When looking for the Athens shop that famously sells sandals to Kate Moss and Queen Sofia of Spain it’s fair to expect that your destination will be a chic boutique in one of the city’s smarter neighbourhoods. It’s some surprise, then, to discover that Stavros Melissinos is a tiny, cluttered workshop in a neglected alley shadowed by the Acropolis. Unprepossessing it may be, but this hasn’t prevented the likes of Sophia Loren, Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Jackie Onassis and The Beatles from making pilgrimages here since the early 1960s.
The shop, a cosy cavern overflowing with scraps of leather, shoes, bags and other ephemera, is rarely empty. Visitors from all over the world arrive in a state of high anticipation and wait to be fitted with simple but exquisite handcrafted footwear, made famous almost half a century ago by the man known as ‘the poet-sandalmaker’.
Stavros Melissinos was born in 1929 and is well known in Athens and around the world as the poet-sandelmaker of Greece. His books of poetry, plays and essays have been translated into English, French, German and Italian and his best known work The Rubaiyat is on the curriculum of a number of American universities. He has been the subject of documentaries on the BBC and three American networks and his works are in the Harvard and Oxford libraries. He has also translated the works of many literary greats into Greek. His play Chastitity Belt was banned in Greece for political reasons, which makes him quite proud.
The designs of his sandals, like his poetry which is influenced by Greek mythology and history, is based on the footwear of the ancient Greeks who once walked the streets of the ancient agora, in the very place his tiny shop is now.
From the 1920s the small shop at 89 Pondrossou street has been the workshop of Stavros Melissinos, the Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens. Before Stavros his father had worked here. Because of the Olympics, Melissinos, an Icon of Athens, was evicted by the new landlords who wanted to get more money out of the space. Olympic Greed was a disease that infected the whole city but this was an especially disturbing act. Melissinos is a national treasure. But Monastiraki’s loss is the gain of Psiri. To find Stavros and his sandals just cross the square in front of the metro station and walk towards the intersection of Athinas Street and Ermou. Take a left on Ermou and walk two blocks and go right on Ag Theklas Street and he is at number 2 This is actually a very suitable location because this is Lord Byron’s old neighborhood -he lived there for a period of time on 11 Aghias Theklas Street.