Guide to SKOPJE

Exploring the arcades of Athens

The entire Athens center is run through by an incredible variety of arcades, reflecting the rapid evolution of its urban built environment in modern times.

Balkon3 reveals the secrets of the most interesting building-passages of the city.passage22_athens_balkon3

Athens arcades are by no means boring or uniform. The incredible variety seen today is a result of the Greek capital city increasing its population 10 times over in just a few decades.


The principal function of course has always been commercial, seeking to accommodate retail outlets and shopping-associated leisure activities (daytime cafes, restaurants) as well as to provide educational and cultural spaces (cinemas, theatres, conference halls). The arcades of Athens began to be built in late 19th century, initially inspired by specific European paradigms from London, Paris and Milan. Arsakiou, Korai, Spiromiliou and Nikoloudi arcades belong to this category, linked to the entertainment needs of the early Athens bourgeoisie.



Korai Street Arcade (Galleria) and Spiromiliou Arcade (City Link) with popular restaurants, historical cinemas, theatres and cafes are also known for their yearly Christmas decorations and activities.

Arsakiou Arcade (b. 1900), named after the Arsakio School once housed there is connecting Panepistimiou and Stadiou main roads. Towards Pesmazoglou Street it crosses with the “Books Arcade” (restored 1996), a unique clustering of publishing house outlets. The central staircase leads up to an unusual marble-paved terrace with a favorite café for Athenians that work downtown (and these who have affairs at the Council of State, now housed at the Arsakio School building). On Pesmazoglou Street entrance you will be greeted by the bust of Karolos Koun, founder of the “Art Theatre” (Theatro Technis), an institution of modern theatre in Greece – the staircase will take you to its historic “Basement”, the theatre stage. Around the corner, the stairs go down once more, to the conference/seminar hall of the Open University of Arsakio School and its very active educational society.


A view of Arsakiou Arcade facing Stadiou Road



The Books Arcade and the entrance to the Art Theatre “Basement”, near Pesmazoglou Street

Also from Panepistimiou road (nr 41) one can enter Nikoloudi Arcade (b. 1918), situated in a building with delicate art-deco elements and ornaments. The arcade continues straight into a different, sparkling white marble arcade built in the 1980’s for the bank that now owns the buildings left and right of the entire passage. There is an elegant café on this 1980’ side that looks as it belongs to the pre-war era.



The café’s small outer sitting area has an iron door on the side (always unlocked) that leads you to the adjacent Pesmazoglou Arcade (Panepistimiou 39), via a marble staircase.


“Pesmazoglou Arcade” cast iron sign and the marble staircase on Stadiou Road

This arcade looks thoroughly modern, known today for its Athens Festival ticket offices. Looking closer you will discover the legendary music/book shop dedicated to the “voice of Crete”, the Cretan musician and singer Nikos Xylouris, his wife and son often present there. “Stoa Proia” a budget gourmet restaurant (serving only at noon-afternoon) is a new entry adding exceptional value to the location and a new meaning to “lunch break” for downtown employees. More common shops and cafes continue on to Panepistimiou Road.


View of the arcade with Xylouris shop

After the urban transformation that culminated in the post-WW II era with dramatic influx of people into Athens, arcades formed part of new armed-concrete buildings (very often built in place of hastily demolished older ones). These “2nd generation” arcades are more in number and smaller in size, plain in appearance, hosting smaller enterprises and stores for a clientele with lower incomes. Buildings especially within the so-called “Athens Commercial Triangle” host numerous such examples.

Maybe the most typical example is found inside the entire block defined by Stadiou, Dragatsaniou, Evripidou, Aristidou and Pesmazoglou Streets. The block includes the most intricate and varied network of passages, built to exploit limited space for a maximum amount of stores. Through this network you can enter your selection of the following (!): central government ministries; trade union cooperatives; electric appliance stores; snack bars and cafes; bookshops; optician and chemist stores; electricians and blacksmiths workshops; travel agencies; key-smiths workshops; hunting-gear stores; clothing and shoe repair workshops; typist and photocopy services; lawyer and notary offices… Elevators and stairs lead you up to more small outlets and offices. Near the exit to Dragatsaniou Street, the most non-conspicuous staircase takes you downstairs to a cluster of yet more (abandoned)  stores and a surprise: a fragment of the Athens ancient wall built during Pericles’ time (4th century b.C.).



Nowadays, commercial function has been overrun by the domination of business and finance establishments all over the center. Banks, service-sector transnational companies and government/public buildings have naturally been there before but now they seem to be the only important owners of a vast part of arcade space.


Yet, despite commercial decline, not all store spaces are as semi-deserted as they look. Apart from the on-going operation of innumerous (mostly small-craftsmen) stores, associations and offices, there is a recent trend for interesting new cafes, pubs and eateries increasingly on the “budget” side.


An ultra-hip bar inside Praxitelous Arcade (b. 1920) in the listed building of 25 Kolokotroni Street.



A meze-tsipouro bar & cafe in an old-fashioned arcade in 46 Perikleous Street.

Also, as elsewhere in the center, you’ll find a “re-occupation” of vacant stores by small independent art initiatives. Arcades themselves have been the object of urban planning studies. Activists are occasionally bringing about the issue of their preservation.

Emporon Arcade (Tradesmen Arcade, b. 1930’s) on 10 Voulis Street is named after its remarkable building which housed the former Social Security Fund for Tradesmen (TAE). Its total abandonment lead various artistic initiatives to practically rename and reuse the space of numerous little stores (now working as art workshops). The other end of Lekka Street, which includes a staircase leading to the Syndagma bomb-shelter for World War II now shut firmly underground, lately bursts with new popular cafes open day and night.



There’s plenty more to explore in the “triangle” area, that includes Syndagma, Monastiraki, and Omonia squares and buildings especially branching around Ermou, Aristidou, Sofokleous, Perikleous, Evripidou, Eolou, Agiou Markou and Kolokotroni streets.


Just put on your walking shoes and follow the crowd!

Sophia Nikolaou