On the foot of the Profitis Ilias Mountain, just a short 6 km from the capital of Santorini Fira, lies a nearly abandoned village known as the Old Village – Palió Chorió. Also known as Mésa Gonia or Episkopis Gonia, this village was a major settlement of Santorini until the devastating earthquake of 1956 that forced its inhabitants to move to the neighboring beach of Kamari.
Episkopi Gonia was known since the 10th century A.D. for its wine production and it was even home to the impressive 6-domed canava of the catholic Monsignor of Santorini, a cave-like wine cellar carved in the rock of the mountain. As the village was close to the vineyard of Santorini, many homes and mansions featured canavas as well, and nowadays, the few habitants that have returned have done so in order to revive the rich viniculture of the village.
The most famous of Episkopi Gonia’s sites is the church of Panagia Episkopi, built in the 11th century A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komninos. The church showcases significant sculptures and icons, some dating as far back as the 11th or 12th century, and it is considered the most important Byzantine relic of Santorini Island. The celebration – or Panigiri – of Episkopi church is held on August 15th and it is a grand feast with food, wine and traditional live music.
Episkopi Gonia has very few residents, and a handful of quaint tavernas that serve scrumptious, traditional food. Two of the islands wineries, Ktima Argyrou and Roussou Winery are both open to the public, for wine tastings of their delicious wines and tours to their traditional canavas, whereas the unique architecture of the entire village is a genuine journey into time, into times of glory, of pirates’ tales and stories of knights and warriors. A stroll in the Old Village of Santorini is a true experience into the history of the island.