Chios Is The Most Magical Greek Island, If Greece has a magical island, Chios is definitely it. This lesser-known isle sits happily in the northeastern area of the Aegean Sea. Chios is most famous for its cultivation and production of mastic, an aromatic resin that forms in a teardrop.
The whispering sounds of Chios, the waves echo in the breeze as they reach out and cling to the seashore.The clear blue sky is filled with sea gulls flying freely in the air.Imagine a place offering escape, recreation, shelter, adventure, and discovery all provided from the natural components that comprise its existence.
Chios, the island that links the west to the east anatolia, where the old meets the new, while the key to the present lies in the past.
Chios is the fifth largest island of the Greek islands (842 sq. km.) with a 213 km coastline and a population of approximately 55,000 inhabitants who live in the capital as well as within the 65 villages.
It is situated in the furthest eastern portion of the Aegean Sea, just a few nautical miles off the Turkish shore of Asia Minor. Cape Pounda in Turkey and the peninsula of Erythraia where Cesme is, are only 3.5 nautical miles away.
The island, Chios is often called myrovόlos.The port of the island faces East, due to the commercial links that had always existed with the ports of the East.The aromas that emerge from the citrus tree blossoms during spring fill the air. The old is harmoniously combined with the new, and the trip of the senses begins.Byzantine religious art in Greece. The effect of sunlight or candlelight reflecting off the glistening surfaces of the mosaics creates an indescribable atmosphere.
The land of fertility and mastic
Chios has fertile plains where fruit, wheat, and vegetables are cultivated, rich pine forests and some bare mountains with stone-built goat and sheep shelters that may date back to Antiquity. It's well-known product is the mastic, the sap of the very fragrantschίnos (pistacia lentiscus) shrubs of various sizes that cover the hills of the southern part of the island. Mastic is the ancient chewing gum, which is extracted from pistachia lentiscus, a variety that grows in this part of Chios and nowhere else in the world. Very much sought after since Antiquity, mastic is still used as a flavoring and chewing gum, mainly in Arab countries and the Middle East, where most of the island's production is exported.
The land of gastronomy
Chios has a tradition of fruit preserves or "spoon sweets" as they are called. The tangerines rolled pieces of bergamot, bitter orange peel, tiny unripe eggplants, unripe pistachios or figs, even fragrant citrus blossoms and the petals of pink roses are cooked in syrup and served on small glass plates, as a gesture of welcome by locals who have interesting recipes to share.
The land of architectural variety
In Kambos, the area that lies south of the town of Chios, you will see an extraordinary architectural style: impressive villas and townhomes that were the homes of the Genoese and the Greek entry, built in the middle of well-watered fertile grounds. Here, you will get a glimpse of the glorious past of the island, described by foreign travelers who described the way of life that the Chians enjoyed during the 16th and 17th century. Built mainly with the bright ochre and brick red stone from Thymiana, the neighboring village, the villas of Kambos have vast gardens and cisterns decorated with white marble columns and reliefs. There are also large “Mangano” - water wheels powered by mules that used to bring water up from the wells. The impressive arched gates have the Genoese coat of arms and the courtyards are paved with black and white pebbles that create interesting decorative mosaics.
These architectural features are unique, but unfortunately, today many of the estates are in ruins. A few have been restored and some have been turned into small hotels or restaurants. It is worth exploring the narrow streets of Kambos, even getting lost in its maze of alleys and bridges, crisscrossing the streams and admiring the remnants of the past. Mainly citrus fruit orchards surround the houses. Citrus fruit and especially a very fragrant indigenous variety of tangerines was once extremely popular, bringing wealth to the owners of “perivolia” (orchards in the Chian dialect).
Another unique architectural style is one of the mastic villages, also known as castle villages. The southern region of the island, which has many exceptionally well-preserved villages built during the years of the Genoese domination (1346-1566), is devoted to the cultivation of mastic. The “Mastichochoria” (mastic villages) as they are called, are rare examples of medieval architecture: the two-story stone houses have no windows on the first floor façade that faces out the village. Built in the form of a coil with narrow inner lines and arches linking many houses, those villages had only one entrance.
Mesta and especially Olympi, are the best examples of this extraordinary architecture, while Pyrgi, the largest of the Mastichochoria, has old and modern houses decorated with “xysta” (scratched walls), as referred to by the locals, a technique probably learned from the Genovese.
In the northern part of the island, the architecture is very different. Here, the less wealthy villages have simpler stone houses. The houses’ architecture is a result of the local materials used by local people. It is thus pure folklore architecture. The walls are made of stone and the houses usually have a ground floor for the animals and another floor on the upper level for the people. The stairs were usually external, giving access to a small terrace which, in turn, gave access to the rest of the house.
Chios has been subjected to a stream of cultures over the course of time.
Eight thousand years of continual human survival have left their imprint on the island’s landscape, its stone villages, stalactite caverns and mountainous terrain. Nonetheless, it has managed to maintain its identity...
The Island’s History: Live the island's past through the present.
Chios is an island where the historic past is still living in the present. One can find traces of all different eras. There is evidence that the island had inhabitants since the Stone Age.
3000 BC: Neolithic findings in the Cave of Agio Galas (a village located in the northwest region of the island).
Chios, unlike other places, had no colonies. The Chians were creating what was called in Greek “emporia” (meaning trading posts) and they were very famous for their wine and mastic, two of their most popular products which contributed to the flourishment of the island flourish.
1600-1100 BC: An ancient settlement found in the southern part of the island, in the area of Kato Fana, is probably a remnant of the Mycenaean period.
600 BC: Around 600 BC, the “Great Clause” (Megali Ritra) was established on the island. The first democracy in the world was based on this law. It is said that Solon, prior to establishing the democratic laws and institutions in Athens, visited Chios and used plenty of the democratic principles of the Great Clause.
493 BC: Destruction of Chios by the Persians. Chios then became an ally of the Athenians in the Athenian Alliance. The Chians enjoyed prosperity over the next few years.
431 BC-146 BC: At the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, the Chians were allied with the Athenians until the defeat of Sicily, when they joined forces with the Spartans. When the Antalkidios Peace was signed, Chios was again allied with the Athenians. At the time of Alexander the Great, there was a Macedonian garrison in Chios. When Alexander passed away, his successors took over and for Chios, the period of decline was just beginning.
146 BC: Imposition of Roman rule.
250 AD: Martyrdom of St Isidoros during the expulsion of Christians. It is said that the mastic tree (called Schínos in the Chian dialect) started to cry when it ‘saw’ the Saint’s body dragged under it.
650 AD: Destruction of Chios by the Arabs.
1042-1055 AD: The Emperor Constantine Monomachos keeps his promise and begins building the Nea Moni Monastery. The Emperor had promised the two monks that found the Holy Icon of the Virgin hanging from the branch of myrtle, that should he regain his throne (as they predicted), he would furnish the Monastery with a dowry.
1261 AD: According to the Treaty of Nympheon Chios is given to the Genoese, who are permitted by the emperor to maintain an establishment there, including a palace, a church, gardens, public baths, dwelling places and their own counsel.
1304-1329 AD: Chios comes under the temporary rule of the Genovese. A treaty with the Emperor concedes to the Genovese a ten-year right to “protect” the island provided it remains under Byzantine sovereignty.
1346 - 1566 AD: Genoese rule, Republic of Genoa. Chios prospers during the Genoese period. A commercial Genoese firm called Maóna maintains control of the island’s commerce. Although they oppress the inhabitants, they manage to organize the commerce of mastic and the rest of the products. They bring to the island the cultivation of citrus trees and the raising of silkworms. Castle villages are created in the South to protect mastic production and mansions are established in the area of Kambos. The population increases and the standard of living is high.
The Ottomans era.
Chora is built almost in the center of the east coast and is the most significant harbor in the island.
According to archeological finds, the island has been inhabited since 6000 B.C. Chios town was built by Ions little before 1000 B.C. So, Chora has a history of more than 3000 years time. During this period Chios enjoyed great prosperity but also a decline.
The Town of Chios has a population of about 35000 people and is the largest area of the prefecture, for this reason, is considered to be administrative, spiritual, cultural, educational and business center of Chios prefecture.
Chios Town, as an important educational and spiritual center that it is, has many excellent schools of all degrees of education, from nursery schools to lyceums, libraries (Adamandios Korais library) and the great Spiritual and Cultural Center of the island (Homerion), where conferences and councils of any kind are held, cultural manifestations, theatrical performances and generally many different artistic activities.
The harbor is connected by ferry with the other two islands of the prefecture of Chios, Psara, and Inousses, also with the biggest harbors of Piraeus, Athens and other Greek islands, Mytiline, Lesvos, Samos, Kavala, Greece generally, and with Cesme, Turkey. As a result, we have a great trading development and frequent journeys and trips both from tourists and residents.
Today the Town has kept the basic town planning schedule without big changes during the course of time, with the castle, the harbor, the streets and the settlements. But the destruction of 1822 and the terrible earthquake of 1881, with the general reconstruction in postwar years, have ruined the historic architectural physiognomy of the Town.
For all its extent, the Town affords a unique opportunity for wandering by feet among the small streets of the settlements and the central arterial roads.
In the center of the Town is the famous "Vounaki" square, where the biggest part of the area is taken up by the Public Park. From the center of the square, the "Kenenti" street leads to the official gate of the medieval Castle of Chios.
The building of the Castle was at the end of the 10th century and the beginning of 11th in the area of the ancient town and very close to the harbor. By the time the Castle was built and until today is constantly inhabited and has kept the main characteristics of the old castle, narrow streets, many ruins and buildings of various ages.
Near the square, there are remarkable buildings that were rescued, the Bairakli Mosque, the Osmanie Mosque and the Metzitie Mosque, where is situated the Byzantine Museum of Chios. Around there is also the temple of Agios Vasilios Petrokokkinon, whereby the end of the 16th century housed the cathedral of Chios and the church of Saint George.
In the sound part of the square is extended the main road of the town, Aplotaria, where are located all the trade shops and markets. The most buildings here are old mansions of the 19th and the beginning of 20th century. At the end of the main road to the east side, the road leads to the Secondary school, which was established in 1792, the Cathedral and Korais Library that is 13.5000 books strong and in the first floor is roofed the Art gallery and the Folklore Museum of Chios.
The settlements of the south part of Chora were first inhabited around the 20th century and since then has shown expansionist tendencies for the town. In this area is also situated the Archeological Museum, the University of Aegean, the Nautical Museum and the central Sports Field of Chios.
Finally, on the periphery of the Town, there are buildings of the Genoan times, the one called Kamenos Pyrgos and the Gothic Tower.
Historic Monuments of Chios
The Castle or Fortress of Chios lies north of the center of town. When it was built, it enclosed the entire town of Chios, soon thereafter, however, the town expanded beyond the Castle walls.
The first architectural phase of the monument dates back to the Byzantine period (the end of the 10th century), however, almost nothing has survived of the original fortification. Its entrance is through the Central Gate (“PortaMaggiore”) located at the south end, which was reconstructed by the Venetians in 1694. In the enclosed area, near the gate, stands the two-story building known as the Ioustiniani Palace. Two of the most important structures inside the Castle are the Kria Vrisi (Cold Fountain), a semi-subterranean water cistern built under the Genoese and the massive tower known as “Kulas.” the Castle was surrounded by a wide moat that has now been filled.
In recent years, excavation research was carried out over the course of house construction within the area. This research brought to light important evidence regarding the morphology and history of the fortress.
Over the course of the recent restorations work, the main entrance of the Castle has been consolidated, the facade of the building called “Dark Dungeon” has been cleared, its masonry has been repaired and its roof reinforced. The vault of the entrance of the Castle has also been consolidated, recent plastering has been removed and the wall masonry has been repaired. The joints of the stones of the SE bastion were also repaired and the passageway on the walls was cleared over the main gate, revealing the pavement. Nowadays, residents inhabit the Castle.
Nea Moni Monastery
The Nea Moni Monastery was built in the 11thcentury (around 1042 – 1056) and was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It covers an area of approximately 17,000 m2 and is located in the central region of the island of Chios. The buildings comprising the Nea Moni Monastery include the main church (“catholicon”), 2 smaller churches, a table or “trapeza” which was the monks’ dining area, the monks’ quarters (“kelia”) and underground tanks (“kinksters”) that were built to collect water. In the northwest corner of the Monastery, there stands a strong defensive tower. A tall stone-wall surrounds the complex of the Monastery.
According to monastic tradition, the Emperor Constantine Monomachos founded the Monastery to repay three Chian monks for predicting that his banishment to Lesvos was temporary and he would eventually return to the throne. The three monks discovered the miraculous Icon of the Virgin Mary hanging on a branch of myrtle at the Monastery’s current location. This was where they originally built the small church with a few quarters. The Emperor Monomachos provided the Monastery with property and revenues, something that was often very unusual for the Byzantine financial system. The Nea Moni Monastery became one of the wealthiest and most well-known monasteries in the Aegean.
The main church or “catholicon” is located in the central point of the Monastery.
It is comprised of the main church, the “eso-narthex” and the “exo-narthex”.
The architecture of the main temple is the well known “island” octagonal type.
The only examples of this architecture in existence today are in Chios.
The other buildings contained within the limits of the stone walls include:
a) The Temple of the Holy Cross – a small temple built on the side of the entrance gate which stores the skeletal remainings of the martyrs and fighters of the Massacre of Chios.
b) The Temple of Aghios Panteleimonas – a small temple on the right side of the road that leads to the Tower. It is dated around 1889.
c) The Museum – the exhibition of the relics of the Monastery was opened to the public in 1992.
d) The mosaics of the Nea Moni Monastery date back to the 11th century and comprise a portion of the Monastery’s dowry. Today, it is one of the three remaining collections left in Greece of the mid-Byzantine period and it remains in relatively good condition. Key characteristics of the technique used to create these mosaics pertain to the dramatic expressions and monastic simplicity in its entirety. The golden background occupies a large portion of the surface drawings and as the light reflects on it, it enhances the transcendence of the depictions and shapes as if they are moving on a superior and spiritual world. Their exquisite quality in addition to the fact that they comprise the work of artists directly connected with the imperial workshops in Constantinople, place them amongst the most significant creations of Byzantine art.
The Monastery is listed in the monuments protected by UNESCO’s World Heritage.
“Kambos” – the ‘perivolia’ district
Kambos is located south of the town of Chios and encompasses an area 7 kilometers in length and a width of approximately 2 kilometers from the town of Chios. The literal translation of the word Kambos is the plane (connoting a leveled surface), however, this does not begin to depict the splendor of the evergreen trees, the lusciously green countryside and the thick, plentiful citrus trees contained within each orchard.
Over the course of time, various cultures have dominated Chios, thereby reinforcing the fact that the island has been the crossroad for many civilizations, a connection between the west and the east.
Kambos has a history of civilizations that have swept through its estates and evidence of foreign influence has been engraved within its buildings, stone walls and family coat of arms made of marble above each estate entrance.
Kambos’ history dates back to the Byzantine period and continues with the Genovese that has passed. The prosperity of Kambos is attributed to the Genoese domination dating 1346 – 1566. The Genovese took advantage of the plentiful water deposits in the soil contained within the Kambos area. They imported citrus trees and introduced the island inhabitants to the systematic cultivation of the trees, thereby increasing wealth by exporting golden fruit abroad, amongst other goods.
The wealth that was initially generated in the 14th century is evident even today. Within the limits of Kambos are approximately 200 historical estates, each of which displays a splendorous mansion, auxiliary buildings, a wheel powered well, cistern, pebble paved courtyard and orchard. Today, in an effort to preserve this cultural inheritance, renovations have been completed and inhabitants have either taken up permanent residence or utilize the estates as lodges. Kambos has been characterized as a traditional settlement (paradosiakos ikismos), thus limiting construction and renovation within the area. Renovations must be performed by taking into consideration the protective legislature of the area.
Mastic – the trademark of Chios
This amazing tree thrives within the 21 mastic villages of southern Chios only.
The oldest references to mastic have been traced back to Herodotus in the 5th Century B.C. The people of Ancient Greece chewed mastic to whiten their teeth and if you think about it, mastic was the unique chewing gum even then! During the Roman period, toothpicks were made from the mastic tree and the use of mastic spread to the harems of the East. Tradition says that God blessed the mastic tree which began to "cry" in 250 A.D., when St. Isidoros cried out in pain during his martyrdom.
The “Magical Tears”
Mastic has a plethora of qualities and uses. It absorbs cholesterol, is an antibacterial act as an oral antiseptic, aids digestion, tightens the gums, heals wounds and scientists recently discovered that when it is administrated in small doses it cures stomach ulcers.
Aside from the medical aspects, these magical tears are used in distilleries to produce mastic liqueur and mastic-flavored ouzo called mastichato.
There are also culinary uses for mastic. For example, mastic is used in baking and in sweets such as biscuits, mastic ice cream, and mastic sweets of the spoon.
In a refined form, it is also used as the primary ingredient for toothpaste, shampoos, perfumes, in frankincense, and varnish.
Kendos, The Incision
The collection of mastic begins when the mastic producers clean the area under the tree and they cover it with white clay so that the tears will stay clear and dry faster as they fall to the ground. The “kendos” ( a , process of making incisions to the tree) begins in June and lasts through September.
The mastic producers make an incision along the tree trunk in the shape of an arch with the “kentitiri” (incision tool). Their day begins early before sunrise and they make their way to the fields with their donkeys in one of the most picturesque scenes ever seen on the island those days. The mastic growers are suitably dressed and well equipped in their endeavor, racing against the sun, trying to avoid his presence.
The curing of the mastic tree ends before the sun reaches its highest point. When the tears have been coagulated, the mastic laborers use the “timitiri” to gather the precious crystals. Every little piece of this natural product is collected even if it is mixed with dust.
The narrow streets of the mastic villages come alive as the mastic collectors start the “tahtarisma” (sifting), the cleaning of the crystals with soap and cold water, the drying and the scratching of the mastic tears. This is a social event.
If you visit the mastic villages during that period you will feel the warmth of the people prevailing in every corner of the village.
After all, isn't this the real magic of mastic?
The Chian ouzo was produced in early times and played a primary role in the Chians’ social lives. Originally, it was considered an alcoholic beverage for men, however, throughout the course of time, it was served during special occasions, such as welcoming guest, bidding farewell as well as an aperitif prior to serving dinner. Seafood traditionally accompanies ouzo, thus, creating a strong and delightful combination.
The island of Chios, known as the cradle of spices and aromas, produces a variety of soft and smooth ouzo, which depends on the recipe used. The traditional ingredients include “glykanissos” (aniseed) combined with “maratho” (fennel), “koliandro” (cilantro) and the unique mastic.
Clearly disassociated from the local tsipouro (raki) and from souma (suma), which is mainly produced by figs. Chian ouzo is still distilled primarily in the small copper stills (“kazania”) of traditional family manufacturers.
What is Ouzo
The classic Greek drink Ouzo begins as alcohol made from grape skins or other local produce. It is then brought together with herbs and other ingredients, including star anise, coriander, cloves, angelica root and even cinnamon and lime blossom. The mixture is boiled in a copper still and regulated by a taster. The resulting liquid is cooled and stored for several months before it is diluted to about 80 proof or 40 percent alcohol. However, homemade ouzo can be a deliriously strong 80 percent alcohol.
Ouzo is usually served as an aperit but is also used in some mixed drinks and cocktails.
When mixing Ouzo with water, it turns whitish and opaque. The reason is that the anise oil dissolves and becomes invisible when mixed with a conventional alcohol content, but as soon as the alcohol content is reduced, the essential oils transform into white crystals, which you cannot see through.
Ouzo is protected by the European Union as an exclusive Greek product. As a traditional drink, it is subject to half the tax imposed on most other EU spirits.
Chios is called "myrovolos", meaning fragrant. That should not surprise you, since the fragrances of the verdant “perivolia” (orchards) in the district of Kambos surround you from the very first moment you begin strolling through the green nucleus of the island. Narrow streets, high stone walls, thick, green leaves will emerge everywhere and surround you with their precious aroma.
The cultivation of citrus trees was a new culture imported by the Genoans (1348-1566), who were cruel conquerors yet clever traders. As soon as they realized that the evergreen trees thrive on the water enriched soil deposits, they started to import them from Italy. Kambos exhibited these characteristics primarily, and was thereby transformed into a huge, orange orchard. The Chians also imported orange trees from Africa, since the tree's cultivation was so successful. It is worth noting here that the tangerine trees were not imported by the Genoans, as many people want to believe, but by the Chian family of Horemi who imported them from India around 1860-62. They were first cultivated in the family's orchard and were then planted in Kambos.
Chian tangerines are unique and they are considered to be a distinguished variety. Grocery stores and farm stands sell these fruits as "Chian tangerines".
Kambos is a region where the water deposits favor the cultivation of the "Esperides' Golden Apples", as the ancient Greeks used to call the oranges. When one wanders the various paths of Kambos, one can use their sense of smell and imagination to 'see' the orchards through the huge, stone walls that surround them in order to keep the south winds and the winter's cold away. winds.
The Mastic Sweet
On its way from the East, sugar brought with it its secrets. The Persian and Arabic recipes were combined with ours to create a delightful tasty result.
The Chios mastic, an exclusive product of the island, combined with sugar, gave birth to the spoon sweet – mastic, also known as “hyporvrychio”, a different and more intensely flavored form of vanilla. Since the last century, this kind of mastic has been spread in the Greek Diaspora gentry’s estates and mainly in Constantinople (Istanbul) as the welcome sweet by the name of the “White Sweet.” It is still the official treat in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate today.