Nestling beneath Mount Pantokrator (The Almighty), the highest mountain on the island at 906m, is Corfu’s oldest village, consisting of around 130 houses and surrounded by 8 churches.
What strikes you immediately, as you may imagine from the above description, is that the village, A Heritage Protected Site in An Area of Natural Beauty, has something of a divine peace about it, that is immediately felt as you arrive at the top of the village and catch your first glance of the mix of old buildings, churches and tavernas set amidst the surrounding countryside.
There are many ‘old villages’ on the island, but Old Perithia (Ano Peritheia) by nature of its protection by the archaeological department, has remained as the finest example of the great Venetian influence on the island and its remarkable architecture.
Although it is believed the village existed as far back as the 7th century, records began circa 1347 where it is said that the villagers helped build the monastery on top of Mt. Pantokrator. However, the village grew to be one of the wealthiest on the island by the early 14th century and continued to be enriched as the number of properties grew, or houses were enlarged through the mid 17th and 18th centuries.
With the frequent ‘pirate attacks’ that took place, Old Perithia was ideally positioned to see, but not be seen from the sea below. From the higher churches and the ‘vigla’ (look out tower) the priests and villagers could forewarn Corfu town by lighting a beacon on top of the mountain beside Pantokrator, that could be easily seen from Corfu town. Interestingly, the ‘vigla’ is due to be restored in the coming year.
Other restorations, Iakovos, Persis, the attractive church that’s located near the first taverna is being painstakingly renovated, and the internal frescoes are slowly, but meticulously once more being revealed. The church is due to open to the public from 2014.
Additionally, apart from the 5 tavernas. In 2010 three houses were rebuilt entirely by hand to be finished exactly as they were back in 1650 when they had last stood complete, creating an enchanting six suite (4 star) accommodation in the village, and at the same time preserving some of the many old buildings. Further houses and churches have, or are being restored and pockets of land have been purchased to enable agriculture and farming to return to the village community. All in all the village is now approximately 25% restored or in the process of restoration, and it is hoped the village will soon be brought back to life.
There were 4 ‘noble mansion houses’, one of which ‘Skordilis Mansion’ was latterly turned into the local school and has an iconic Arch leading to the old building, that still remains to this day. The village had an abundance of vines, and the perfect conditions also meant numerous, walnut, almond, pear, cherry, fig and apple trees, and even the occasional pomegranate. Additionally, literally thousands of sheep grazed the land. Traces of all of the above are still found to this day.
The village had a wonderful and happy atmosphere, with singing and dancing often spontaneously breaking out at the various kafeneions. Today the village is still popular and atmospheric with many visitors from abroad and by many locals too.
There is a book about the village, its history and providing visitors with a self guided walking tour of Old Perithia, which can be purchased in the village or at local bookshops across the island. But most importantly, there is the village itself – Corfu’s living history and its finest example, a place that must be treasured, for its past and for future generations to return to their roots, beliefs and all that made the island such a very special place and of so much interest to the many visitors who return there again and again, year after year.
Copyright editorial and images Mark Hendriksen – Merchant’s House Publishing