Although thousands of visitors coming to Athens have learned about its hidden secret, the scenic neighbourhood of Anafiotika (Αναφιώτικα) in the shadow of the Acropolis (Ακρόπολις), few of them must have noticed the slightly faded relief column dedicated to the hero Konstantinos Koukidis (Κωνσταντίνος Κουκίδης) on Stratonos Street.
Anafiotika is part of the old historical neighbourhood of Plaka (Πλάκα). It lies on the northeast side of the Acropolis. The first houses were illegally built during the reign of King Otto, in the second half of the 19th century, when workers from the island of Anafi, which were considered the best builders in Greece, came to Athens to work at the construction of the new king’s palace. The workers built their houses in the architectural style of the Cyclades Islands. The best way to reach Anafiotika is from Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (outside of Acropolis Museum). Follow Thrasillou Street and continue ahead to Stratonos Street. On your left hand, you meet the church of Saint George of the Rock (Agios Georgios tou Vrahou/Άγιος Γεώργιος του Βράχου) and just before the church and next to a small staircase you see Koukidis Column.
The following inscription in Greek is engraved on the column, which was placed here in 2000: “April 27, 1941. On the day of the entry of the German troops in Athens, Konstantinos Koukidis, a guard of the Greek flag at the Acropolis, refusing to surrender it, fell from the sacred rock wrapped in it, a pioneer of the resistance struggle.” And just below the following inscription in Greek is engraved (faded and almost unreadable today): “The column was placed by the Municipality of Athens, with Dim. L. Avramopoulos as mayor, in collaboration with the movement United National Resistance”. But who was Konstantinos Koukidis?
According to the most probable version, Koukidis was a seventeen-year-old Evzonas (Evzones/Εύζωνες were members of elite units of the Greek Army and later the members of the Presidential Guard) who had observation duties on the Acropolis of Athens on April 27, 1941, the day the German troops entered Athens. According to another version, he was a member of EON (National Youth Organization/EON was a government youth organization founded by the Metaxas regime in 1936) who performed guard duties on the Acropolis. The Nazi troops ordered him to hand over the Greek flag and hoist the Nazi flag with the swastika. Koukidis disobeyed and, remaining faithful to his post, submitted the Greek flag, wrapped himself in it, and jumped from the Acropolis to his death.
From time to time (in various publications and TV shows) there were several eyewitness testimonies from residents of Anafiotika that they saw the lifeless and almost mashed body of Koukidis on Thrasylou Street after his fall. No other identity card was found on him, except for a postcard with the recipient’s name being Konstantinos Koukidis. This story circulated as a reputation in the city after the surrender to the Germans, and as such has been recorded both in the diary of the Archbishop of Athens Chrysanthos (Χρύσανθος) and in the writings of the British historian Nicholas Hammond. There is also an article in the Daily Mail dated June 6, 1941 entitled “A Greek carries his flag until death” which refers to the story of the Greek soldier and for the first time mentions his name.
The story of Koukidis has also been mentioned by the great Greek writer Menelaos Lountemis (Μενέλαος Λουντέμης), in his work “Τhose who bring haze/Αυτοί που φέρανε την καταχνιά” (1946), where he generally describes the story of the guard who was wrapped in the flag and fell without heroism from the rock. Finally, in the album “They fell for life/Έπεσαν για τη ζωή” (Volume 2, 1944) of the Communist Party of Greece (K.K.E.), there is a reference to a Greek soldier and his heroic suicide without mentioning his name. It is also worth noting that a plaque of honor for Koukidis was erected on April 27, 1994 in the camp of the Presidential Guard and refers to the heroic act of Evzonas Koukidis on April 27, 1941 (this is information that we can not confirm as we can not visit the camp).
Nevertheless, there are opposing views that consider the story of Koukidis a construction or an urban myth, created during the first years of the German occupation of Athens. The skeptics of the story are based on the fact that the records of the Greek army do not have the name Konstantinos Koukidis and also on the fact that there is no reference to the incident in the German official archives of that time. Finally, there was a journalist with this name in Athens at that time, who allegedly committed suicide by falling from the Acropolis. A falsification of his case may have been made and combined with the submission of the Greek flag by the German soldiers.
After all, does the Koukidis Column honor a relatively unknown Greek hero and pioneer of the resistance, or does it honor a modern myth created by the Athenians’ need for a hero? This question may never be answered, but in any case, it is a fascinating heroic story. One of the stories that strengthens the national feeling of people and shapes a nation’s heroic past.
Therefore, the next time you visit the beautiful neighbourhood of Anafiotika and see the forgotten monument under the shadow of the Greek flag waving on the rock of the Acropolis, you will know the moving story to which it refers.