When people think about Athens, they think about the temples, the Acropolis, ruins and all. What some might fail to realize is that Athens, an old city that it is, city of historical book fame, is still a living city; a growing city actually, teeming with life, energy and vibrance as the capital of Modern Greece! Before going to Athens, I actually didn’t know what to expect aside from the cliches that one might expect – till Me and my Wife Jill, got to walk the charming narrow alleyways of Plaka and Monastiraki.
Old World Mingles with the New
Plaka and the Monastiraki Area of Athens was actually what composed the city of Athens since after its fall to fame in the Roman Era till the victory of the Greek War of Independence when the city was chosen to be the capital of Greece – a far cry from its larger self back in the Classical Age of Greece.
The area is surprisingly small and the best way to explore it is definitely by foot as the alleyways are narrow and labyrynthine, and most important of all, its more fun to walk along its streets and just allow yourself to get lost in a place where old mingles with the new just like my photo above of a centuries old Byzantine Church that suddenly popped into view in the middle of Modern Athens!
We visited and explored the area twice in our stay in Athens so come along and see what Plaka and Monastiraki has to offer to the modern traveler and tourists!
A Flea Market/Bargain/Shopping District
Easily accessible by Metro through the Monastiraki Metro Station, bustling Monastiraki is a place for shopping for locals and travelers alike! Named after the unmissable Church of Pantanassa which stands in Monastiraki Square, this an area known for its flea markets, bargains and loads of souvenirs and items that shouts Greece!
From leather items, to icons, to olive woodwork, to ceramic and stone statues, clothes and all – Monastiraki by far is my most favorite shopping area in Greece! You do have to haggle but it makes the experience more complete! The vendors are mostly friendly and speak English so you won’t have any trouble communicating. As for Us, we got to buy a small Leonidas Handmade Bronze statue, a pair of nice Greek Leather sandals and a Cigarette Case, a Hand Carved Stone Statue of Pallas Athena, and a moulded model of the Acropolis of Athens! It was a fun and laid back shopping escapade!
As for safety, Monastiraki is relatively safe as well, contrary to what we read before going to Greece, but vigilance should still be practiced definitely!
It’s quite a colorful area – with all the commerce going on, with people sitting in the square and all! It’s one of the best places in Greece to mingle with the locals who are very inclined to helping out travelers like us! Our photo above was taken by an old man who happened to be just strolling in the square. When Me and Jill taking turns to take each other’s photos, he offered to take a photo of us both with a smile!
It’s The Place to Eat in Athens!
From souvlaki to suckling pork, from apaki to moussaka, and many more! Plaka and Monastiraki is filled with countless restaurants that would satisfy your every craving especially of Greek Cuisines and dishes!
I would be featuring all the food and restaurants in Athens that we tried in another blogpost but dining under and with the view of Acropolis Hill is certainly a thing that you should not miss when in Athens!
As Plaka and Monastiraki are places where both locals and travelers frequent to dine in Athens, prices are actually really good – I mean, there is no difference between tourist and local prices! And with a variety of restaurants to choose from, you can definitely chomp down on street food or splurge on more high end restaurants! We were pretty famished after our visits at Acropolis (blogged here) , the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian (blogged here) and finding our way around Plaka – good thing there was this restaurant called Diodos right infront of the Ancient Agora Site and that where we decided to satisfy ourselves with good old Greek fare!
And before I forget, Plaka is the area where you’ll find restaurants that let you experience the Greek tradition of plate smashing! We wanted to do it but then we ran out of time and weren’t able to go back to one of those restaurants whose name I can’t remember!
It’s a Place to See More Athens History!
Being the oldest part of Athens, Plaka and Monastiraki is a joy for both those who love modern Athens and the old one! Littered with Byzantine Churches and many more, every turn in a corner might surprise you with monuments of the past!
Of all the historical sites in Plaka, the one I was excited to see the most was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens – the principal church of Athens and all of Greece! Unfortunately, it was under renovation when we went there – but nevertheless worth the time figuring out where it was!
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens is a major landmark in Athens Builth in the 1800s under three architects over a span of 20 years. The major draw on visitors is due to what’s inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
Housed inside the Cathedral of Athens is the tomb of Saint Gregory V the Ethnomartyr, hanged by the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II during a Greek Uprising against the Ottoman Empire that lead to the War for Independence.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens also contains the bones of Saint Philothei, who was martyred in the 1500s and is known for ransoming women enslaved in the Harems of the Ottoman Empire.
Beside the Cathedral, a small church 13th century Byzantine Church can be seen known as the Little Mitropoli or the Church of Saint Eleftherios.
Right in front of the Church, in the opposite side of the Church are two statues. The first one is that of Archbishop Damaskinos who was bishop during World War II.
The second statue though is the main reason I wanted to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens – it is the Statue of Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos , the last of the long line of Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire/Roman Empire Emperors.
Constantine the XI died defending Christianity and the Great City of Constantinople in 1453 in one of the most daring, heroic last stand against the Ottoman Empire of the Greeks. From then on, for 300 years, the Greeks became second class citizens under their Imperial Masters, the Turks/Ottomans. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Half of the Roman Empire that outlasted the Western Half of the Roman Empire for a thousand years. We now know the city as Istanbul, in Turkey (my travel to Istanbul blogged here, here and here). For my full my dedicated blogpost on Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, click here!
Constantine XI is called an Ethnomartyr and is one of the first martyrs of the Greek Nation. Being an avid reader and admirer of the Byzantines, this was a must see site for me as this is the only statue of Constantine XI that I know of!
Other ancient monuments abound in Plaka and are difficult to miss especially if you go follow the foot of the Acropolis from Monastiraki to Areopagitou Street:
It’s a Joy To be Able To Walk in the Present Along the Roads of the Past
Needless to say, our visit in Monastiraki and Plaka was much fun – it might be difficult to navigate at first, but locals are more than willing to help out anyone in need of assistance. It is great to be immersed in a crowd, in an environment whose as modern as anyone living now, but whose roots go deep back in time when the world was a completely different place, and people traversing the streets would have a completely different face.
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