Follow Miaouli Street from Monastiraki Square to take you to the square. All around the areaʼs narrow streets there are intriguing taverns, a warm atmosphere, fun and frolic… the epitome of the Greek philosophy of entertainment. This area is for the explorer. Here, there is an old public building and an impressive mural one should really see. Iroon Square is considered the unofficial center of Psiri and for all purposes, its best landmark.
Historically having a reputation of being an anti-establishment area. From the start of the modern Greek State, people from the provinces and especially from the island of Naxos, moved to the area of Psiri. It garnered the reputation of housing the underworld element of Athens. They were known as mangas. Hash-smokers, petty criminals and people discontent with society their ranks, continuosly being replenished by new immigrants.
One group called Koutsavakides were known for their long mustaches, long sharp toed boots with high heels, tight pants, a broad sash which hid their weapons and their jackets worn with one arm out of the sleeve. They terrorized Athens, using Psiri as their base for over 50 years. In 1893, Prime Minister Harilaos Trikoupis founded a new combination army-police to stop the criminals under the control of the tough Inspector Dimitrios Bairaktaris. He arrested the Koutsavakides and cut off the points of their boots as well as the unused sleeve of their coats, shaved their mustaches and force them to break their guns. Therefore, they moved away, until recently where once again Psiri is known for its overwhelming immigrant population.
Notably, the Inspector also ended the romantic custom of suitors serenading from the streets to their beloved in the windows and balcony above, by sending his police to break the guitars over their heads before arresting them and throwing them in jail for the evening.
Culturally, The Maid of Athens by CR Cockerell, Psiri was also the home of the 'Maid of Athens' of Lord Byron fame who has been immortalized in his poem:
"Oh maid of Athens, ere I part
Give oh give me back my heart".
The subject of a poem who became somewhat a star was Theresa Makris, one of 3 sisters who lived next door to the boarding house where Lord Byron stayed when he visited Athens in 1809. Though Byron never had a relationship with her (she was only twelve and he preferred the company of young boys) the mere mention of her in the poem inspired a sort of cult and 19th Century tourists would visit the house and hope to witness the beauty that had inspired the great romantic poet. The house where Byron stayed was on the corner of Agios Theklas and Papanikolis Streets.
The Square was also known as the haven for the revolutionaries during the war of Independence as well as for a very strange sport that kept the lower classes entertained in the days before football. They would have 'stone wars' (i.e. 'rock fights'). Until the end of the 19th Century, men from Psiri would meet the men from Thissio, Metaxourgio or Petralona and insult each other until the rocks began flying. There were cheering spectators and those injured became neighborhood heroes - thus the name 'Heroes' Square.