The area immediately to the north of the Greek Agora, Monastiraki, is one of the most interesting in Athens. It held the main market and despite the great amount of archaeological excavation that has taken place since the 1820s, it still retains the atmosphere of an oriental bazaar. Its streets are full of small trinket shops, coffee shops and bars. In a throwback to ancient times there is still a metalworking and blacksmith area that produces handmade items, and you can find textiles, ceramics and copies of the latest "streetwear." Monastiraki is particularly cosmopolitan on Sundays when a huge flea market fills the streets and you can haggle over furniture and knick-knacks for that unique remembrance of your trip.

The district centres on Monastiraki Square. The church at its heart, the Pantanassa, is thought to be part of a large monastery complex that sat here before the Ottoman invasion. As if to reiterate this historical event, the south side of the square is dominated by the Mosque of Tsistarlikis, built in 1759 and named after the Ottoman governor of the time. Now houses the ceramics branch of the Museum of Greek Folk Art.

The main thoroughfare cutting through the district is Odos Ermou, which leads east to
Syntagma Square. Ermou is one of the main shopping streets of the city, and numerous European retailers have outlets here. A small square cuts its path just a little way from Monastiraki Square, and it is decorated with the beautiful Byzantine church of Kapnikarea, the official church of Athens University. Built in the 11th century its dome is supported by four Roman columns and its modem frescoes were created in the 1950s by Fotis Kondoglou. Kapnikarea was earmarked for demolition in the 1830s but was saved by the personal intervention of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, father of Greece's first king.

We'll take the route west from Monastiraki Square, as if leaving the city. This leads us one km to the archaeological site of Kerameikos. As you walk along, immediately to the north of Ermou (on your right) is the district of Psiri. Unspoiled by tourism, there is a very Greek atmosphere in the maze of narrow streets and some excellent tavemas among its traditional shops.
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