Central Market (Kendriki Agora)

Central Market (Kendriki Agora) (27)

If you happen to pass through Psiri during the day, you might think we have made a mistake here. It looks like any old working-class neighbourhood, with nothing to recommend it other than repair shops in case your car breaks down. 

But when evening comes, and especially at night, this area of Athens is transformed and its streets fill up with locals in search of a place to eat, drink and listen to good music. 

The neighbourhood, however, was once the centre of the city's underworld and until relatively recently it was considered a dangerous area that was best avoided, especially at night. 

Its bad reputation dates back to the 19th century, when the modern Greek state was created. At that time, as has often happened in history at the start of a new period, many immigrants from different islands and regions of Greece came to the city to make a living. Those who were unable to find work became layabouts and began committing petty crimes in the area, which turned into a kind of Athenian underworld. Drugs, theft, prostitution and violence were common in Psiri, This created fear among the working population living there and of course ensured that no one came near it. 

One group that caused trouble on the streets of Psiri for over 50 years was the Koutsavakides. Their style could be straight out of today's fashion magazines, since it was characterised by long moustaches, high boots with a pointed tip, tight trousers and wide belts that hid their weapons. They also wore their jackets so that one arm was hidden under one of the sleeves. This group of delinquents literally ruled the neighbourhood, and not even the police dared confront them. 

In the late 19th century, the prime minister Charilaos Trikoupis personally instructed Inspector Dimitrios Baoraktaris to end the terror created by the Koutsavakides. His methods were swift and involved humiliating them by eliminating all their identifying traits. Thus, when they were arrested he cut the tips off their boots, the sleeves off their jackets and shaved their moustaches. Before long, the Koutsavakides had disappeared from the city.

Unfortunately Baoraktaris did not stop there. He also put a stop to street musicians and couples who made romantic gestures in public, and forced them to spend the night in jail. 

The “stone battles” in the late 19th century were another blight in the history of Psiri. Youngsters and adults from surrounding neighbourhoods gathered in the streets to shout at each other and throw stones at the locals. This somewhat unwholesome activity sometimes led to genuine and dangerous field battles. 

Today, over a century later, none of this happens in Psiri. The music is back in its bars and streets, especially the style known as “rempétika”. This is a uniquely Greek style of music that came about as a reaction to the rebellious behaviour that pervaded the poor neighbourhoods of cities, as revealed in its lyrics about love, exile, pain, poverty and even drugs. 

These days, a walk through these streets will leave you pleasantly surprised. There is no need to fear for your safety, because modern-day Psiri is a good neighbourhood, where the city's trendiest residents come in search of stylish bars, live music pubs and designer restaurants serving up international dishes. In the afternoon, cafés and art galleries compete to attract visitors, so why not combine the two while listening to the tunes played by the street musicians? 

If you are tired of the precooked moussaka served up in tourist restaurants, the souvenir shops and the ever-present sirtakis, you will love this neighbourhood. With certain echoes of the city's underworld past, Psiri balances its tourist image with lively entertainment, where the capital's coolest residents are in their element.

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