a fun park of urban contrasts
The region of Psyrri is one of the most charming regions in Athens, a real fun park of urban contrasts to explore. In its squares and crossroads, all types of people are met – hipsters and clothe designers, hair stylists and skateboarders are mixed with rebetico songs enthusiasts, popular and mainstream culture lovers, while the immigrants’ polyglottism is interspersed with the Greek tradition.
Pick a route to discover Psyrri’s secrets by walking: a) Starting from traditional handicraft, ending to modern design, b) Around the town’s open-market and its unpredictable streets, c) Searching for the urban Caryatids through graffiti and squares, d) Through surprises of History and fun in the neighborhood’s alleys.
In recent years Psyrri has become a region where options for arts and entertainment seekers are plentiful. From underground, to alternative and traditional shops this neighborhood has it all. Taverns and pastry shops, theaters and cinemas, acknowledged and alternative art galleries, modern and vintage boutiques, cafes and antique stores are just some of the innumerable spots in Psyrri.
Its privileged position is demarcated by the main streets of central Athens, that is Athinas street, Ermou street and Pireos street, where you can find all places of interest. As it extends to the upper side of Ermou street, it consists the continuation of Monastiraki region with the bazaars, lays by Thiseio region and its archaeological sites and is a few minutes’ walk from bustling Gazi close to Kerameikos. In other words, it couldn’t be more central! Let’s have a look to some of the secrets of this unique neighborhood:
History and handicraft
The neighborhood of Psyrri descends from the antiquity since it was inside the Themistoclean Wall which surrounded ancient Athens. The region name was given by Psyrris (some say that he was a feudal baron in the 17th century, others say that he was building churches in the area) coming from the island of Psara. It’s always been a populous area, attracting a great variety of frequenters, professionals and inhabitants. Over the times, some impressive information stand out. During antiquity, a rhetoric school flourishes here while in later ancient times the municipality of Kollytos (that is the ancient region of Psyrri) falls into decline along with the whole city. However, that is when a great number of artisans begin to gather in the area, giving partly to the region its character ever since. You will notice while walking in Miaouli street and the alleys around that the workshops of blacksmiths, coppersmiths, the glass-works and mostly the tanneries are still working successfully.
Indeed, handicraft flourishes in Psyrri and one could even say that today it’s fully developed to its new version, the modern design. Thus, the walker will detect this conversation between yesterday and today across the area, until he reaches the highlight of the region, found in Pallados street and its secret arcade as well as in the adjoining Melanthiou street. The Athens basket-maker steals the show with his baskets decorating the façade of this century old building, while one must make way through a straw jungle to reach the modern art gallery AD (Alpha Delta). Find jewelry handicraft and button collections, accessory handicraft for motor bikers, tattoos and graffiti, but also refined cocktails and hairdressings at a state of art (craft) level. We can easily jump from handicraft to art when we accidentally come in view of a Ziller’s neoclassical house on the corner!
Assembled in Varvakios market
“What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?” asks our poet Konstantinos Kavafis to answer right away within a different context, yet related to the present. The Athens Central Market, the famous Varvakios Agora across Athinas street, is a place where Athenians buy spice, grocery, charcuterie, meat and fish. In every part of the market you will find something to excite you: from the unrivalled quips of the costermongers to the spice scents, this spot is one of the most interesting in town.
The extension of Varvakios Agora is the most unpredictable, colorful, mixed up and at times dangerous part of the town. Evripidou street, which runs the southern side of the market, and Menandrou street encircle the extremely urban(!) Theater Square, which –despite its promising name- it is a place where the town’s realism peaks. The “play” that takes place here, combines the avant-garde moments (such as the use of the Diplarios arts and crafts school in international modern art Biennales), with the immigration issue reality. You will find here independent artistic projects coming out of the darkest places, but also traditional hangouts like the Klimataria tavern with live Greek music or a bit further down the one-of-a-kind Diporto, an incredible underground shop with homemade meals.
Pass through the multi-cultural crowd to the enlivenment of alternative creativity in the cultural center Romantzo, for a postmodern dance performance or for a drink at its bar. Then you can go back to Evripidou street for your first stop at a church with a special characteristic… From the roof of Agios Ioannis Kolona, a small temple built in 6th century AD, you will see popping out an ancient Corinthian column which was given through times therapeutic qualities. Like a chimney sending prayers to heaven, this ancient column looks like a little miracle by itself contributing to the recreated character of the region. Your second stop must be to the famous steak house of Athens Telis, to regain your strength and continue the sightseeing during your stay!
The Caryatids porters of the city
If you want to play treasure hunt, here is the ideal place. After you have passed by Koumoundourou square, where the Municipal Art Gallery is located and where you can attend a performance in the small open-air theater for free, after you have seen the graffiti dedicated to Loukanikos, the famous anarchist dog who participated in all protests till his death, seek to discover a hidden architectural gem. Walk to Agion Asomaton street that links the Asomaton Square at the beginning of Ermou street to Pireos street. After you have visited the Islamic Art Museum with its unique terrace, look, among the joyless buildings and the graffiti, for the sculpted Caryatids supporting the roof of a neoclassical house which was loved by the artists. The legendary photographer Cartier Bresson, the great painter Giannis Tsarouhis and the magnificent author Kostas Tahtsis were inspired by the mythical presence of these white statues, supporting with their head the charming chaos of Athens.
Surprises in the alleys
The labyrinth of Psyrri begins in Sarri street. Tens of worth-walking alleys reserve little surprises. The Fire Station’s façade in Sarri street has been transformed into an open-air gallery of murals. The theater Embros (a 19th century printing house for the titular newspaper) has become the symbol of self-management in the domain of culture. In 1880 a small cell in the church of Agion Anargyron accommodated the great Greek novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis. At 14, Agias Theklas street Lord Byron, being in love, was waiting for young Teresa when he wrote “The Maid of Athens”. At Iroon Square first appeared the class of magas or mortis (whippersnapper), men with big moustaches and the strings of beads in hands –dropouts with peculiar habits and questionable activities, who were related to rebetico songs as caricatures and were widely used in popular culture, in shadow puppetry and the Greek cinema.
Before you end up in SpitiMas, the best brunch-café in the city (Navarhou Apostoli str), let yourself in a freestyle wandering in Psyrri’s urban beauties. You will find it very rewarding and you will fall in love with this incomparable combination of traditional and modern aspects.