Ideal place of vacation for the insider

Summer1984. We are on holiday in Antiparos with some friends. There we meet another company who had their tents next to ours. We were chatting about other places we had visited and made comparisons. While I was indifferently listening to the various experiences of the others, suddenly a girl said nostalgically:

“The most beautiful place I’ve been on vacation is a small village by the sea in Mani.”

“Naturally, I got curious and asked her” “Sorry, which is this?”

“It’s a seaside village near Kalamata. You wouldn’t know it. It’s called Koukkino.”

“I was stunned! In the heart of the Aegean, in one of the most beautiful islands, a girl was contemplating over the small village of my grandfather on my mother’s side. She was recollecting all I had experienced as a child, the picturesque houses, the unique sunsets, and the tranquil evenings when the locals were sitting outside their houses narrating stories and remembering their deceased co villagers. They were talking about fishing, the sea and other everyday matters”

It is my intention to talk about this picturesque and insignificant village.

The name

There are no specific neither written nor oral proofs for the origin of the name of the place.  We can only make hypotheses. In Greek, the ending –inos is used for the formation of adjectives that refer to materials (e.g. petrinos =stony, ksilinos=wooden, chalkinos=copper), or to colours (e.g. kitrinos=yellow, prasinos = green, kokkinos=red). Consequently, we can make two assumptions.

  1. The name comes from the stem koukk- of the word koukki that means seed of vetch, lentil, pea, etc. In certain places in Mani, they called koukkino flour and koukkino bread the flour and bread made of vetch. So, maybe the place was called Koukkinos because the ground reminded of koukkino flour or because they cultivated vetch. This is the most probable explanation.
  2. The name Koukkinos could mean “kokkinos topos” = red place. The reason is that the ground is red. The second hypothesis is not so probable, although it is not impossible. They used to call places with red ground kokkinogia and not koukkina.

The place

Koukkinos is so small that it has never been a separate community, not even a separate village. It consists of a few families that live along the seashore. It belonged to Avia, which is now a Municipality and it was always connected to the neighbouring village Archontiko, which according to Socratis Kougheas took its name from the noble house of Paleolologos’ family of Mystras.

Since 1960, Archontiko has been connected to Paliochora.

It is created, on the one hand, from the erosion of the two hills of “Ai Jiorgis” and “Kotroni” or “Spanea Stefani” and, on the other, from the materials of a small gorge that flows into the sea across the properties of Nikos and Christos Baketeas.

The central part is where the villagers kept the orchards, the wells, and the gardens; it is extended to the public road. The ground on the other side of the road is more stable and older.

Most of the houses are built along the coast, which is accessible from two parts of the public road. The main access was through a narrow lane, which led to a down hill path. In former times, when it was raining a lot the waters swept along red mud that covered the house terraces before they reached the sea.

Before the war, the bay of Koukkinos was accessible also from Archontiko, which was a path along the coast; this explains also the connection of “Koukkinos-Archontiko”. It’s been now many years since the sea covered this area and one cannot pass without getting wet.

In the past, all transportation was done via donkeys or on foot. The road that connected Koukkinos to Kalamata was opened on the existing road in 1938.

The people

We don’t know exactly when Koukkinos was first inhabited, taking into consideration the composition of the soil. The existence of a premedieval community is unlikely, since during winter, the biggest part of the community would turn into marsh. There must have been either temporary or permanent constructions on the foothills, which are rocky with hidden caves useful for the animals. Old wells prove the presence of man.

The name “Archontiko” denotes the existence of a noble residence in the past.

During the Turkish Empire, the area of Koukkinos was not inhabited. In the middle of the 17th Cent, Kato Chora of Mantinia was abandoned and became “Paliochora” Until the Revolution, all the coastal area between Kalamata and Kitries was isolated.

The first written document for human presence in Koukkinos is FEK 1841, where it is written that in 1840-41 the tax inspector of Laconic products had his headquarters in Archontiko.

In 19th Cent, the gradual obliteration of piracy as well as the need for commercial communication with Kalamata via the sea gave the opportunity to many residents of Megali Mantinia to dwell near the coasts. Koukkinos had all the advantages for the creation of a new village.

First of all, it was on the way of one of the main roads from Kalamata to the southern villages.

It lies on the recess of a closed bay, which is protected from the capetown of Ai Jiorgis against the southern winds that cause severe winter storms.

In the central area, there are wells with drinking water for orchards and gardens. There were also olive and fig groves.

Consequently, it attracted many inhabitants.

In 1875, Konstantinos Baketeas (1842-1920) from Kabos dwelled in Koukkinos when he married Afroditi Fragouli. It is probable that a big part of koukkinos belonged to Fragoulis family and later to the granddaughter, Afroditi.

In 1890, the residence of Potis Fragoulis was built, which was later divided in two parts. The northern part belonged to the son Chritsos and now to his daughter Amalia, whereas the southern belonged to Vgenia Chandrinou (1898-1998) and now to her son Christos.

In 1900, Theodoros Baketeas’ house was built, which now belongs to his son Jiorgis, the oldest of Koukkinos villagers.

At that period, the house of Alexandros Mandrapilias was built, which was transformed to an olive mill. In 1910, he sold it and moved to Archontiko where he built again a house-olive mill.

Another house on an uphill path belonged to Loukas Konstantakis from Spetses. He was a fisherman, but he dwelled in the area when he married Efpraxia Kolokotroni.

The house of Dimitrios Zografos is also one of the houses in Koukkinos. He was a captain who came from Koroni. He moved in Koukkinos in the beginning of 20th cent after he got married to Vaso Manea. His house was a small fig cabin, which belongs to Panagiotis Kakouros.

The last of the pre war constructions is the house of Jeorgantas Baketeas, which was built on the southern part of the coast. On the ground floor, there was the kafenio of the village. Barba Jeorgantas was a distinctive figure of the village. Patrons of the café were people going from Kalamata to the other villages. He was waiting for them and inviting them for food and wine.

Near the kafenio, he had built houses where they spent the night. Later, his son made them tourist appartments. The was the shoe maker, barba Jiannis and the butcher Th. Belitsos.

This is a brief report of the village in the pre war period until the beginning of the 60s. It consisted of 7-8 houses, dwelled by 7-8 families that had 4-5 children each approximately. The population of the village at that time was 45 people. They were half of the 93 people of the population of Archontiko in the census of 1928. They were mainly occupied with the cultivation of figs and olives and fishing. The women worked to complement the family income. In the kafenio many people were accommodated.

The image is completed by the small church of Ai Jiorgi to which we shall refer further down.

Ai Jiorgis ton Baketeon

On the southern side of the village on a small hill lies the church of Ai Jiorgis ton Baketeon, as it is called since it belonged to Baketeas family.

We don’t know exactly when it was erected. A story narrates that the church was built by a sailor as a vow. However, we believe that it is connected to the dwelling of koukkinos. It can’t be built before 1875; otherwise it would have been mentioned by travellers.

When it was first built, it was smaller. There was room just for 4-5 people. That’s why it was extended in 1935. The villagers from Koukkinos and Paleochora gave money for its renovation.

In the celebration of Ai Jiorgi, the villagers make a feast; they dance and bake until late in the afternoon. Apart from the locals many people from kalamata come, too. Usually, the arrow shooters join, too. They light the famous arrows (saites), which later became a custom in Kalamata.

They often had animals, which were devoted to the saint, mainly sheep, which were put up for auction or lottery, whereas the money earned were used for the church.

Many Koukkiniotes and Paleochorites chose Ai jiorgi for the christening of their children.

During the Occupation, Ai Jiorgis was connected to a dramatic event of the civil war amongst the various groups of resistance, that became known to the local history as the “Battle of Paleochora” (Machi tis Paleochoras).

In October 1943, a group of partisans found refuge to Paleochora chased by EΛAΣ (Greek Liberation Army). They barricated in various spots, amongst them the church of Ai Jiorgi. There, Bitsanis was killed and buried in the southern part of the church.

The muse wrote verses for this injustice and fratricide. The first two are the following:

At six o’clock Bitsanis was killed

His gun was taken by his comrade Jiannis…

After the Occupation, the celebration of Ai Jiorgi ceased to have festivious atmosphere. In the last 5-6 years they are starting to bring food, wine and sweets.

In 2001, in the NW side of the church, they built a small bell tower.

Apart from this, they still make marriages and christenings in the church.

Especially, in summer the bell of the church is heard very often.

The internal part is painted by the painter Lazaridis. The temple is decorated by three old icons, which are the following:

Jesus Crist, Holy mother, Aghios Ioannis.

They are works of art of the hagiographic house of Kirilos Ieromonachos Nea Skiti Aghio Oros.

Place for vacation

Since the end of 60s the village started to change. The fig cultivation was abandoned, whereas the locals occupied themselves primarily with the cultivation of olives and secondly with other professions.

Koukkinos is becoming famous for vacation. Already in Paleochora, Kalamatiani were renting houses for the summer vacations. This also started in Koukkinos since the 70s, when visitors from Megalopoli were coming to spend their holiday there.

The houses along the seashore were the ideal refuge for families of the city that were looking for a quiet and safe place for their children.

The sandy and shallow bottom of the sea made it also popular to the children for sea games. So, in summers the small port of Koukkinos was full of life.

Gradually, many rooms and houses to rent made their appearance, whereas the old orchards became plots for sale. New residencies were built from locals and foreigners, new people moved to the area either permanently or periodically.

Today, Koukkinos is a densely populated village, but it is still picturesque. The stony houses of the beach are preserved and dwelled by permanent residents. They embellish the picture of the village, whereas in the background it is the dominating stony church of Aghios Jeorgios.

Th. Belitsos