The Monastiraki district is one of the most touristic areas of Athens. If you hadn’t walked through these narrow streets and hadn’t haggled at the flea market, you may consider your trip to be useless. It has different names among the locals. Traders call it Ambadzika, taxi drivers — a square of Old barracks, and the owners of taverns name it Dzierdzidika. Each of these names has its own interesting history and reveals one of the features of this place.
The first name is connected with the fact that during the Ottoman rule here the shops with fabrics were located, which were called ambades.
The second name refers to the period of king Otto's reign, since it was at that time that the barracks were located close to the square.
The third name is connected with taverns because the word “dzieri” is translated as “liver” or “giblets”. There are many small taverns in this place where this ingredient is the basis of a snack.
The name, which the square bears today, came from the monastery (from the Greek “Moni”) in honor of Panagia Pantanassa — one of the oldest temples in Athens, which is located at the junction of Athinas and Ermou streets. According to the results of an archaeological research, the temple was built in the early 17th century. It was the cathedral of a convent. At that time, it was called Mega Monastiri (“Big monastery”). After the Greek revolution, the monastery declined and significantly decreased in size. This was the reason to name it “the little monastery” or “Monastiraki”. This name gradually spread to the entire district.
There is an old mosque near the temple, which now functions as a Museum of Greek folk art. According to legend, the founder of the mosque, Dzami Dzistaraki, used the massive columns from the temple of Olympian Zeus to build it. The citizens were watching this sacrilege with horror, and not for nothing, because a year later the city was seized by the plague. That was why the mosque was called "the Damned mosque" and everybody tried to avoid it.
An interesting fact: the same as many centuries ago, the Monastiraki square is crossed by the river Eridanus. But you will not see it on the surface, because it is under the ground. This is an ancient river, which turned into a full-flowing river out from a stream that was flowing from Lycabettus and passing through Kolonaki and Syntagma.
At Hadrian’s times, the decision was taken to enclose it into a "ceramic shirt", since one of the main disadvantages of this place is the waterlogged soil. So if you want to see this river, go down to the metro. At the Monastiraki metro station a cross section in the outer coating was made, so that everyone could see a fragment of the riverbed.
This is the oldest square in this district. The name is connected with the fact that Abyssinians had been living here, as they were called in the 19th century by Ethiopians who lived in the vicinity. There is also a version that the name is associated with the providing of humanitarian assistance by Abyssinians to the refugees from Asia Minor. The second part of the name is directly related to the fact that this area is surrounded by a close semicircle of antique shops. The first vintage store appeared here at the end of the 19th century. It belonged to Alis Umur, who was not only a talented craftsman, but also the President of this industry. It was called Maganadica Usurum, which translates as "man of God".
The Tower of the winds is one of the most ancient meteorological stations. It was built from pentelic marble on the Roman Agora. Thanks to it, the scientists were trying to predict the weather in ancient times.
Hadrian's library was a building erected by the Emperor Hadrian to promote science and education. It contained books in the form of scrolls, and had several reading rooms and lecture halls. Nowadays, only the western wall has survived.
The Roman Agora is a large square built in honour of Julius Caesar. In ancient times, judicial cases were heard here, philosophers were performing, and trade was carried out. It was the center of cultural and political life of Athens.
Stoa of Attalos is one of the most magnificent buildings of the Hellenistic era, which was erected as a gift to Athens from the Pergamon king Attalus II, who had once been studying here. To date, almost nothing has been preserved, so now there is a modern layout on this place, which allows you to see what it was like many centuries ago.
The Museum of Illusions is a very interesting and unusual museum, where you not only can take photos, but it is also highly recommended to do this. There are many bright colorful rooms that make you doubt the happening things are real.
Painted stoa — one of the most famous buildings in Athens. It was discovered as a result of archaeological excavations in 1980. It was built of marble and limestone, and it had an open colonnade. Zeno of Citium was teaching here (the stoic school of philosophy is named after this place).
The flea market is a real decoration of Monastiraki neighbourhood. It is here that you can feel the spirit of real Greece in all forms. It is a small unique town where one block differs from another. While just walking along it, you can wander to people who are selling overpriced fur products made of mink, sable and chinchilla (even taking into account the "special discount for you"). Then you immediately get to the local buyers of antiques, where you will stay for a few hours, as you will be examining the old plates made of blue cobalt, bronze candlesticks, old chests, traditional costumes of the last century, vintage jewelry and much more. And at the same time, sellers of leather goods (the choice here is huge) and musical instruments will highly praise their goods nearby. If you get hungry, fruit vendors sell delicious peaches, bananas, pomegranates, dates and apples at ridiculous prices. A popular joke among the Greeks is that if something can't be found on the market, it probably is nonexistent in nature.
The market has been existing here since the earliest times. During the Ottoman rule, there was a city market here: on Pandrossou street, you could buy good sandals and other leather items, saddlers were working on Ifestou, and barbers as well as … dentists worked on the upper part of Pandrossou. In August 1844, a fire destroyed the major part of the market. The new market appeared in 1884.
If you decide to buy something, then haggle. If you know the art of persuading, and the sellers just smile to your arguments, it is better to agree at once to the specified price. The Greeks are more active and temperamental in terms of trade than their Turkish counterparts.
After hours-long shopping, you need to have a meal. There are authentic establishments in this area, each of which boasts delicious food and an unusual atmosphere.
Venetis Bakery & Cafe. In this place, modern furniture and equipment are perfectly combined with stucco on the ceiling and statuettes that are adorning the hall. The menu has a lot of desserts in the original presentation.
BlueFish Athens is an oyster bar where you can enjoy oysters, shrimps, squid, octopus and other seafood with a glass of white wine in the light environment in beige shades.
Kafeneio Oraia Ellas is a tavern where it is always loud and fun. Large portions of salad, a wide range of meat and fish dishes make this place popular among both the local population and visitors.
Sávas. Here, the most of the tables are located outside and you can taste the delicious home-style national cuisine.
The easiest and the most convenient way to get here is by metro, to “Monastiraki” station.