CHIOS IN A FEW WORDS
Chios is a well hidden treasure in the heart of the NE Aegean. It is the 5th largest island of Greece and is located a few miles away from the Turkish coast. Chios has preserved its authentic character and is famous for the Medieval villages, the mastic (recently added to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity) and also for the numerous churches and monasteries. It is Adamantios Korais’ birthplace and, as tradition has it, of Homer.
Its beautiful coastline consists of 91 magnificent beaches that share a common characteristic: the crystal water. Chios is mostly famous for its unique Medieval villages with the special castle-type architecture and the narrow paved alleyways making visitors feel as if they have travelled back in time. Additionally, one of the most distinctive areas of the island is Kampos, characterized by the beautiful, old, stone mansions, the narrow roads and its gardens and orchards “overflowing” with citrus trees, jasmine and olive trees. This was the wealthiest near-the-city suburb of affluent Genoese and Greek aristocratic families during the 14th century. Nowadays, too, it remains well-preserved and the houses one can see are still admirable and even the new ones, built according to certain architectural standards. A tour around the island will bring visitors to places of truly authentic beauty and of relaxing atmosphere. All the above, along with mastic, tangerine and jasmine aromas will offer you a well-remembered destination that will allow you to recharge your batteries and have fun at the same time.
Mostra is a special custom dating back to Medieval period when pirates dominated the Aegean Sea and terrorized the villagers. Chios often faced attacks from pirates and during a Cheesefare Friday, after completion of mastic harvest period, villagers of Thymiana (7km to the south of Chios city) were celebrating the Carnival when they were informed about pirates approaching the island. The villagers decided to lark at “Stenakas” spot and rise against the pirates. A big fight took place and the result was a stunning victory of the villagers, leading to the crucifixion of the pirates at the central square of Thymiana, in order for everyone to admire their accomplishment.
Mostra revives in Thymiana village of Chios every year during the Carnival celebration. Villagers of Thymiana make a representation of this battle and the hanging of the prisoners. This feast takes place on the last Friday night and on the morning of the last Sunday of Triodio. On Friday evening the young villagers (“koudounatoi”) wear old clothes and handcrafted masks (“moutsounaries”), spreading joy and fun while walking in the village and teasing everyone. On the last Sunday of Carnival celebration, the attendees of Mostra go to the mass at Agios Dimitrios and Agios Ioannis churches of Thymiana and then they pay their respects to the dead visiting the graveyard of the village. Afterwards they end up in the central square and they dance the famous “Talimi”, accompanied by musical instruments.
The “Talimi” is a traditional dance that represents the battle of the villagers (“vrakades”) with the pirates (“koudounatoi”). When this dance is completed, another traditional dance called “Detos” will take place in which the dancers will dance in a circle holding each other by the shoulders. Then, with the accompaniment of the instruments, everyone will go to the church of Agios Eustratios and will hang banners and flags on the church’s rails. After the battle and the end of the traditional customs the carnival will start with the King of the Carnival and floats to satirize the everyday life of Greek citizens. A traditional festival in “Karouli” Square including live music, food and drinks will complete this beautiful custom.
Mostra is the largest Carnival of North Aegean Sea and at the same time it is an old tradition that unites visitors and locals until this day.
Every spring, Easter is celebrated in a unique way in Chios as the rocket war of Vrontados, the most characteristic and impressive custom of the island, takes place. The rocket «war» is a custom held every Easter in Vrontados of Chios between the parish churches of Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani, two churches lying on opposite hills, 350 meters from each other. On the evening of Holy Saturday, the parishioners unleash thousands of handmade firework rockets aiming at the bell tower of the opposite church, creating one of the world’s most surreal pyrotechnic displays. When the bells for the Mass of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead strike, a ceasefire is called between both sides to allow parishioners enter to their churches but when “Christos Anesti” is heard the “battle” starts again with a rain of rockets flooding the two parishes. On Easter Sunday, there is an official counting of successful hits of the rockets found their goal in order to tell which church is the winner but both sides agree to a rematch the following year, so as to continue this beautiful tradition.
The custom is believed to have its origin during Ottoman domination, in which the residents of Vrontados celebrated Easter using small canons to make noise. The Turkish authorities banned the use of the cannons due to the fear of them being used against them, so the inhabitants replaced the cannons with handmade small rockets. The tradition continues to this day, with only two exceptions: the German occupation and the dictatorship.
The preparation of rockets starts almost immediately after Easter to be ready for the next year, since in the last few years several thousand rockets have been made to offer a marvelous spectacle to the every year increased number of visitors who choose to come to Chios during Easter period. Rocket War is a must see event that promises to be unforgettable!
NEA MONI MONASTERY
The Nea Moni monastery of Chios, located just 12 km from the island’s city, is an old monastery, founded in 1042 AD and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Monastery is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1990 and is known worldwide for its exceptional mosaic art. The mosaics of the New Monastery of Chios are one of the top three ones in Greece during Middle Age period. The other two are the mosaics of the Monastery of Osios Loukas in Viotia and the Daphni Monastery in Attica.
According to tradition, the monastery was built at the point where the ascetics Nikitas, John and Joseph find out the miraculous icon of Virgin Mary hanging on a branch of myrtle. The three ascetics prophesied that Constantine the Monomachos, who was then exiled in Lesvos Island would ascend to the imperial throne of Istanbul, and for this reason the later emperor promised to donate money to them in order to build a temple where the icon of the Virgin Mary was found. When Constantine the Gladiator ascended to the throne, he kept his promise and so the temple was built and afterwards it was decorated with mosaics. In 1049 the temple was inaugurated and the building was completed after Constantine’s death in 1055, during Theodora’s reign (1055-1056).
Monomachos generously offered many tax exemptions and rights to Nea Moni monastery, a tactic followed also by the following emperors. This resulted in Nea Moni being one of the richest and most important monasteries up to the period of its decline, during the Revolution of 1821 and thereafter.
The monastery was hit by two major disasters: the Massacre of Chios in 1822 and the big catastrophic earthquake in 1881. During the Massacre of Chios in 1822 the Ottomans slaughtered all the monks, looted everything methodically, enslaved all women and children who had been hidden in the monastery and at the end set fire and burned the monastery. During the earthquake of 1881, the dome was demolished, the bell tower (which was rebuilt in 1900) collapsed, as well as most of the church, resulting in the destruction of many mosaics.
The compound of Nea Moni covers an area of 4,3 acres and consists of the temple located in the central part of the Monastery with octagonal type of building (seen mostly in islands) with a dome. Today the only examples of this architecture type can be seen in Chios and in Cyprus. It also consists of: the church of Agios Panteleimonas, the Museum of the monastery, as well as the temple of the Holy Cross, in which there are the remaining bones of the martyrs and the fighters of Chios Massacre. The entire complex is protected by a perimeter stone wall.
It is a monument that will surely impress you and it is definitely worth to spend some time there during your tour to central Chios by combining it with a visit to the nearby villages, Avgonima and Anavatos.
Anavatos or otherwise the “Mystras of the Aegean” used to be an abandoned medieval settlement located 16 km from the city of Chios, but in the past years Greeks and foreigners have begun either returning there and renovating ruined houses or buying local properties thus breathing life to the once forgotten village.
One might be confused at the beginning as the way the settlement was built makes visitors think it is carved on the rock and so is part of it. It lies on the top of a steep hill of 450 meters, and the “ascent” (as its name implies, “anavasi” which in Greek means “ascent”) is difficult but is worth the sweating. The founding of Anavatos dates back to the Middle Byzantine times and according to tradition it was created by the workers who arrived in Chios for the construction of the Nea Moni and for defensive purposes. Most of the Anavatos residents were massacred in 1822 by the Turks, while the great earthquake of 1881 had a disastrous effect to the buildings. Although there are only a few permanent residents during winter, most of its stone houses are well-preserved.
At the hilltop you can see the Castle with its densely built houses, and an outside enclosure with a gate on the north. You can also see the so-called “Three-storey”, which consists of an olive oil processing factory, a school, a tank and the Church of Holy Mary as well as the Great Taxiarchis, the only building visible from far away.
Anavatos is an ideal destination for walking as its picturesque stone alleys and the steep uphill offer stunning views to the sea and the surrounding landscape. Do combine your excursion here with a visit to nearby places of interest such as Nea Moni and Avgonima.
This gorgeous medieval village named Avgonima is located in central Chios overlooking the west part of Northern Aegean.
According to the tradition, it was built at an altitude of 500 meters by craftsmen who had come to Chios for the construction of the Nea Moni. Houses are made of stone and windows are few and tiny so that locals would protect themselves from pirate raids during the Middle Ages. However, the local style and the overall architecture is religiously preserved to this day.
Avgonima is a destination that you must definitely include in your tour as, during sunset, the view to the sea, combined with the beautiful pine forest of Provatas, will leave you breathless. Buy various local products from the producers living there and if not in the mood for a meal, then do give Greek coffee and local “spoon sweets” a go.
Kampos is one of the most unique and beautiful areas of Chios and is located 4km south of Chios town. The whole area is covered with citrus orchards and flowers, creating a magnificent picture which you can better explore by walking through the narrow winding streets. During this walk you can admire the traditional orange-red stone houses of the area with the high stone walls surrounding them. The area is flat with underground water coming from the west hills and these were the reasons for its endless florescence. In the past, the orchards were watered by huge water wheels turned by animals, while nowadays more modern irrigation means are used. The products harvested from Kampos, especially tangerines, were famous worldwide for their taste and quality.
During 14th century, the area was selected by the Genoese to build their mansions, followed by many local aristocratic families such as the Rallis, Argenti, Petrokokinos, Kalvocoressi and others resulting in creating a new high socio-economic level society. Unfortunately, the massacre of 1822 and the earthquake of 1881 destroyed significant structures but several mansions were preserved helping the traditional character of Kampos to survive.
The area is protected by the Greek Ministry for Culture, as a historic site and traditional settlement. Kampos is a sight worth visiting especially during spring when the blossom is in its best period and you can admire the natural environment and the unique architecture of the area. One of the estates open to the public, giving the chance to the visitors to admire its beauty, is Citrus museum and café. The museum part is housed in the original, restored mansion and the cafe includes also a shop for handmade sweets and products, making it easy for you to take home some of these unique and tasteful memories.
Just six kilometers away from Pyrgi village you will find another impressive medieval village of the 14th century, Olympoi (31 kilometers from the city of Chios). The earthquake that struck the island in 1881 did not destroy the medieval buildings of the village which has been declared a listed monument.
Here we find the same castle type form that we have seen in Mesta and Pyrgi with houses built closely next to each other. The visitor can enjoy their tour in the village under the shady arches, walking through the narrow cobblestone streets between the tall buildings with the fortress form. The houses around the village had neither doors nor windows from the outer side but only at the inside side looking to the square. The outer walls of Olympoi consists of small towers on the corners and only one entrance to the village (Kato Porta) and this is the reason that the visitor has the feeling of seeing a castle, a feeling that is emphasized when he sees the towers at the angles of the village. This form of the village protected the residents from the frequent attacks of invaders and that is why you can see a 20-meter defense tower in the center of Olympoi to which the residents were hidden in the event of an attack.
During the year many festivals take place in Olympoi with the most famous one to be during Ash Monday. On this day a representation of the traditional custom of Agas takes place, to show in a funny way the trials of the Turkish judges as they did during the Ottoman domination.
Just three kilometers away from the village you can see the Cave of Olympoi village. It is a cave (57 meters depth) with a remarkable natural decoration of stalactites, which was firstly explored in 1985 and opened for visitors after 2000. Near the cave of Olympoi you can also visit Agia Dynami beach. It is one of the most beautiful (not organized) beaches of Chios with crystal, turquoise waters and golden sand.
Pyrgi, or otherwise called the “painted village”, is the largest medieval village of Chios and is located in the area of Mastihohoria, 25 km away from the island’s city. The village has become a preservable monument and it remains unchanged since it was not destroyed by the great earthquake of Chios in 1881.
The visitor will be impressed by the unique beauty of the village due to the special painter’s motifs on the facades of the houses, which are the result of a special technical carving with the hand of geometric motifs in white and black in plaster, a technique that continues until today by the locals. The houses of the village’s square and some other houses of the village have an outer calcareous strange coating, with several linear engraved patterns (or ornaments), which, in others, are oriental styles, and others of Italian origin (STUCCO). This painting with the various designs is known as “scratches” (xysta). Scratches (xysta) always start from almost half of the door and in others above the door. Their designs consist of squares, diamonds, triangles, many of them have bouquets in vase, storks, tree branches, leaves narrow, etc. Scratches are firstly made with a good coating of paint and then a second black sand coating is carried by the sea. When these are jointed, they put a third coating on which, when still wet, patterns are carved with diabetes and ruler and then drawings are created with a fork. The rest of the wall remains white. The engraved color gets dark and then a strange smooth pattern is created.
Its architecture, which creates the feeling of seeing a castle, with houses built one next to each other, narrow small streets, outer small towers and the one and only entrance to the village, was established as a method of protecting the residents from the frequent hostile raids.
Another characteristic of the village is the multitude of churches, most notably the 13th century Byzantine church of the Holy Apostiles. The Temple of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, built in 1694, the 19th century St. George monastery and the church of Taxiarchis dated back to 1680 are also very interesting.
For all these reasons Pyrgi is considered a must-see destination for all travelers who visit South Chios since it is a unique experience that can be combined with a visit to the nearby beaches of the area, especially Mavra Volia beach, one of the most beautiful and unique beaches in Greece due to the black color of the landscape.
Mesta village is located at the southwestern tip of Chios, in the region of Mastihohoria, 35 kilometers from the city of Chios. It is a lovely, well-preserved medieval village of the Byzantine period (14th and 15th centuries) and one of the most important sights on the island. The village has been designated a preserved medieval monument. It reminds a fortress and has remained unchanged over the centuries.
The beauty of this village is based mainly on its architecture resembling a castle or an interesting, real-life labyrinth that used to make pirates’ time there a nightmare in case they tried to venture inside Mesta in search of goods they could steal.
Ιn Mesta it is mandatory to visit the old and new churches of Archangels (Taxiarchis). On the north – west part of the village, the church of Palaios Taxiarchis, a vaulted one-aisled basilica, which became two-aisled in 1794, with its wooden carved iconostasis, is a local masterpiece of wood-sculpture technique. The church of New Taxiarchis built on the ruins of the old tower, with impressive internal decoration, is a place to visit in the center of the village and its the biggest church of the island.
Our tour in the south of the island includes an enchanting walk through the village lanes, under the arches which form balconies and offers an unforgettable experience to the visitor. The only open space of this castle-like village is its square where visitors can enjoy their coffee, traditional desserts or their meal at local restaurants. Many traditional feasts are taking place during the year. The most well known is the one associated with the custom of “Aga”, which takes place every year on Ash Monday and is combined with various events and traditional dances.
MASTIC VILLAGES – “MASTIHOHORIA”
The villages comprising Mastihohoria (“mastic -“mastiha” in Greek- villages”) take you back in time. While walking through the stunning, well-preserved alleys and admiring the beautiful houses built according to the middle ages architectural lines, you might even think that pirates will appear from behind the next corner, ready to fight in order to conquer the place.
Mastihohoria are medieval villages associated with the production of the most famous product of the island, and one of the top Greek products famous across the globe. They were created mainly to house the families of mastic workers and protect them from pirate raids. Pirates used to upset residents’ life not only in order to invade their land but also to loot. Chios mastic is a natural product of the mastic trees that only thrive in the southern part of Chios and nowhere else in the world. It is a product with recognized cosmetic and pharmaceutical properties, known to the world even since old times.
Due to its importance, the villages where mastic has been harvested along the centuries bear its name. Their foundation dates back to the Byzantine period and are considered as monuments of cultural heritage until nowadays. All Mastihohoria villages have common architectural features and clear cubic lines: a fortress form with the last houses perimetrically forming a defensive wall, invisible from the sea, with a tall rectangular tower in the middle of the village and other smaller towers at the corners of the walls, only one entrance to the village, narrow streets and houses built tight next to each other. The houses usually consist of a ground floor that served as a warehouse and stable and one more floor which served as the actual residence. Both were built at the same height in order to be easier for the inhabitants to escape. This type of construction provided protection to the inhabitants from the invaders who -as mentioned above- during the medieval period ravaged the Aegean Sea while it also helped conquerors to control villagers in case of possible uprisings.
Vessa, Armolia, Kalamoti and Elata are such types of castle villages, but the most well-preserved ones are Mesta, Olympoi and Pyrgi that were not damaged by the great earthquake that shocked Chios in 1881. Armolia is a village very famous for the still flourishing traditional pottery. Near Pyrgi you can visit one of the most famous Greek beaches, the volcanic beach “Mavra Volia” and also the archaeological site of Emporios dating from the Mycenaean era. In the same area you can visit the Mastic Museum, which was opened to the public in 2016 and where you can see all stages of cultivation and history of mastic.
For further information you can contact our office Deniz tours as we organize excursions to south Chios that will offer you a unique experience.