In a city like Athens, with sunshine most days of the year, one would expect there to be no commercial arcades running through large building complexes and structures. However, there is an extensive network of arcades designed and built from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, using French passages and English arcades as models, to take advantage of the interior of the blocks, ease congestion and facilitate the transit of pedestrians. Although many of these arcades have declined and do not have the life they once had, they are an integral part of the social and commercial life of the city and of course, some still retain their vitality and usefulness. In this article, we present ten arcades of Athens, which have their own unique history and are definitely worth visiting, because they give you the opportunity to get to know Athens through the invisible corners and the stories that are hidden inside. The Greek word for the arcade is the ancient word “stoa” (στοά) and this is the word we have used in the name of each arcade.
[Note: The address of each gallery is its most famous entrance]
Stoa Pantazopoulou / Hollywood (Στοά Πανταζοπούλου / Χόλιγουντ) (Akadimias 98): This relatively small arcade near Kaningos Square was once the centre of the Greek film industry. From the beginning of the heyday of Greek cinema and for many decades, the arcade and the imposing building in which it is located hosted the offices of all film production and distribution companies, and this is the reason it acquired the nickname Hollywood. From this arcade, but also from its cafe (which is maintained until today renovated) passed all the well-known Greek actors and directors, while many times it was used as a shooting location. The only thing left today to remind of its glorious past is the marble inscription at the entrance of the building “ΜΕΓΑΡΟ ΕΒΔΟΜΗΣ ΤΕΧΝΗΣ” (SEVENTH ART HALL) and the commemorative plaque with the names of the Greek producers who had their offices in the building. [Photo at the top]
Stoa Fexi (Στοά Φέξη) (Patision 14): This arcade, which has been operating since 1920, was built by Georgios Fexis (Γεώργιος Φέξης), founder of one of the most important Greek publishing houses that dominated the book industry in the first decades of the 20th century, publishing works by important Greek and foreign authors. Its golden age was the decades when the historic Minion (Μινιόν) department store operated in the area and the gallery was developed as a parallel shopping centre. During the same period, its basements were probably the largest typing centre in Athens, used by the lawyers of the time and the professors of the Technical University. Although today nothing reminds of its glorious past, the arcade still operates with a few shops and typing offices.
Stoa Arsakeiou / Orpheos (Στοά Αρσακείου / Ορφέως)(Stadiou 44): Built at the beginning of the 20th century, Stoa Arsakeiou is one of the most impressive in the city. The construction of the building and the arcade were decided for the housing of ground-floor shops and the Arsakeion Schools of Filekpaideftiki Etairia (Φιλεκπαιδευτική Εταιρεία). In 1907, the architect Ernst Ziller was commissioned to design the buildings on Stadiou Street. The most impressive element of the arcade is the central glass dome, under which an octagonal square is formed. Also in 1937, the Orpheus (Ορφέας) theatre was built in its central part and in 1996 part of the gallery was renamed Stoa Vivliou/Book Gallery (Στοά Βιβλίου) and houses only bookstores. Finally, in its basement is housed the historic Theatro Technis/Art Theatre (Θέατρο Τέχνης) of Karolos Koun (Κάρολος Κουν). Today (February 2022) the shops of the arcade are closed as renovation works are in progress, which will turn it into the first Greek food hall.
Stoa Nikoloudi (Στοά Νικολούδη)(Stadiou 40): The arcade that connects Panepistimiou Street with Stadiou Street is one of the most famous commercial and historical arcades in the city. It was built in 1936 by the famous Greek architect Alexandros Nikoloudis (Αλέξανδρος Νικολούδης), who was one of the central figures of Greek architecture of the first decades of the 20th century. The arcade developed into an important commercial point of Athens and inside it housed shops that left their mark in the city, such as the historic bookstore Estia (Εστία) and the cafe of Loumidis (Λουμίδης). It is noteworthy that the architect lived on the top floor of the building until his death in 1944. The arcade was renovated in 2001 at the expense of Alpha Bank, which owns the building and today is a real gem in the city centre.
Stoa Korai / Galleria (Στοά Κοραή / Galleria) (Stadiou 30): The beautiful and impeccably preserved arcade is a key point of everyday life in the city centre, especially on weekdays until the afternoon. It was built in 1938 and is part of the building of Ethniki Asfalistiki (Εθνική Ασφαλιστική). Inside there are shops, cafes – one of them is Montakiou (Μοντακιού) which serves one of the best sandwiches in town – and two historic cinemas, Astor (Άστορ) and Asty (Άστυ), which are favourite destinations of the city’s cinephiles. However, the most interesting part of the arcade is hidden in its basements, which were originally built as an anti-aircraft shelter. In these basements during the German Occupation were the detention centres of Kommandatour where thousands of Greek resistance fighters were tortured, as well as several German dissidents. The site today functions as a museum and is a well-hidden secret attraction of the city. (Read also our article: Revealing the secret sights of Athens)
Stoa Ypourgeiou Ergasias / Tristrato (Στοά Υπουργείου Εργασίας / Τρίστρατο) (Stadiou 29): Three arcades run through the building block between Stadiou, Aristeidou and Dragatsaniou streets, where the Ypourgeio Ergasias (Ministry of Labour) is housed. The largest of them is known as Tristrato (meaning junction of three roads), due to its three outlets. It houses shops with electrical appliances, collectibles (such as stamps and coins) and a unique shop with handmade wooden toys. The impressive fact about the arcade is that in its basements the ancient walls of the city are visible in many places. Finally, it is worth noting that the gallery was used for the shooting of the Netflix-produced Beckett movie.
Stoa Aristidou / Anatolis (Στοά Αριστείδου / Ανατολής) (Aristidou 12): This arcade is one of the most picturesque small arcades in Athens. According to one theory, the architect who built it had lived in Alexandria in Egypt in a similar arcade and wanted to represent in the city centre the same place in which he had grown up. In the past, the gallery housed many printing houses, of which few survive today, while some have been converted into photocopying centres. The indoor patio with the small cafe is really reminiscent of a small urban neighbourhood where time seems to have stopped.
Stoa Emporon (Στοά Εμπόρων) (Voulis 4): Although it experienced glorious days in the 1950s and 1960s with the Tameio Emporon (Merchant Insurance Fund) being housed there and crowds wandering from Syntagma Square to the city’s Commercial Triangle, this arcade declined in the following decades and deteriorated. In 2018, an original effort was made by the Municipality of Athens for its renovation and the operation of new stores, but unfortunately in the long run the project proved to be a failure, with the result that today (February 2022) all the stores have been closed. Nevertheless, the beautiful vintage light signs and the hidden murals at the exit to Lekka Street are a pleasant surprise during a walk in the city. Nevertheless, the mere existence of the historic Ariston (Άριστον), at the entrance of the arcade on Voulis Street, which serves one of the best cheese pies in Athens, is a reason to come here. (Read also our article: 4 snacks that Athenians have grown up with)
Stoa Pyrrou (Στοά Πύρρου)(Ermou 56): The beautiful neoclassical arcade at the end of Ermou Street is the second oldest commercial arcade in Athens. The three-storey building together with the arcade was built in 1885 on the site of the Louka Pyrrou House (Οικία Λουκά Πύρρου). It was designed according to the standards of the respective European galleries and the adjacent arcade of Megaro Mela (Μέγαρο Μελά) that now houses the H&M store. From Ermou Street, the gallery leads you to the busy Agias Eirinis Square (Πλατεία Αγίας Ειρήνης). Right at the exit to the square is the famous School Pizza Bar, which is the best place in the city centre for delicious pizza. (Read also our article: Slice by slice – The best pizza in Athens)
Stoa Petropoulou (Στοά Πετροπούλου) (Romvis 13): This small arcade in the centre of the busy Romvis Street, full of sewing, wedding and christening shops may not have any historical value but it is one of our favourites, because of the two lions guarding the entrance on Evangelistrias Street. These are two excellent replicas of “Canova lions” that add a strange and original note to a common arcade, one of the dozens that exist in the Shopping Triangle of the city. (Read also our article: The Canova Lions of Romvis Street)
Of course, there are many more arcades in the centre of Athens, some have been turned into bars, others into restaurants, others have been closed to the public and others continue their operation in the bustling daily life of the city. The commercial arcades of Athens are an interesting part of the city that seems to be moving at its own pace and waiting for the inhabitants of the city to rediscover them.