Monastiraki, the place to be in Athens!
You’ve definitely heard of it and if you’ve been to Athens then you will have been there many times. Do you know its’ history though? When you are in Monastiraki, you are literally at the centre of the history of Athens. Whichever way you turn, you will find ancient monuments and historic ruins and an atmosphere that takes you back in time.
The name Monastiraki is from the period of the Hellenic Revolution. It takes its name from the Monastery of Pantanassas, a small women only monastery built in the area in the 10th century. Before this name, the area had many other nicknames, like ‘Ambatzidika’, ‘Tzertzidika’ and ‘Square of the old barracks’, for many reasons, but Monastiraki is the name that stuck.
In 1759 there was a mosque called Tzistaraki, which took its name from the Ottoman leader of the city, Moustafa Aya Tzistaraki. It was also known as the Mosque of the lower fountain, because of the fountain nearby which ran from the river Iridanos. It is said that Aya used columns from the sanctuary of Olympus to build the mosque. This was considered to be sacrilege and many linked this to an epidemic which hit the city the following year. The mosque was rebuilt first in 1915 and from 1975 houses a significant collection of ceramics from Greece, Cyprus, the Ottoman empire and newer Turkey.
During Ottoman times, there was an open food market in the square and it had a considerable trade role. It was sometimes called Yousouroum because of the famous bazaar on Ifestiou Street. This name is sometimes still used today. The area with the second hand shops took its name from the Jewish merchant, Elia Yousouroum, the first owner of such a shop in Athens and president of the Association till the end of the 19th century.
The history of Monastiraki is so rich, we could fill a whole book! It is always one of the liveliest areas of Athens, a space where cultures have met for more than a thousand years and one could imagine the true history of the capital.