Vaso Panourgia - The woman behind the only bookbindery in Ioannina

Vaso Panourgia Ioannina

Vaso Panourgia is the owner of the oldest bookbindery in the city, which has been operating since 1960

Vaso Panourgia, the owner of the "O Platanos" bookbindery, spoke with Travel about bookbinding and her historical workshop in Ioannina.

There is a special workshop on the quiet and central Markos Botsaris pedestrian street in Ioannina. Although it is more or less well-known and familiar to most residents of Ioannina — and students, of course — few people outside of the city have heard of the historical bookbindery with the characteristic name "O Platanos."

It is a quaint little workshop with a red iron bicycle outside, reminiscent of Paris. O Platanos is a small but creative part of the city's identity.

In this small space full of big scissors, thick book threads, and bookbinding presses, I met Vaso. A bookbinder by profession and perhaps one of the few women in the field, Vaso talks about the art of bookbinding and the workshop's history, where she spends most of her day.

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To start our conversation, I first ask Vaso what bookbinding is: "Bookbinding is the binding of books, and it starts from the moment the manuscript ceases to be a scroll and acquires the form of a book."

"Today, it is applied to protect worn books, give old books a more elegant appearance, and make them more resistant to time.

"Bookbinding has several stages. First, the old cover and typographical materials are removed, then trimming, sewing, pressing, and marble glue, and finally, the book is decorated with gold printing. Artistic bookbinding is a key element of culture—it is the art that beautifies, protects, and preserves our books from the ravages of time."

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My second question is, "How did you get into bookbinding?"

"I studied Electronic Print Design and Graphic Design, and I've been doing newspaper pagination for exactly 15 years, but my love for paper, books, and newspapers started earlier when I was making handmade books and binding boxes on my own," she said.

"When the last owners of the only bookbinder in Ioannina retired in 2014, I decided to take over 'O Platanos' bookbindery. I learned the art of bookbinding from scratch, and since then, I have been working as a bookbinder here."

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Judging by the age of the machines, I understand that the small, cozy space we are in has its own history, and I don't miss the opportunity to ask Vaso about it.

"The O Platanos bookbindery started operating in 1960 when Christos Platanas - to whom we owe the name - started bookbinding. There were many endless discussions about bookbindery since the area has always been a hangout for people of the artistic spirit. Mr. Platanos was a witty person and a lover of the press, and he wrote articles in local newspapers."

Just before we finished, and with obvious curiosity, I asked Vaso what the oldest book she worked with was.

"The oldest book I have held in my hands is from 1637 - priceless - printed in Venice," Vaso said.

"Several Ioannitian printers were active in Venice from the 17th to the 19th century, establishing their own printing houses. Newer editions of such books, and especially Bibles, came to the bookbindery for preservation, and many times, with the cooperation of Ioannitian Silversmiths, we polished the old metals adorning the covers," she added.

Yianni Koutroudi is a columnist for Travel.

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