I didn’t really know anything about the Psirri neighborhood before I found myself in the middle of it. I was first lured off hectic Ermou Street by some colourful lampshades hanging above a narrow side street. The pretty pastels of the shades combined with the bright colours of the graffiti covering the walls were so compelling I had to do a little exploring.
The neighborhood might seem kind of gritty at first, and it’s not immediately obvious the smaller exterior streets are leading to a thriving centre of cafes and shops. I later realized that on my first day in Athens I had passed by a few other alleyways off Athinas Street that actually led into the heart of Psirri, but at the time I thought they seemed a little empty and intimidating so I passed them by. I was so wrong.
One of Athens oldest neighborhoods, Psirri has been home to working class people and craftsmen since its beginning. It was famously controlled by the criminal Koutsavakides gang (with their sharply pointed shoes and elaborate mustaches) for several decades in the 1800’s when they filled the area with brothels and illegal trafficking. It wasn’t until many years later that they were banished from the area and took much of the unsavory behavior with them.
Most of the crime and violence may have gone with the Koutsavakides, but Psirri seems to have maintained a countercultural attitude. I loved the bohemian vibe with cafes, cool boutiques and bars mixed among traditional tavernas and old repair shops. The majority of them are centered around Iroon Square, where several streets converge together into one lively hub.
I went back and visited Psirri a few times, trying out different cafes (attempting to enjoy as much cappuccino freddo as possible), admiring the street art and shopping for pretty antique trinkets and cigars. I’d even say that one of my favorite afternoons in Athens was spent lingering at a cafe on Anargiron street, soaking up the sun and watching the fascinating mix of people passing by. The bells of Paraskevi Agion Anargiron Church rang occasionally and added to the pleasant, easy feeling of the afternoon. I would have been so disappointed if I missed out on this neighborhood due to dismissing at first glance.