Syntagma may be the city’s nominal centre, but Monastiraki is its tourist hub. Layers of history intersect in Psirri, the hub of commerce and craftsmanship.

Browse by day, bar-hop by night

Old and new Athens converge in Monastiraki. The metro disgorges passengers on Adrianou, a street that is the flea market's main artery but was also part of the ancient city. The city’s historical layers and the area’s traditionally diverse communities align here: look up from the square towards the Acropolis and your line of sight crosses both a mosque and a Byzantine church. Monastiraki, or ‘little Monastery’, is named after a monastic compound that once occupied the site. Today, all that’s left is the small 10th-century Pantanassa basilica on the square.

A wave of gentrification swept most of the old artisan workshops from Psirri and replaced them with bars and eateries in the early 21st century. Now modern craftspeople are moving back in, producing leather sandals and quirky souvenirs rather than wicker chairs and tinware. And derelict buildings have been revitalised with extraordinary displays of street art. But Psirri is still at its most enchanting, and liveliest, at night, when the second-hand shops close and the trendy night-spots set their stools out on the narrow streets.

Photo: Thomas Gravanis

Avissinia Square

The Archdiocese Library

Photo: Giorgios Makkas

Photo: Thomas Gravanis

Iroon Square

Melidoni Street

In the early 20th century, Psirri was a neighbourhood with a strong Jewish presence. The two synagogues around the corner from the official Holocaust Memorial—a minimalist sculpture of a compass-like Star of David on Evovoulou Street—attest to this. Concluding efforts that had begun in 1840, a site for a synagogue in Athens was finally purchased in 1903. But differences between Sephardic and Romaniote Jews led to the establishment of a second synagogue a few doors down. Both synagogues still survive on Melidoni Street, though they are rarely open to the general public. The oldest, Romaniote synagogue at No. 8, is known as the Ioanniotiki, reflecting the community’s roots in the northern Greek city of Ioannina. The newer one, a marble-clad 1930s structure renovated in 1970, stands at No. 5.

Agion Asomaton Square

Ermou Street, which runs from Syntagma Square right through the city centre, ends rather ingloriously at a narrow square occupied by the late-11th-century church of Agion Asomaton, another name in the Orthodox faith for the archangels. The area’s revival was spurred by the Benaki’s Museum of Islamic Art a few blocks away, at Agion Asomaton’s intersection with Dipilou. The decision to locate this collection here wasn’t by chance: inside the church you’ll notice Islamic motifs that signal the presence of an Arab merchant community in the area during the 10th and 11th centuries. Arabic influences are also evident in the clay reliefs over the windows.