Varvakeios Municipal Market of Athens could justly boast having catered to the dietary needs of entire generations of Athenians throughout its approximately 150-year long history.
In 1874, during the term of office of Mayor Panagis Kyriakou, it became clear that it was high time for the capital of Greece to acquire a modern Municipal Market built along the lines of similar commercial constructions throughout Europe. Until then, the Central Market of Athens was just a cluster of wooden sheds aligned along the edge of the Ancient Agora of Athens, at the end of Aiolou Street, where the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Gymnasium are located.
The decision to erect the municipal market was adopted in 1876, since the town plan for Athens provided for the development of a commercial triangle delineated by Panepistimiou, Ermou and Athinas Streets. Thanks to the generous donation from Ioannis Varvakis, one of the greatest benefactors of Greece, a wealthy merchant engaged in caviar trade, works commenced in 1878; nevertheless, major delays obstructed rapid evolution of the works. A purely accidental event though, the fire that burst in the old market in Monastiraki turning everything to ashes, rendered the need to accelerate works imperative and urgent.
In 1886, the new market was completed and handed over to the citizens of Athens. The famous site of Roman Agora that extends up to Ifaistou Street was revealed by the archaeological excavations onsite the old central marker. Varvakeios Agora was renovated for the first time after one century, while works extended between 1979 and 1996.
Varvakeios Agora (agora is translated to market) is a block-long edifice delimited by Athinas, Sofokleous, Aiolou and Evripidou Streets, downtown Athens.
The Fish Market, situated in the centre of the market complex, sheltered by an impressive double-pitched roof, is the most vibrant place in Varvakeios Agora, attracting the majority of visitors. According to Spyros Korakis, a wise man, president of the market’s fishmongers, 100 professional fishmongers sell their goods from the shops housed at the open alleys at the perimeter of the market or from the stalls arranged in the centre of the hall. The number of employees working here amounts to 400. Each day, 5-10 tones of fish, sea-food and processed sea food are distributed while the quantities ready for sale here can cater for the needs of 3,000 to 5,000 clients.
Enter the fish market and you’ll find any fish your heart desires. Humble fishes, like sardine, Atlantic chub mackerel, smelt, picarel, bogue, unconditioned cod and anchovies come in abundance. Depending on the season, you can buy any type of fish you like ranging from low cost pelagic fish to medium cost fish or fish that only the well-off can afford, like red mullet, jewfish, striped grey mullet, sargo, sprat, tuna, swordfish, sole, monkfish. If you care to buy some of the most expensive fishes, like dentex, daurade, grouper, well, you won’t be disappointed; these are also available here. Be ware though: if you are no regular client, be sure to get some answers before proceeding into buying. It seems that fish has not always been caught from an open sea, as claimed.
A morning walk in the fish market is a good opportunity to get to know the “fish geography” of the Aegean Sea. Fish comes mainly from Michaniona, Kavala (north of Greece), Kymi, Skyros, Naxos, Paros, Kalymnos and Symi.
The most glorious day for the Fish Market is Ash Monday when Athenians flock since dawn to buy the most fresh sea food for the day. Ash Monday, which marks the beginning of the 40-day Lent before Easter, is a bank holiday in Greece and a day traditionally spent with family and friends to feast on Lenten dishes free from meat or dairy products.
- Address42, Athinas St., 10551 Athens
- LocationAthens - Attica