Picturesque Christos Square in Marpissa is filled with the sounds of the toumbaki (drum) and tsambouna (bagpipe) played by Sofia Kefala and Aris Vitzilaios. Constantina Alipranti and Roussa Trivyza-Agourou dance the traditional balos as onlookers clap to the beat.
In the village of Lefkes, Apostolis Pantelaios and Yannis Kontaratos toss wooden balls as they play an ancient Greek game similar to bowls and which survives in only very few places. A short distance away the artist Angelika is busy painting in her studio, while in the village of Prodromos the local priest Father Yiannis, dressed in his cassock, is playing soccer with some kids.
Unless you visit these villages for yourself, it is difficult to believe that all these people live on cosmopolitan and heavily-touristed Paros.
The main road that ascends from the main towns of Parikia and Naoussa and leads to the east coast passes close to the outskirts of these villages. But the fact that the interiors of these medieval settlements are not visible from the road has left them relatively untouched by the tourism that has reshaped the rest of Paros. This has helped preserve their authenticity and the appearance they have maintained since the 15th century, when they were built with defense in mind, out of fear of pirates.
Lefkes, Prodromos and Marpissa are among the most beautiful villages in the Aegean, places where – even in August – time seems to be measured differently.
“Marpissa and Prodromos were built as fortified settlements and the houses communicate with one another by means of internal doors, so there would be an escape route in the event of a pirate attack,” says Marpissa resident Maria Trivyza as she shows me around her village. Marpissa is the closest of the three villages to the sea, with Piso Livadi, Chrysi Akti and Dryos the nearest beaches.
The beautifully-kept village is a sight to behold, featuring immaculately clean alleys, whitewashed single-story dwellings and elegant two-story mansions, impressive arches and passageways, tidy rainwater channels, 19 churches (most dedicated to not one but two saints) and 9 squares. The locals are industrious and care for their village with passion, singing its praises with a deep love.
Marigoula Anousaki and her mother, Flora, welcome us into their home. Although renovated, it still retains the old doorway concealed in the oven. “Our house was at the end of the row, so everyone would end up here and escape to the mountain through the secret exit,” we are told.
Marigoula sits at a loom dating to 1858, on which she weaves traditional rugs and modern bags available for purchase (tel. +30 22840-41582), while her mother begins a repertoire of local folk songs, interspersed with pirate tales she heard as a child.
A particular source of pride for everyone in Marpissa is the great sculptor Nikos Perantinos (1910-1991). At the Nikos Perantinos Sculpture Museum (tel. +30 22840-41443), you will see many works by the artist who is celebrated for his bronze busts, the statues that stand in squares all over Greece, and his commemorative medals and drachma coins. A memorable experience is the guided tour by Katerina, who talks about the works, the stories behind their creation, and events from the artist’s personal life, such as his fascinating meeting with Maria Callas.
Another excellent reason to visit Marpissa is the three-day cultural festival that has been organized by a group of volunteers every August for the past 10 years: Routes of Marpissa.
The festival is the brainchild of the young lawyer Konstantina Alipranti, who, with great determination and enthusiasm, managed to win over not only the locals, but also young people from all over Greece who put together the event each year despite the many difficulties.
Routes of Marpissa is an experiential event that enables visitors to learn about the village through thematic walks, interactive games, talks, exhibitions and tours of old private mansions opened for the occasion. Music performances add to the festive atmosphere. Although circumspect at first, the locals have today warmly embraced the festival and look forward to welcoming visitors each year.
Tip: Just outside Marpissa, check out the modern dairy Parion (tel. +30 6973-525591), where the young Katerina Moschou makes yogurt, fresh myzithra and xyinomyzithra cheese, cheese matured in olive oil (ladotyri) and piquant kefalotyri cheese, all produced from local cow’s milk using traditional methods and no additives.
You enter the village of Prodromos through a gateway. As you pass beneath arch after arch, you will be struck by the blazes of color from the well-tended courtyards full of geraniums, bougainvilleas and basil plants; you will encounter countless cats that will rub against your legs purring; you will hear the twittering of birds, the roll of dice on backgammon boards, and the voices of children playing in the car-free streets.
You will be amazed at the number of churches, and will no doubt spend a little time at the 16th-century Church of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, dedicated to the patron saint of the village. If you happen to be there at the same time as the priest, Father Yiannis Nikiforakis, he will show you around and speak about the reenactments of the Passions of the Christ at Easter, which began in neighboring Marpissa but have become established here too. If not, you are certain to bump into him on the street, playing games with the children or seated at the Art Café (tel. +30 22840-42033) chatting to locals and visitors.
The café enjoys a privileged location, right next to the most exquisite archway. Here, between rounds of meze and souma (the local spirit), you will learn all about the village: about its permanent residents who number less than 500 in winter, about the few young people that have returned, and about the local revithada (chickpea stew) eaten every Sunday after being baked all night in a wood-fired oven.
And even though the wood-fired oven of the Petaras bakery – where everyone once used to bake the chickpea dish – has closed, no one is willing to abandon the tradition.
You will also learn about the Byzantine footpath, since you cannot fail to notice the village suddenly filling with foreign visitors around noon each day. The walk, which takes about 90 minutes, begins at Lefkes and follows the old mule track that was the main link between the two villages.
Okay, some may disagree with the label ‘cosmopolitan’, especially when compared with the town of Naoussa, for example. But Lefkes is certainly relatively well-known among Greeks and foreign visitors to Paros. It is also the only mountain village, built in an area with lush vegetation below the island’s highest peak, Aghioi Pantes.
In Lefkes you will find tavernas, cafés, a few shops, and, nestled among them, the studio of artist Angelika Vaxevanidou. The studio is not formally open to visitors because the artist, who has made her home on Paros in recent years, does not sell her works here. However she will be happy to welcome you into her workspace and speak about her striking creations, many of which are inspired by the themes of inner identity and desire.
Her studio is on the main street that connects the upper and lower squares. The former is spacious and lively, often full of kids playing happily; the latter is more enclosed, with trees providing ample shade – a place that can make you forget where you are.
Indeed, it is definitely worth losing yourself in the quiet alleyways of the village, viewing the old houses, some of which are in ruins, and enjoying the welcome cool of covered passageways, before emerging at the Marigo coffeeshop opposite the enormous Church of Aghia Triada with its imposing twin marble bell towers.
You will see marble architectural elements in many of the residences and in the narrow streets themselves, for Lefkes has long been a village of marble workers, right up until the 1950s, when most left to work in quarries throughout Greece. In recent years, some have returned, along with a fair number of young people, who are creating a new life in this brilliant white setting.