Saturday, 10 July 2010

Saying goodbye to Koutouloufári and Piskopianó

Wandering through the narrow backstreets, these two villages are picture-postcard Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Before leaving Crete early this morning [Saturday], I spent time on Friday saying my goodbyes to some old friends, and strolling through the backstreets of Koutouloufári and Piskopianó.

These two villages are part of a cluster of three traditional village – the third is Ano Hersónisos – about 25 km east of Iraklion and set 1 km above the coastal resort of Hersónisos, on the slopes of Mount Harakas, making them great places to sit on a restaurant or hotel balcony enjoying the panoramic view.

Traditional Cretan arches have been retained in many of the restored and renovated village houses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Koutouloufári and Piskopianó have about 450 residents each throughout the year, but they experience a population explosion each summer with a bustling influx of tourists. Tourism began spreading up from the coast from the 1950s on, and has brought great changes to these mountain-side villages.

As the local people moved away from farming to the tourism industry, old buildings were turned into hotels, shops and restaurants. But many of the old houses still stand and in renovation and restoration a considerable number have retained their traditional Cretan arches.

Z, the book and movie about the murder of Gregóris Lambrákis, inspired resistance to the colonels in the 1960s and 1970s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Wandering through the narrow backstreets and alleyways of these two villages, this is picture-postcard Greece. The street names commemorate great Greek poets like Giannis Ritsos or heroes of political resistance such as Gregóris Lambrákis, whose murder in 1963 inspired the novel Z by Vassílis Vassilikós, which was turned into a movie by Costa Garvas in 1969.

In Koutouloufári, I had lunch in the Villa Iokasti, a restaurant with a romantic setting on a wooden balcony overlooking a deep blue pool and with dramatic views out to the Mediterranean.

The restaurant at the Villa Iokasti has a romantic setting, perched on a wooden balcony with dramatic views out to the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Late in the afternoon, I strolled down to Piskopianó, which – despite its “young and lively” reputation – dates back to the Middle Ages, when pirate raids drove people away from the coast to seek the safety of the hills, far from the sea.

The village was first mentioned in 1379, when it was part of the possessions of the Ventian Catholic Bishop of Hersónisos (casale Piscopiano de Chersonisso). In 1583, it appears again as a small village of 111 inhabitants.

The Turks captured Crete from the Venetians in 1669, and in the first Turkish census of the island two years later in 1671, Piskopianó had been reduced to 15 taxable Christian families. Today, Piskopianó has 450 permanent residents and with its the two neighbouring villages is part of Hersónisos Municipality.

The bells of the new village church in Piskopianó (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Towering over the whole village, on a terraced square that also hosts Kostas Taverna, the modern Greek Orthodox parish church of Piskopianó is an imposing edifice. At another corner of the square stands the former parish church, Aghios Ioánnis (Saint John), first built in the 16th century and renovated many times since.

I had dinner in Lychnos, on a balcony overlooking the lower stretches of the village and out onto Hersónisos below and the blue sea beyond.

After a perfect week in Greece, I am back in Dublin today, and the rain has been pouring down since I arrived this morning. Perhaps I hope I have taken a little bit of the sunshine back with me and a little piece of the blue skies and seas, and memories of good friends, good food, good music and good poetry.