For the past five years, the village of Koutouloufari has been our home away from home whenever we are visiting Crete. While very familiar to us, it is also something of a mystery. So we decide to learn more about it.
According to local history, the village began during the Byzantine period (306 to 1453 CE) following a severe earthquake, which destroyed a settlement near the port (what is now Limin Hersonissou). The residents then moved eastward and built another village along the beach. However, piracy was rampant during this period, and the new village soon became a target. A band of pirates, who thought the villagers were rich, befriended them and were invited to a festival. After the festival, the pirates kidnapped the young women and stole everything of value they could find in the village.
Fearing more pirate attacks, the villagers moved inland – climbing the slope of Mount Harakas. Upon reaching the church of Ayios Vasileious (Saint Basil), they told the priest what had happened to them. The priest, whose name was Koutifari, gave the refugees land around the church to build their homes. The new village was named Koutouloufari, a tribute to the priest.
From their elevated location, the villagers could watch the sea and spot pirate ships long before they reached the coast. This gave them enough time to hide in safe refuges, which the pirates would find hard to locate. They planted their trees and vineyards on the terraced hillside, and – over the years – the village became well-known for its oil, wine and almonds, which were shipped all over eastern Crete.
Clustered around the little church, the village grew and prospered. The houses were practical structures used as homes, for production of olive oil and wine, and for sheltering farm animals on the ground floor. Many of those stone-built houses are still here.
Some of those buildings are ruins, tucked between modern structures, others have been modernized and are still used, while still others on the main street have been turned into cafes and shops.
When tourism became a thriving business along the beach, some farmers in the village began developing their properties to attract outside visitors. Now the main street is entirely devoted to tourism. But just off that narrow cobbled road are even narrower lanes still lined with traditional homes.
We hike up Odos Sokratous (Socrates Street) between ancient homes. At the end of the street, on the edge of the village, is our apartment complex, which was built in modern times on a rocky ledge of the mountain.
Back in our apartment, we can still appreciate the early foundations of Koutouloufari. From our doorway, we see an olive grove and a wandering herd of goats from the nearby farm. Above us is the stone face of Mount Harakas, which provided a safe haven for desperate farmers and their families.