Famed for the Acropolis and with a history where culture is prized; a creative exuberance seeps from every pore of Athens’s being.
From mafia-influenced graffiti, to the Islamic arts of the Ottoman era, art in Athens is apparent in every step you take.
Street Art in Athens
Street Art is encouraged in Athens. Murals are favoured over graffiti scribblings, and the walk from the Metro station of Monastraki to Kerameikos via Thiseio gives plenty of opportunities to see the work of the artists.
From the trains – permits are granted to artists to decorate them – to the murals by the old bus depot and the neighbourhood around the trendy Gas Works, there’s seemingly a work of art on every vertical space. Look up as well as around to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Some of the street art of Athens has another legacy, that of the 19th century “mafia” scene in Psyrri.
The “gangsters” (known locally as mangas or koutsavakides) of the era wore a distinctive uniform of decorative shoes, and a one-sleeved suit – they wanted to be ready for a fight! Not to forget a moustache.
One man managed to clean up the influence of the mafia on the streets through some simple tailoring.
He chopped off half of the moustache of any gangsters he captured, along with half of one of their sleeves and part of one shoe. Such was the shame of the gangsters, they couldn’t return to their masters in their state of being disrobed. They instead took the option to clear out.
Their legacy is celebrated in the artworks of Aischylou Street in Psyrri.
Also in Psyrri is neighbouring Pittaki Street – decorated with lamps of all shapes and sizes. Go for a wander amongst the chandeliers.
Art in Athens at the Benaki museums
For art of a different kind, the various Benaki museums dotted around the central city neighbourhoods can keep you amused for days.
From contemporary art to Islamic arts through the ages, there’s a museum to suit every taste.
Greece’s status as part of the Ottoman empire from the 15th-19th centuries gives the country a fine legacy in the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art. The different eras of the empire are celebrated on the different levels of this regal four-storey building.
Practicalities of seeing Art in Athens
The street art in Athens is free. To get around Athens, a single use Metro ticket (valid for 70 minutes) costs €1.20. A day ticket is €4, a 5-day pass €10. Validate your ticket when you first use it.
The Benaki Museums charge entrance fees of up to €7, depending on which one takes your fancy. For discounts of up to 50%, pick up a free Athens Spotlighted card on your arrival at Central Information Counter at the Airport. The card also gives you discounts to other Athens attractions as well as restaurants.
I was hosted by Alternative Athens on their Tale of Four Cities tour (price €40), whose comprehensive four-hour entertaining and insightful itinerary of the less touristed parts of Athens included the street art mentioned in this post.
I explored the Benaki museums independently.