Situated on the eastern side of the highest peak of Mount Istoni, also known as the mountain of the Pantokrator of North Corfu, and below the Holy Monastery of the High Pantokrator, at an altitude of 475 metres, is Old Sinies. The ‘Old Village’, as the inhabitants of the surrounding area typically call it, was built by their ancestors, the Siniotes, in difficult times, when during the Middle Ages pirates and invaders looted and pillaged unprotected islands.
The Siniots set up “diacards” or sentries in specific locations i.e. “Viglai” or “Viglatouria” that were on the lookout for sightings of pirate ships. In order to warn the inhabitants they simultaneously became – as in antiquity – “fiery” or “Pyrsouri“, going up to the location, Fano, above Old Sinies from where they, by means of light signals, warned villagers of the arrival of the invaders.
The village of Sinies (signum) was named after these light signals.
The Old Sinians played a key role in protecting the city of Corfu from invaders and pirates of all kinds, which is why the Sinians, in the past, were the most attacked and looted by pirates during the Middle Ages in their lower coastal settlements.
The, once mansions of the area, lie abandoned, while the churches stubbornly still stand adorned with their unique murals.
Both the now-abandoned residential complex of Old Sinies with its ivy-clad stone houses – first mentioned in sources as early as the 14th century – and the three temples that survive today, are a typical example of urban and ecclesiastical architecture and art, as is to be seen in the numerous rural settlements, throughout the island.
Interesting frescoes of the post-Byzantine period remain preserved inside the churches.
The area where Old Sinies is built is of course almost inaccessible, as it was built specifically to withstand the piracy that plagued the coastal areas, but it is worth visiting, especially if you are a hiker.
In recent years, the amateur sports team of Cassius Zeus, has created a grueling, high level athletics event which ranks amongst the top mountain races in Greece and utilizes trails in the area. Via a network of paths that had been abandoned for several decades due to tourist development and through desolated, mountainous, traditional settlements, it covers almost the entire NE side of the island of Corfu from the coastal zone to the summit of Mount Pantocrator.
Cassius Zeus and his team were also responsible for highlighting the area and making a cultural and historical review of it.
Old Sinies, history
Historians report that the Sinies were one kilometre away from the Monastery of the Pantocrator of the High and were included in the 23 settlements that contributed to the construction of the monastery in 1347.
For the three surviving churches of the settlement, Agios Theodoros Stratilatis, Agios Georgios and Agia Triada, the first epigrammatic reference is made in 1920, in the work of S. Papageorgiou, “History of the church of Corfu”, where the churches, by area, are recorded. There is no clear information about the initial habitation of the area. Nevertheless, both the location of the settlement and the toponym in combination with the historical data connect the Old Sinies with the medieval settlements of the island.
The first inhabitants of the settlement probably come from nearby Karia and Paliospita, where the need for security and protection from the respective invaders led them to leave their place of residence in search of safer areas, not visible from the sea. For this reason, Old Sinies, like most of the medieval settlements of the island, was built during this period in semi-mountainous regions, according to the urgent needs of the time, which was characterized by intense pirate activity.
The main occupation of the inhabitants, due to the inaccessible soil, was animal husbandry, but the existence of the quarries of the island on the east side of Mount Pantokrator, and especially in the area of Sinies and Nisaki, particularly favoured the inhabitants. Most of them were extensively involved in the extraction and processing of this local hard limestone, which appears in off-white, yellowish or rarely in pink.
In 1928 the headquarters of the old settlement was transferred to Agia Varvara, in the village of Porta and two years later, unable to withstand the remote settlements, it was divided into three smaller communities, Nissaki, Gimari and Sinies. The village was a station for the pilgrims of the monastery of Pantokrator every August.
The inhabitants in 1687 also offered 2000 marbles from the area for the construction of the Municipal Theater of Corfu.
According to the records, at that time the village had 1195 inhabitants and was full of life … Primary School, Magistrate’s Court, Criminal Court and of course, cafe, tax (square), wells and threshing floors. Relics of the old churches are now kept in the Holy Temples of Agion Panton Nissaki and Agia Barbara Porta.
Many settlements were named after the surnames of most residents, Tryfonato, Katsarato, Tsiolato, Mavronato. In 1866 the first Municipality of Kassopaion was founded and when it was abolished in 1912, Old Sinies became a community. In 1928 the headquarters was moved to St. Barbara. In 1930 it was divided into three communities and after the danger of pirates had passed, the inhabitants moved to the lower ones. The village gradually began its declining course. Livestock farmers remained there until 1963-65.
Explore Old Sinies.
Uninhabited now, deserted, hidden in the ravages of time, it awaits the visitor who is interested in retracing the past.
ΓΑΡΝΕΛΗΣ, Νίκος (2004). «Παλιές Σινιές: ο χαμένος παράδεισος», Αθήνα, σελ. 13-14
ΔΗΜΗΤΡΑ, Ζωή (2015). «Παλιές Σινιές Κέρκυρας: ο βυζαντινός οικισμός και οι τρεις σωζόμενοι ναοί» (Διπλωματική εργασία), Ιωάννινα σελ. 7-27
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