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Villages of Corfu

While the coast of Corfu has been prospering, the beautiful inland villages are losing their inhabitants who seek their fortune catering to the tourists. These villages were at one time the true heart of the island, providing food for Kérkyra Town and safety from pirates and invaders. An example is Makrádes, described some years ago by Harry Tsoukalas:
 
The first officially documented evidence of the village of Makrádes dates to the 8th century AD. Starting i n 1214 AD, the Byzantine ruler Mihaďl Angelos Komnenos reinforced an already existing fortress close by to provide a safe haven for the locals. The fortress w as never conquered by invaders yet many villagers lost their lives in pirate attacks. Some areas around the village still carry names commemorating different massacres, like Fónisha (the killing place) or Pénde Adélfia meaning 5 brothers, after the story of those brothers' resistance and death.
 
In the old village centre, we can still observe fine examples of remarkable architecture with 2-, 3- and 4-storeyed stone homes built like small fortresses; on many you can see the small loop-holes (
polemístres) made for guns . These days Makrádes is, unfortunately, effectively a ghost village, with only a few elderly people left. Most houses are deserted and on the point of collapse , and no one wants to do anything about them.
 
Instead, locals spend enormous amounts of money in nearby Paleokastrítsa building homes and tourist businesses . Don't get me wrong. Paleokastrítsa is a magnificent place with great natural rock formations, crystal clear waters and narrow caves. It's just that all these concrete buildings have been built everywhere, and the gorgeous old houses of villages like Makrádes that survived many centuries and many invasions have been left these days to die.
 
Harry’s account omits two developments. The newer quarter of Makrádes, out on the main bypass road east of the hilltop old neighbourhood, is totally given over to tavernas and souvenir shops full of tchotchkes which exist to ensnare every passing tour bus or rental car – no need to go down to Paleokastrítsa to cash in on the tourist trade. And the fine old houses of Makrádes are noted as an attraction in at least two English-language tourist guides to the island (AA Spiral and Berlitz Pocket) – which means that real-estate sales of the ruins for second homes will not be long delayed, assuming that hasn’t happened already. I can’t see ‘no one want[ing] to do anything’ about the restorable buildings for much longer.
 
There are still various inland villages with a bit of life in them, touristic or otherwise – Sinarádes, with its excellent folklore museum; pastel-coloured Perouládes in the far northwest; handsome Doukádes just off the Paleokastrítsa road; Spartýlas on Mt Pandokrátor; and Ágios Matthéos in an untouristy part of southern Corfu all come to mind. With Greece set for a decade more of economic doldrums, it wouldn’t be surprising if more and more Corfiots in Athens return to their patriká spítia (ancestral family homes) in the island countryside to try and make a rent-free go of it. Especially if they’re unemployed anyway.
 
One of the few recent initiatives to move quality tourism inland has been the 2001 inauguration of the waymarked, long-distance Corfu Trail, which requires 8 to 10 days to cover its 220-km course from near Cape Asprókavos in the far south to Cape Agía Ekateríni in the north. The route has also tried to utilize as much as possible surviving path sections (a challenge in a society as bulldozer-fixated as Greece), and injects a bit of money into inland villages who would otherwise not see any overnight tourism. Get the authorized map-guide through www.corfu-trail.com

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