street, you’ll find the stone-built ‘village’ of Frederica, the homes built to house refugees in the 1950s on the initiative of Greece’s then-queen, using material from the ruins of the nearby Naval War School. Today, it’s a neighborhood not unlike a small mountain village, with well-kept yards and cats sleeping on stoops or climbing the grapevines. Near here is the apartment complex known as Asyrmatos, a building of great architectural significance designed by architect Elli Vasilikioti and erected in 1967, to provide further affordable housing.

“Every Friday, there’s a farmer’s market on Kallisthenous Street, and most people shopping here know one another. Keep in mind that nearly everything sells out by 14:00, since most residents wake up early and visit before midday. The street ends at Merkouri Square, which does not seduce at first glance, what with its large antenna array and a patch of dry soil at its center, surrounded by a few rather tired and weather-beaten plants. I can’t really explain why I like it so much.

 

However, if you go there, you may feel the attraction, too. It’s always busy, and there are people of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. Those in the know purchase Italian pasta they cannot source elsewhere at the mini market Sinikia to Oniro, where the same old men are nearly always playing backgammon. In the evening, you’ll spot students sitting on benches, drinking beer and listening to music on their smartphones, kids rolling by on kick scooters, older people chatting, and a wheelchair user or two out for a breath of fresh air. This year, the neighborhood’s first bookshop-café, Addad, opened on the square and immediately became a local hangout, stocking mostly art books. For other books, we head to Amoni (2 Anteou), which also has great choices. On the other side of the square, you’ll find Rendezvous (85 Kallisthenous), where we go for beer and falafel or grilled shrimp. When the weather’s warm, the tables on the sidewalk, the buzz of lively conversation and the sounds of clinking glasses combine to create a wonderful atmosphere. On nearby Troon Street, the outdoor movie-house Zefyros is a neighborhood institution; friends who visit from abroad cannot believe that, on any given summer evening, we can enjoy a great movie in a wonderful courtyard just five minutes from our house. Just across the street is one of the loveliest tavernas in the city, Oikonomou (32 Kidantidon), with delicious home-cooked food and interesting artwork, mostly gifts from the various artists who have become regulars.”

Haris Rigalos, co-creator of the bar-art space Teras Athens – Neos Kosmos

By Elina Dimitriadi

“I was always leaving Athens to explore other places, such as Berlin and Mexico, to see whether I could live in them, and yet I always returned. As it played out, I feel lucky that I stayed. From what I’ve experienced, Athens is a city where you can have a great life, as long as you don’t have to waste your time commuting between your home, your workplace and where your friends hang out.

 

“My hunch is that the next few years will be interesting. Many people are taking risks that are paying off; galleries from abroad are opening up branches here, and more people are getting into design, a field where there’s plenty of room for growth. But beyond what we do and create, how we perceive things is also very important.

“Our space, Teras Athens, is housed in a 1930s building with an interesting story that an old man shared with us when we were opening. The original owner was the area’s chief firefighter, and all the children in the neighborhood would come to the yard to play and eat under a large fig tree that’s still there. I want Teras to be just as central to the neighborhood, and to have its own aesthetic identity.

Haris Rigalos is the co-creator of the bar-art space Teras Athens in Neos Kosmos, an area that still preserves the atmosphere of a past era.

“From the very beginning, we wanted to go beyond the boundaries of the restaurant scene; we organize exhibitions and seminars, and there is a showroom for my own creations, which include items of furniture and lighting fixtures. Thanks to this, I remain in touch with people who share the same interest in design. But I’m not using the space just to showcase my work; I’ve proceeded with respect for the building and its history, and with the intent of giving it a new emotional dimension.

“As for the neighborhood, I certainly can’t claim to know as much about it as its long-time residents do, but I’ve always lived downtown and my house isn’t far from here. It was Teras that brought me to Neos Kosmos; I got to explore the area in greater depth when we were looking for the ideal venue.

 

“Neos Kosmos has always been a light industrial area dotted with automobile repair shops. Most of these have closed, but the industrial style that characterized them has remained: the ground-floor spaces with high ceilings that are suitable for workshops and attract all sorts of creative types.

“I believe Neos Kosmos is still evolving, since there are many buildings that are ideal for bars, restaurants, workshops, and offices. I personally have a passion for the Dourgouti refugee housing estate, which has what may be the most charming ambience in Athens – a feeling of tranquil nostalgia that’s in direct contrast to the luxury InterContinental Hotel across the way.

“As Vasilis Rafailidis, a noted Greek essayist and journalist once remarked, aesthetics are a set of ethics. Architecture is born from the interaction of aesthetics and our needs, and I believe that the aesthetics of Athens, betrayed by a lack of central planning and regulations, are redeemed by the people who live here. The houses in the Dourgouti estate, for example, are a little like cages, the stories of the people who live there are moving, and together this creates a unique emotional response.”



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