Have you ever considered which would be the ideal place for you to stay if you were a non-greek visitor in Athens until the middle of the 19th century? Either you had this question in your mind or even if it just showed up in your brain the answer we would give you would be Psiri!
One of the oldest athenian neighbourhoods, “decorated” with the authenticity of the greek way of living, with many small traditional businesses and graphical people all around and of course places that both the warriors of the greek revolution of 1821 and the king loved to visit, Psiri was a dream place for a sightseer that really wanted to feel what living in Athens is. The heartbeats of the city were definitely louder there. But soon they would get faster too!
Fear would change everything in this neighbourhood at the last quarter of the 19th century and it would listen to three names: koutsavakides, mortides and trabouks. Who were they? More or less criminals, men that were always ready to fight and that would make anyone suffer in their presence.
Black suit-jacket worn only on the one side of their back, striped pair of trousers, untrimmed and oiled hair and a special hat that symbolised their mourning for a friend they lost or for their next victims was their iconic style. The most important characteristic they had, was their wide belt where they were hiding their guns and knives. They would always leave a part of their belt hanging and if someone stepped on it, on their own will or by mistake, that would mean that they wanted a fight and so blood would be spread around the neighbourhood.
This styling was actually inspired of a man called Dimitris Koutsavakis, a famous bickerer at Piraeus that was also the reason why these people were names koutsavakides. The name mortides was given from the French word mort (death) because during a wide epidemic wave of cholera these men were being occupied as gravediggers. As for the word trabouks they got, that’s a long story!
When they weren’t gravediggers, these people were being hired from the politicians to start cheering during their campaigns in favour of them. They were also giving them as presents some really good-quality Cuban cigars that were called trabucos. So that’s the reason why we also called them trabouks. Nowadays we still use this term to describe anyone that uses violence and threats as well as his physical power to gain what he wants and to provoke fear.
At this point you may question yourself where was the police when all this mess was happening and these people were occupying Psiri? Politicians were always there to cover all these greek gangsters because they were needing them. We had to wait many years until Bairaktaris, the courageous commander of the greek police would bring back peace in Psiri by putting all these criminals in jail without being afraid of them or the politicians.
Years are passing by but good stories always remain to help us travel through time. A walk around Psiri will convince you that the hidden vibes of history are still there creating the feeling of this rich neighbourhood! And who knows! Maybe you’ll meet a modern koutsavakis along with a modern Bairaktaris that will help you discover even more things about their time!