Everyone loves to walk around the old town, but few notice the important historical details!

Walking around the old town of Corfu, you will come across the area of Pinia, learn more about the story behind its name as “Koukounara” as the locals usually call it.

It is not uncommon for the area to be called by the Italian name, “piazza“, meaning an open-air market. Another version is that it takes its moniker from the place where the first church of Agios Spyridon, the Patron Saint of the island, was built.

The original Church was at the current location of the famous Saroko Square, and was full of “Koukounaries” (Pine cones), from which its name originated.

In 1577, however, the church was demolished and the Venetian government then gave, in exchange, the current building that houses the Holy Church of Agios Spyridon. The toponym of the old location of the church was based on the area around which the Holy Relic was transferred and the church of Agios Spyridon was housed in the new building in the centre of the Old Town.

It is worth touring the narrow cantonments of the old town to find the 4 pine cones that symbolize the old location of the church of Agios Spyridon.
Symbolically, four pine cones were placed in important parts of the old city near Pinia, three of which are made of stone.

The first is located at 43-47 Nikiforou Theotoki Street, in the mansion Kompitsi, where the dates of construction and reconstruction of the building, 1680 and 1728 respectively, are written. The second stone pine cone is located above the coat of arms of the Voulgari house and the third is located on the second floor of the corner building on N. Theotoki and M. Theotoki streets. Although few will look up, many old people remember to. Just before one enters the busy “cantonment” at the junction of N. Theotoki and Philharmonic streets, leading to the church of Agios Spyridon, there is the last of the four pine cones, which. is made of iron; the most famous and distinct.

The Custom of Mastela

The old Custom of Mastela takes place in Pinia every year.

At the major moment when most people are looking up at balconies and windows for the traditional throwing of the clay pots, the “Botides“, the Custom of Mastella takes place. Early in the morning a large wooden barrel is placed on the spot, filled with water and coins are tossed into it by passers-by who make “wishes”, as in a wishing well.  The barrel is decorated with coloured ribbons and impressive myrtles. The custom takes place simultaneously, at the tolling of the bells for the first Resurrection, with the throwing of the clay pots, and as an unsuspecting passer-by is chosen to dive into the barrel and retrieve the coins it contains.

The Piniators

It is also worth mentioning that, back in time, the locals adopted a nickname for the porters who loaded and unloaded in the area. They were called “Piniatoros” or “Piniadoros”, and they were the only ones who, for years in all the liturgies of Agios Spyridon, carried the banners and the 2 meter high “torsonia” candles of the church. These banner-carriers were popular and flattering, renowned for their teasing and jokes.The also stood out as they, characteristically, walked barefoot, were of sloppy appearance and had the emblem of the pine cone on their hat.

Silver and gold-plated pine cones are also found inside the Holy Church of Agios Spyridon, decorating several banners. It is definitely worth exploring the narrow cantons of the old town to discover the pine cones, enjoy the hospitality of the picturesque neighborhood of Pinia, and especially in the summer mornings, amble to the sounds of the pealing bells of the church of the patron saint of the island.

Text Editor: Μαρίλια Μακρή
Photography: Μαρίλια Μακρή
Photography: Vlasis Tsonos
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