One of the loveliest parts of Chios
lies just a stones throw from the capital village. This
is the Campos with its impressive villas of the Chiot
aristocracy (mainly the maritime) of the 19th and 20th
centuries, all built of deep red and buff stone, with
majestic monumental courtyard doors and girt by high walls
inside which spreads a little private paradise with verdant
citrus trees - bitter orange, lemon, mandarin, orange
- , vines, myriads of flowers, cisterns, foundains and
age-old wells. In April in particular, to wander through
the narrow lanes in the flower-filled Kampos is like a
dream you hope will never end.
Chios was one of the
wealthiest and mightiest city-states in ancient Greece, with the
best fighting fleet in the Aegean. This is why it was never conquered
by the Persianseven though it supported the revolt of the Ionian
cities in 499 BC and suffered widespread destruction at the hands
of the Persians after the Greeks defeat in the naval battle at
Lade in 479 BC. Chios was always an apple of discord between the
Spartans and the Athenians, but evidently profited from every
alliance. The historic phrase on the Chians terms of alliance
reveals succintly that the Chians were model diplomats for the
rest of the ancient Greeks.
The first inhabitants of Chios are said to have been Pelasgians
from Thessaly, who came to the island around 1600 BC, bringing
with them the cult of the Thessalian god Zeus Pelinaios. They
were later joined by Karians and Lelegians from the neighbouring
shores of Asia Minor. The Chians were influenced directly by the
culture of the Ionian cities and were possibly the first democratic
citizens in the Aegean since they applied democratic regulations
in their regime from the 6th century BC, the period in which Solon
was promoting his democratic reforms in Athens. A fertile
island with rich agricultural production (mastic and wine) and
thriving trade thanks to its fleet, Chios was an important cultural
centre in Antiquity. Archaic Chios was renowned for its sculptors,
such as Melas, Archermos, Mikiades, Boupalos and Athenis, who
created the wonderful female statues, the korai, with elegant
draped garments and enigmatic smile, which are undoubtely a landmark
in Archaic Greek art.
In 1346 Chios became a possession of the Genoese, who remained
until 1566, when the Ottoman Admiral Piali Pasha expelled them
and captured the island. It subsequently enjoyed a degree of autonomy
granted by Sultan Selim II because of the mastic crop. However,
when the Chiots insurrected in 1822, incited by the Samiots, the
Turks respected none of the privilleges and on 30 March 1822 literally
razed the island to the ground, slaying 30,000 Chiots and selling
40,000 into slavery. The Massacre of Chios shocked the entire
civilized world. It inspired Victor Hugo to write his poem The
child of Chios and Eugene Delacroiz to paint his famous picture
The Massacre of Chios. Two months after the horrendous crime,
on 11 June 1822, the butcher of Chios, Admiral Kara Alis, was
burnt alive together with his flagship, which was set alight in
the harbour of Chios by the Greek sea captain Konstantinos Kanaris.
Chios and mastic are two words that are virtually synonymous.
Chiot mastic is the most popular chewing-gum in the Mediterranean
and the aromatic liqueur masticha was once the favourite drink
throughout the Ottoman Empire. The mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus)
have been cultivated since AD 50 solely and exclusively on Chios.
Every summer the precious crystals of mastic are collected from
vertical incision cut in their bark. Mastic can be found all over
Chios, raw or processed into the well-known chewing-gum made the
local co-operative of mastic-producers, ELMA.
The most impressive
Medieval village on Chios is Anavatos, which many have dubbed
the Mystras of the Aegean. Anavatos is a rare monument of Medieval
defensive architecture, with its small stone-built houses slinging
to the rock face, the imposing landscape and the well-preserved
Medieval architecture presenting a unique and awe-inspiring picture.
Only a handful of old men now live in Anavatos, which never recovered
from the tragedy of 1822, when all the villigers were massacred
by the Turks or flung themselves into the abyss to avoid captivity
About 20 villages located in southern Chios are involved with
cultivating the mastic trees. These Mastichochoria (i.e. mastic-
producing villages) were created when Chios was in the hands of
the Genoese Giustiniani family and the Mahona company, in 1346.
The Genoese built the villages so that the mastic-producers could
live in safety, protected from the menace of rapacious pirates.
None of the villages is visible from the sea and all are built
so that the walls of the outermost row of houses form a defensive
wall with only one or two well-controlled entrances. The Mastichochoria-kastrochoria
(forified villages or burgs) are typical monuments of Medieval
own-planning. Their inhabitants were spared in the Massacre of
Chios because the sultans wives were very fond of chewing mastic.
Without doubt the most picturesque and outstanding of the Mastichochoria
are Pyrgi and Mesta. In Pyrgi, apart from the singular Medieval
town plan, all the house facades are decorated with xesta designs
(white-grey geometric motifs created by scraping away the damp
plaster), which endow the village with a fairytale aspect. Mesta
is one of the best preserved Medieval settlements in Greece, which
state it owes largely to the interventions of the significant
20th-century architect Aris Konstantinidis. A walk through the
narrow streets of Mesta is a truly unforgettable experience, a
trip back into the Greek Middle Ages.
The most notable of the many historic monasteries on Chios and
one of the most important monasteries in Greece, is the Nea Moni.
Founded in 1024 by the Emperor of Byzantium Constantine IX Monomachos,
it was always a large and wealthy foundation. Indeed, its premices
are still reminiscent of a small village. The most precious monument
in the monastery is inside the katholikon, which is dedicated
to the Virgin; namely the remarkable mosaics on the walls and
in the conches. These works by first-rank artists from Constantinople
are included among the finest Byzantine mosaics in the world.
Timely warning of the danger of piratical raids on Chios was ensured
from the vigles (lookout towers) established by the Genoese, continuing
the system of the ancient phryktoria. The Latin overlords had
built small stone towers on about 50 hilltopswith unimpeded view
over the Aegean sea, where salaried watchmen (viglatores)lit bonfires
to warn of susppicious ships approaching the island. The vigles
had visual contact with each other, as well as with the towers
in the villages, so that the Chiots learnt quickly of imminent
attack and had time to lock and bar themselves into their kastrochoria.
Most of the surviving vigles are in southern Chios and the best-preserved
are those at Trachili, Elinta, Livadi Meston and Tigani.
Oinousses are nine small islets close
to Chios (Inousses is the name of the largest and only inhabited
one), famed for the sea captains and ship-owners who originated
from there (about 30% of Greek ship-owners hail from Inousses).
Indeed it is said that the magnates of Inouses have given generous
economic support to their home island to prevent it degenerating
into an ugly tourist resort. The basic reasons for making an
excursion to Inousses are its truly exotic sandy beaches and
its magnificent Neoclassical captains mansions, that give this
coastal settlement a handsome aspect.