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Monastiraki: Bargaining for the Past at Athens’ Flea Market

monastiraki square flea market
Monastiraki Square is home to a lively flea market. Credit: C Messier /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Monastiraki Square is one of the most vibrant areas of the Greek capital, and its flea market is at the center of this charming hub in Athens.

A man in a suit and bowtie stands next to a 1950’s car in a faded black-and-white photo, a remnant from someone’s past, tossed on a table under a row of wooden shoe molds, next to a ship wheel clock, a tarnished silver cup and an incongruous piece of wooden African art. It’s all there to see on just one table at the vast flea market.

Despite the country’s economic hardships, the Sunday flea market in the Monistiraki area is a busy place, even though it has to compete with a battalion of illegal immigrants selling cheaper goods on the streets nearby. It’s a place where you can wander for a long time, circling tables, looking for bargains.

Monastiraki flea market is home to treasures

Second-hand items on sale at Monastiraki flea market in Athens, Greece. Credit: Greek Reporter

Efrossini Eliopoulou was there looking for an antique mirror, but got caught up browsing table after table of valuables mixed with junk and the remainders of people’s forgotten lives.

“I wanted something with old world charm to accentuate my house, something timeless that could fit into the present day, like a link from the past,” she told the Southeast European Times.

She found objects that reminded her of her childhood – a jewelry box, a decanter and a white porcelain chocolate holder. The asking prices are not cheap: 200 euros for old typewriters, 300 euros for a gramophone.

“I hope these people didn’t have to sell them in despair, because the sentimental value is more than the nominal value,” she said.

The sellers at Monastiraki are canny and experienced. A Roma woman sits quietly smoking at her stand, waiting amid garish art with ornate frames, her change purse at the ready. At one table, a collection of old porcelain dishes and vases lies atop a pile of toy cars and fire trucks, samurai swords, a golden bell and an Egyptian mask.

The customers are often regulars with a keen eye. Ekaterina Bouka stopped at a table of porcelain goods operated by Maria Papadopoulou and said she comes because the market offers many high-end goods mixed among the bric-a-brac.

“I like antiques and sometimes there are exceptional opportunities,” she told the SE Times. Papadopoulou said she buys from people who are reluctant to give away memories but sometimes have little choice, especially in the crisis. “Many say, ‘This belonged to my mother or grandmother,’ but now they just sell what they don’t want anymore,” she said.

Many want others’ discards. Josianne Den Ruyter of Belgium and her husband were looking for roof ornaments and found a ceramic piece, which they bought, and had their eye on more personal items at a table full of someone’s memories. “It’s more valuable that it was treasured by someone,” she said.

You can get almost anything you want at the market, including Greek Army Korean War helmets and canteens and leather courier bags sold by Andreas Tsoulis at an old military goods stand.

His friend, George Rigalis, a former member of the Greek Army Special Forces who restores military items, said the customers for their goods are usually men.

“They are looking for something special that reminds them of the military,” he told the SE Times. At the flea market, you might find that mirror that someday will be back here, being cherished by someone else who wondered who owned it.

In addition to the iconic flea market, where countless treasures from a bygone era can be found, Monastiraki is also home to an array of souvenir shops filled with authentic Greek products, replicas of ancient Greek art and jewelry, and other objects to help you remember Greece.

Monastiraki at the center of life in Athens

Located in the heart of Athens, Monastiraki Square is a unique blend of styles, cultures and eras, ever-changing and vibrant. It is without question one of the most charming and lively areas in the Greek capital.

If you just stand at the center of Monastiraki Square and take a good look around you, you can form a more or less complete picture of Athens’ past and present, all within just a few square meters.

The stunning diversity of the architecture of its buildings alone epitomizes the turbulent history of Greece.

On one side of the square is the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary Pantanassa, and on the other is the Ottoman-era Mosque of Tzistarakis.

Built in the second century AD, the pillars of Hadrian’s Library can still be seen through the arches of the mosque, while – directly above them – the Acropolis dominates your view, forming a stunning backdrop for the scene.

A number of neoclassical buildings which surround the square, including the Metro Station, add yet another era to the list of those which are already exemplified in this small space.

Located in the heart of Athens, Monastiraki is just a short walk from the ancient neighborhood of Plaka, the Acropolis, the iconic Omonoia Square, Syntagma, and the Parliament building.

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