1. Position- environment
1.1. Geographic division
Chios is the fifth biggest Greek island, spreading over an area of 807 km2. Chios, the islands of Psara and Antipsara, on its northwest, and the Oinouses islands, on its northeast, make up the Prefecture of Chios, an area of 904km2. It is only a few miles away from the peninsula of Erithrea, with which it has many morphological and geological features in common.
By means of geography, administration and history, the island can be divided in six zones. The first, relatively flat, is situated in the east central part of the island, with the city of Chios as its center, and spreads from Vrontado to the villages of Kampos. The second includes the central mountainous and semi-mountainous area. The third zone spreads over the northeast of the island, bordered by the mountains of Epos to the south and Pelineo to the west. In the center of this zone lies the only almost flat area, the area of Kardamila. The forth zone is situated on the northwest part of the island over Pelineo. Although the plain of Volissos is part of it, it is the most mountainous area of the island as it includes Pelineo and Amani. The last two zones are located on the south of the island: one with low hills and soft ground of distinctive white or off-white color on the east and a stonier, on the west. The locals refer to the west zone as Kokkinochomata (= red grounds) and to the east as Asprochomata (= white grounds).
The island’s main geological formations have volcanic and limestone origin. The existence of argil on the south of the island makes the development of pottery possible.
There used to be lignite mines on the southeast of the island, while there are exploitable antimony reserves on the north, at Keramos village, and iron sulphate water springs at Agiasmata. The distinctive marble of Chios and the softer, dark stone, “thimianousiki”, are used as building materials.
Important sites for the island’s natural history and morphology are the volcano of Emporio on the south and the seismic fault running more than 3 km from Chios to the south, stopping before the village Tholopotami.
Chios’ terrain is stony and mountainous, with Prophitis Ilias on the Pelineo mountain being its highest peak (1297m). Most mountains of the area are not of high altitude. Other important mountains, besides Pelineo, are Amanis on the northwest, Epos, on the east, and Provatio or Provatas, in the center of the island. On the south there are low but rocky and inaccessible mountains.
The flat areas are few, that of the Kampos of Chios, where mainly citrus trees are grown, being the most important. Other flat areas are: the plain of Kalamoti on the south, where vegetables are grown and Volissos on the northwest.
There are no rivers on the island. Most important torrents are: Parthenis, near the city, and Katraris, flowing from the central mountainous area through the plain of Kalamoti. Artificial lakes have been created during the previous years, with dams at Kampochoria and Armolia, while north of Kalamoti, the biggest dam on the island is under construction.
1.3.1. Caves of Chios
Chios has a hidden geological treasure. The most important part of this treasure lies in the island’s caves, which are important in many ways.
The most important caves of the island are three. The cave of Agio Gala, at the village with which it shares its name, on the north, 65km from the port, the cave of Olympi, 5km from the medieval castle of Olympi, and the cave of Lithio, by the village of Lithio, which is the only of the three not accessible for visitors.
The cave of Agio Gala, the biggest one and with many “rooms”, housed humans since the prehistoric times, as archaeological findings of the Neolithic period indicate. Above the main cave, there is a smaller one, with an entrance that was turned into a church dedicated to Virgin Mary since the Byzantine times (12th c.) and where the drops falling from the ceiling are collected as agiasma. This agiasma is probably where the name of the area comes from. A small part of the main cave (about 200m), covered by the hillock on which the modern village is built, is accessible to visitors.
The cave of Olympi is the first accessible cave of Chios that has undergone construction works, although it was first explored in 1985. It is a cave-precipice, up to 57m deep, richly and impressively decorated with stalactites and stalagmites that make it one of Greece’s most important and beautiful caves. The beginning of its creation is estimated 150 million years ago, while it probably was completed 50 million years ago. Its limestone decorations are still being created.
The cave of Lithio has corridors 370m long and it has two levels. Due to difficulty in approaching the inside of the cave, where are also two underground lakes, it is accessible only to speleologists.
1.4. Shape, coasts and beaches
Chios has a balanced shape that develops around its long north-south axis that links the island’s two main capes, Kambi on the north and Masticho on the south. Its coastline is 213km long, with many beaches and bays that can give shelter to small boats. The main port is that of the city of Chios. A second developing natural port is the port of Mesta or Pasha Limani on the west. The ports of Lagada and Marmaro on the northwest are of secondary importance. Some less important natural ports that stand out are Ltihis, Elinta and Elata’s bay on the west, Avlonia, Salagonas and Vroulidia on the southwest, Emporios on the south and Limnia on the northwest.
Chios has many beaches, most of which are not touristically exploited. Other important bays are Komi and Mavra Volia, a beach with volcanic black pebbles, on the south, Agia Fotia, Daskalopetra, Paralia ton Glaron on the east, Nagos, Giosonas, St. Georgios and Agiasmata on the north, St. Markella and Managros on the northwest, Apothika, Agia Dinami and Trachilia on the southwest.
The island has mild Mediterranean temperate climate. Minimum temperature 2o-3o C below zero, maximum temperature 42o-44o C. The temperature usually ranges between 6o-12o C in February and March, and 29o-30o C in the summer. The humidity is generally high, with an average of 62%, but the rainfalls are rare and short, while there is normally no snow or hail. Due to the high humidity, morning frost is a common sight from autumn to late spring. The winds blowing over the area are usually north-northeast (75%) and sometimes south (20%). For most of the year the sun shines over the island and the atmosphere is clear.
Chios’ vegetation is generally low. In the few forests left there are mostly pines, while the more commonly seen trees are usually cultivated, like olive-trees, almond-trees, citrus-trees, carob-trees, mulberry-trees, turpentine-trees and a few beeches, walnut-trees and cherry-trees on the north. The south part of the island is dominated by the mastic trees, a unique variety of Pistacio, Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia, which can be found only in this area. At Kampos grows a unique variety of tangerine with distinctive strong taste. On the low mountainous areas grow bushy plants common to the Mediterranean region, along with astifides, thyme, sages, and Spanish brooms. Brambles, wild berries, aloes and vitexes grow between the fields wherever there is water.
The wealth and variety of Chios’ vegetation is revealed in its flowers and mosses. The aromatic jasmines of Chios, lalades (wild tulips from which the ones of Holland are said to come from), and the biggest variety of wild orchids in the Aegean, are the most distinctive flowers of the area. On the steep coasts one can find sea fennel, an annual plant with small aromatic leaves, and kapari. The island has great wealth and variety of flowers and aromatic plants that differ from one area to the other.
Chios’ biodiversity has been decreasing during the last years due to intensive farming. Even plants that were common in the past, like the native mushrooms (amanites), tobacco and cotton, are now rare. The locals are cultivating mostly vegetables that are common around Greece. A unique kind of vegetable that is found on the island is ksilagouro, which is something between a zucchini and a normal cucumber.
Chios’ fauna consists of a few endemic species and many migratory ones. The number of small carnivorous animals, mostly foxes and weasels and predatory birds, has decreased significantly during the last decades. The most common wild species in the mountains of Chios is the mountain grouse, which is very famous among hunters and known for ages by travelers’ memoirs where it was described as semi-tamed.
The sheep of Chios stands out between the domestic animals. It is a rather productive and of great quality breed. After World War II, the variety of the population of domestic animals has been altered, due to massive importations.
2.1. Prehistory – Antiquity
As findings in Emporio and Agio Gala indicate, Chios was inhabited since the Neolithic Times. Until the middle of the 2nd millennia BC, it was inhabited by Pelasgi, who left their marks on the wall under Tholopotami. According to tradition, it was colonized by the Minoan Oenopion, who brought viniculture to the island, around 1500 BC. Between 1050 and 950 BC, it was inhabited by Ions, Abantes from Euboea and Molossoi from Attiki, and its destiny was joined with that of Ionia.
Since the 8th c. BC, Chios, as a city-state, developed wine production, navigation, commerce and arts, but also slave trade. Its center was the city of Chios, standing on the same location as the modern city. The island’s democracy (aristocracy) was disturbed by the tyranny of Strattis, who was ousted in 499 during the Ionian Revolt against the Persians. In 493, Chios was conquered by the Persians, but was liberated in 479, after the naval battle of Mikali, to become a member of the Athenian League from 478 to 412.
The Athenians take over Oinouses and fortify bay Delfini, from where they attack and ravage the island, Kardamila, Volissos, Fana and Lefkonio. They do not manage to conquer the fortified city of Chios and, in 406, they are turned away by Kallikratis the Spartan, who establishes a philo-Spartan oligarchy but, again, with no fortification walls or ships to protect the people of Chios. In 383, Chios became a member of the second Athenian League (377), and even though it leaves the League in 357, in 340 it sides with Athens against Philip. Finally, in 334, Chios is conquered by Macedonians. In 332, Alexander establishes a democracy protected by a Macedonian guard. Macedonians rule the island until the beginning of the 2nd c BC, when, in 188 BC, Chios became a base for the Roman fleet in exchange for remaining Roman but “free and tax-free”.
A short occupation by Mithridatis VI in 86 BC gave an end to the island’s prosperity. After that time, Chios, despite the privilege of its position, was just a province of the Roman Empire, and later the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium.
2.2. Byzantine period – Genoan occupation
Since the 11th c, Chios seems to enjoy the attention of the central administration, as the institution of Nea Moni and the construction of the Castle in the city of Chios show. In 1093, the island is ravaged by the Turk pirate Tzacha and in the turn of the century, it seems that a large part of the population leaves the island, but it is possibly replaced by populations from Asia Minor, driven there because of Anatolia’s occupation by the Turks.
After the period of Zaccariae’s domination, the power passes to the emperor for a short period of time as in 1346, Chios is occupied by Mahona, a Genoan company ruled by the Giustiniani family. It is to Mahona that modern Chios owes the formation of its economy and country-planning. The agriculture economy is organized, the cultivation of citrus trees and mastic trees being its core. The economy of silk, in all the stages of its production, is developed. The network of setlements and fortification instalations, like castles, fortresses, towers, watch-towers and fortified villages takes form.
Despite the fact that the Genoan domination was strict and ravaged the natural sources and the population of the island, this period brought development to Chios and led to a better understanding between the Orthodoxs and the Latins of the island, socially and culturally. Mahona made Chios part of a vast and dense network of trade stations that included, among others, Constantinople’s Galata, Crimea’s Kaffa and Genoa, while by the 17th c., the importance of the island’s port increased.
2.3. Ottoman period
After 1512, Chios is subject to the Sultan and pays tribute. In 1566, it becomes part of the Ottoman Empire with special regulations that give people of Chios, among other things, trade faclities, the rights of legal transactions and ownership, a kind of local administration and special treatment for mastichochoria and mastic growers. The developments on the island were influenced by Florencians’ attack in 1599 and mainly by the short Venetian occupation of 1694 – 1695, which lead to a reapraisal of Chios’ status quo, to the limitation of the advandages of the trade elit, big part of which started to move toward Smyrna and other trading centers, and to the expulsion of a great part of the island's Catholic population.
The 18th c. (until 1822), is Chios’ “golden age”. Main mean of economic development was the silk fabrics that were produced everywhere on the island, mostly on domestic looms that were organised in big early-industrial networks and sent the fabrics to the great markets of the East. The mastic producers of the south gained important advantages, used mastic to pay their taxes and became more engaged in trade, following the example of the merchants of Chora. The economic prosperity promoted the educational movement and the School of Chios was founded in 1792. The School was developed with the collaboration of important scholars like Neofitos Vamvas and Athanasios Parios under Adamantios Korais’ guidance. The School evolved into a cultural center with the creation of laboratories, a library and a printing-house, but was completely destroyed in 1822.
2.3.1. 19th c.
The development of Chian communities outside Chios and the destructions of the island are the main characteristics of the 19th c. In 1822, the island is depopulated because of the Massacres of Chios. The diplomatic attempts for the liberation of the island, as well as a short-lived expedition of the Greeks under the commands of the philelline colonel Favier in 1827, only led to new massacres. After 1830, Chios is more assimilated by the structures of the Ottoman Empire. In 1839 the special regulations for the mastic are abrogated and a system of local gonverment in which south Chios is united is created for the first time. The "vekilides" (from the Ottoman vekil), commissioners in Constantinople, gain more and more importance.
In 1881, an earthquake devastates many villages and Chora and puts new economic powers in action while it makes even more people leave Chios for Asia Minor and, mostly, Constantinople.
2.4. 20th century
Chios waited many years for its liberation that finally came in November 11th 1912. For about a decade, the island went through a transitional phase of accession into the Greek state. Many of its men were mobilized and fought in the Macedonian front, Ukraine and Asia Minor.
The destruction of Asia Minor filled the island with army and refugees. In the central square of Chora, at Vounaki, colonel Plastiras declared his “Revolt” on September 1922. Chios becomes part of the Greek state.
After the war of 1940-1941, in May 4th 1941, the island is occupied by the Germans. During this period, Chios serves as a passage to Turkey for those who decide to join the Greek army in Middle East and many that are driven away by the hunger and the cruelty of the occupation authorities. The German troops leave in September 10th 1944, leaving the island’s administration to the local forces of the Resistance.
In the years that followed after the civil war, the island’s economy relied on navigation and immigration. Some of the main problems listed in the beginning of the 60’s still exist today, the problem of transportation and the distribution of the water wealth being the most important. After 1974, the problems in the relationships between Greece and Turkey stopped the island’s communications with the opposite coasts but in the last years they seem to recover.
In our days, for the first time, the island’s economy seems to shift to the development of a mild cultural tourism and the utilization of the wealth that comes from mastic.
2.5. The Destruction of Chios
The term “Destruction of Chios” refers to the massacres that took place on the island during the April and May of 1822, after a short-lived uprising of the Chians, prompted by a group of Samian rebels under the commands of Lykourgos Logothetis, in March of the same year. In March 30, begins the attack of the Ottoman fleet, leaded by Kara Ali, which ends with the occupation of Chora and the absolute victory of the Ottomans over the rebellions by April 2nd, Holy Saturday. In April 23rd, the representatives of the villages, the dimogerontia and the Metropolitan of Chios, Platon Fragiadis, are executed in the Castle of Chios where they were held hostages.
Since then, Ottoman soldiers and gangs from Anatolia started ravaging, killing, taking slaves and burning, beginning with the city of Chios and continuing with the villages. The slaughtering and sacking took place in two phases: one before and one after Constantinos Kanaris set fire to the Ottoman flagship in June 6-7 1822.
The consequences of the destruction are hard to be measured. Thousands were killed or sent away as refugees and many were taken slaves. The Gymnasium of Chios, with its valuable library and its laboratories, Nea Moni and many other private and community buildings were destroyed by the fires and the sacks. The part of the population that returned to the island faced a second slaughter during a failed expedition for the liberation of the island in 1827-1828.
The massacres of Chios made the philhellenic movement that supported the Revolution in Europe stronger and inspired great artists. The most important of the creations inspired by the Destruction are Eugène Delacroix ‘s painting “The Massacre at Chios” and Victor Hugo’s poem “The Child of Chios”.
2.6. Refugees in Chios
Almost a century after its own Destruction, Chios hosted many refugees that were either on their way to other destinations or settled there.
The first refugees came to Chios during the First Deportation (1914-1918) from the nearby peninsula of Erithrea. Most of them settled in the Castle the Muslim residents had abandoned after the island’s liberation in 1912 and soon became part of the local community. They formed associations and asked to return to Asia Minor, something that many of them achieved during the Greek Occupation of Smyrna (1919-1922).
The second and most important influx of refugees came to the island when the front collapsed. Tens of thousands of refugees came to Chios and took up every space available in the city and most of the villages. Thousands of them slept out in the countryside under tragic conditions. The attempts to provide relief for them and the experience of the first deportation were proved ineffective because of the great number of the refugees and the intensity of their needs. Most of the refugees that came to the island soon had to abandon it for other destinations.
Most of the refugees that finally remained in Chios settled in the city and big villages, like Kardamila, Kalamoti and Nenita. Except the one in the Castle, important settlements were formed outside the city, in Varvasi to the sourth and in modern Agia Paraskevi, that reminds the village of Erithrea from which it took its name, to the north. Important aspects of the refugees’ culture can be found in the churches of the quarter of St. Charalambos in Varvasi and St. Paraskevi, as well as the Museum and Library of the Varvasios Cultural Association, “Pharos”.
2.7. Commerce and Chian diaspora
Chios is well known for the development of its navigation during the 20th c. For a long time, though, Chians were more known as merchants and less as sailors. Because of the island’s position in the route between Middle East and Black Sea and between the coasts of Asia Minor and the Greek mainland, Chians developed a strong commerce with the trade stations and colonies of the Mediterranean.
Until the 17th c., Chios’ port was the biggest trade station in that area. Since then, many Chians moved their businesses to Smyrna and from there to a wide network that included Britain, Holland and even India. Aside from the great commerce, smaller networks also developed by farmers that transported small quantities of products and left the island for Smyrna, Constantinople and other places, usually from March to October. Due to the proselytizing work of the Catholic Church and the island’s tradition in medicine, an early kind of “student migration” also developed. The most important representatives of that migration were Leon Allatios and Adamantios Korais.
In the 18th c., the wide network of Chian merchants that includes agencies in the biggest cities and markets of Eurasia (Calcutta, Aleppo, Constantinople, Smyrna, Odessa, Trieste, Vienna, Amsterdam, London), takes its final form. The Chian networks of the 18th c. and the beginning of the 19th c. evolved into a Diaspora after the Destruction of 1822. Typical representatives of this Diaspora are: Loukis Laras, who is the hero of Dimitrios Vikelas’ novels, and businessmen from Ermoupolis and Constantinople. The city of Ermoupolis was built in Syros by refugees of the Revolution, Chians being the most important group among them. Their network of contacts and activities came as a gift to the newly founded city.
In Constantinople, many new and dynamic personalities were added to the old Chian community; Andreas Syggros, Ioannis Psycharis and Michael Theotokas were only some of them.
The Chian Diaspora’s center of importance was eventually transferred to England, where there was an attempt, especially in the beginning of the 20th c., to influence the diplomatic process in Greece’s favor. Egypt and England represent two sides of the same phenomenon, linking commercial Diaspora and work migration of the lower classes. During the 20th c., when Chian Diaspora declined and Chian shipping enterprises rose, London was the center of Chians’ shipping activity. A new Diaspora developed in two phases (one in the beginning of the 20th c. and one post-war) in America, Australia and South Africa, where important Chian communities were formed. Every summer, the island hosts a great number of immigrants who return to be a part of their place of origin’s social life.
3. Archaeological sites and monuments
Chios’ constant habitation since antiquity, combined with the fact that many settlements continued existing in their initial location, led to the absence of many traces of the past and many potential exhibits. However, the island offers the visitor many sites to visit in the city and in the countryside.
3.1. Castle of Chios
The city’s Castle (Kastro) stands on the north side of the modern port of Chios from which it is separated by a line of subsequent buildings. Its construction begun in the Byzantine times (9th-10th c.). The form it has today is a result of works done during the Genoan occupation and subsequent repairs by Ottomans and Venetians. The Castle’s outline has been preserved with some alterations due to destructions that happened in the 19th c. and the enlargement of the port in the 20th c., for which the south wall had to be demolished. Its bastions and battlements are well preserved.
Part of the moat that used to run around the Castle and communicate with the sea is still visible. The Castle’s main entrance is the monumental South Gate (Porta Maggiore) that owes the form it has today to the short occupation of Chios by the Venetians in 1694-1695. A barrel-vaulted portico leads from the south gate to Giustinian’s Palace, a 15th c. building. It hosts an exhibition of paleochristian mosaics, Byzantine and late Byzantine frescoes, post-Vyzantine icons and woodcuts, and its most important exhibits are frescoes that have been removed from the church Panagia Krina in Vavili. In the same area one can visit the Ottoman cemetery with Kara Ali’s tomb. On the main street of the Fortress is the Bairakli mosque and the 18th c. Ottoman baths. Other attractions of the Castle are Kria Vrisi, a semi-underground cistern of Byzantine design, and Koules, a Turkish tower constructed of ancient building materials.
Emporio is located on the south of the island, in the same area with the volcano with which it has the same name. It has an ideal natural port and two beaches with black volcanic peebles. The area was inhabited since the Neolithic times and there was human presence until the Byzantine period in an area that is now divided between Kalamoti and Pirgi.
The area of Emporio was inhabited in the end of the sixth and the third millennia and in the end of the 13th c. BC. Pottery and many other findings were brought to light by the British School of Archaeology and are housed at the Archaeological Museum of Chios. The area was inhabited again in the 8th c., when the archaic settlement was founded on the side of Profitis Ilias hill. In the classical times, people returned to the hill southwest of the port where they had also settled in the prehistoric times. A baptistery in the same area proves it was inhabited until the early Byzantine period.
3.2.1. The archaic settlement and the temple
The archaic settlement, located on the side and a saddle of Profitis Ilias hill, is now accessible to the visitors. The settlement is divided in two sections: the residences and the citadel. It was restored after a fire in 1988 and it is now open for archaeological visits or romantic walks.
The residences are square, with traces of a fireplace in one of the corners and a built bench that served as a bed. Their roofs were flat and stood on joists with rock bases that have survived to our days. The most important building is the megaron, an oblong rectangular building with a prodomos and a domus that was built in two phases.
3.2.2. The citadel
The citadel is the most important part of the settlement. It is an area surrounded by wall and includes a megaron, which was probably residence of the ruler, and the temple of Athena. The megaron stands on the end of the street leading from the port to the citadel. It consists of a prodomos and a domus, and the archaeological findings indicate it was used from the 8th to the 6th c.
The temple of Athena also had two rooms, a pronaos and a cella in which one can find the altar and the base of the goddess’ statue that was probably made of wood. Outside the temple there are two more altars and an apothetes. The temple was being used at least until the 4th c., judging by the altar on its south side. An open space that many consider as the citadel’s agora stretches between the megaron and the temple.
Volissos is possibly the oldest settlement in Chios and it is mentioned even in the Homeric epics. The castle with the same name that has survived to our days was built in the Byzantine times. Traditions mistakenly link it with Justinian’s general, Velissarios, while Korais mentions his books were published in Volissos to honor what was presumed to be Homer’s birthplace.
Anavatos is located near Nea Moni, on a steep precipice, over which it appears that the women of Chios threw themselves during the Destruction of 1822 to avoid being captured by the Ottomans. The people of this village were famous carpenters for the Ottoman navy and coal-merchants, usually depending on Nea Moni. These days the village is almost desolate.
3.5. Daskalopetra (Teacher’s Stone)
Daskalopetra is a rock on the edge of Vrontados that its top is shaped like benches. It seems that it was used for worshiping Cybele, but in the local traditions it is associated with Homer and because of this it is also called Homer’s Stone.
(Translation: Photeini Daskalaki)
3.6. Nea Moni
Nea Moni in Chios and the monastry of St. Ioannis in Patmos are the best examples of mesobyzantine imperial monasteries in the Aegean. The monastery was very important for Chios, as it was not only an important religious institution but also the greatest landlord and the most eminent economic unit of the island for many centuries.
3.6.1. The construction of Nea Moni and the set-up of monastic life
Nea Moni was founded in the beginning of 1040’s, probably a little before 1042, but it is mostly associated with the reign of Constantinos Monomachos and his wife, Zoe (1042-1055), as it was then that most of the construction was completed and the monastery was given its most important privileges. Because of the destructions it suffered during the many centuries of its existence, there is no information about the set-up of monastic life in the monastery.
The monastery’s typikon was lost. However, we can assume that while in the beginning the coenobitic system, which was very common at that time in the empire, was followed, at some time, maybe even since the 12th c., the monastic life is organized according to a singular system with many of the characteristics of coenobitic life. Traditions also speak of a time that the monastery was abandoned, which would probably be associated with the desolation of the island because of the Turk pirate Tzacha in 1093, and could possibly be the reason for the subsequent changes.
Most of the available information come from the 17th and 18th c. Sources mention coenobiotic aspects of organisation, like group worshiping, distribution of food, banquets on the holidays and some Sundays. The abbot was elected every three years and the monastery was independent from the local metropolitan and the secular rulers, as it was stauropegion, until the beginning of the 19th c. In the beginning of the 18th c., there are mentions that there should be about 200 to 400 monks, but this cannot be verified, as many lived in the monastery’s metochia all over the island and were not registered so that the monastery would not pay additional taxes to the Ottoman authorities.
The monastery started falling into decline in the beginning of the 19th c., when, in order to pay a massive fine for the Christianization of two Muslim women, it had to give away part of its possessions and found itself indebited to –and actually in the hands of– wealthy landlords that belonged to Chios’ dimogerontia. The Desrtuction of Chios in 1822, the loss of many estates, the earthquake of 1881 and the modernisation of the society leaded to the abandonment of the monastery which in the post-war period was turned from a men avaton monastery to a women monastery. Today, only one nun lives there.
3.6.2. Architecture and decoration
When Russian monk Vasily Barky visited Nea Moni in 1737, he described it as a building complex that reminded him more of a village than a monastery. It is certain that the most important buildings inside the monastery’s walls stand there since the first phase of its construction, between 1043 and 1055, but not without extensive damages and reconstructions. The most important building is the monastery’s katholikon, which is dedicated to Virgin Mary and was probably built by the mid 11th c. The exonarthex was added a few years later, possibly during Theodora’s reign (1055-1056). It was at the same period that the katholikon was decorated with its famous mosaics.
The temle is of an octagonal shape with a dome and has no internal columns or buttreses in order to give the impression of unity inside the temple but, at the same time, the sanctuary and the narthex are seperated. The floor was originally covered with elegant marble decorations maching the marble revetments on the inside walls of the temple. Above the reventments, the walls are covered with mosaics composing a complete iconographic curiculum revolving around the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The mosaics are influenced by the Constantinopolitan model but also feature certain oddities used in Kappadokia, like the personification of river Jordan in the scene of the Baptism.
3.6.3. Additions and damages
In the many centuries of its existence, the temple, and especially its dome, has suffered many damages caused by nature and by men.
An earthquake in 1389, and maybe another in the late 16th c., caused significant damages. In 1512, as it is written on its dedicatory inscription, a bell-tower was added west of the katholikon. In 1922, the Ottomans burned the temple, removed the lead from the dome’s support and destroyed the temple’s pavements and marble revetment to find hidden valuable objects. In 1828, the temple was burned again. After that, some failed repairs were made but the earthquake of 1881 damaged the monument beyond repair; it caused breaches in its structure, half-ruined the dome and destroyed many of the mosaics and 1512’s bell-tower. The attempts to repair the damages caused by the earthquake strated in 1927, beginning with the mosaics, and are still going on today.
Besides the katholikon, the most important building of the complex is the cistern, a tank of water with rows of collumns that proved to be the most durable of the 11th c. buildings in the complex. The refectory was repaired in 1637, but its west part collapsed in the earthquake and had to be rebuilt.
3.6.4. Nea Moni as an architectural and social examble
Nea Moni sets a new arcitectural type of katholikon where the praying area is unified, suiting the monastic coenobiotic life. This model is followed by other temples on the island, such as Panagia Krina in Vavili and Sts. Apostoli in Pirgi. In the case of Sts. Apostoli, the existence of a temple of monastic type just accross the western type Panagia on the village square, is rather interesting.
It is possible that these temples were also Nea Moni’s metochia. One of its metochia, St. Georgios Sikousis was reconstructed in the begginig of the 16th c. and became the heart of a village. The monastery’s typikon set the rules not only for the monks’ lives, but also for the farmers that settled in the land around the monastery, establishing common worshiping practices and norms of behaviour that have many resemblances with the singular system of the central monastery.
Nea Moni was an architectural model to Chios. It introduced a different architectural type. It established a typikon that controled its dealings with the farmers. It was the monastery of the great mass of the Chian farmers. The female names Moni and Monu were common during the monastery’s period of prosperity, in the 17th and 18th c. It was always respected by the Catholics of the island as well. All of the above indicate the magnitude of Nea Moni’s importance.
In the 19th c., Nea Moni certainly had the role of a social institution as well; according to the records, it hosted people with incurable diseases, mostly mental ilnesses, and served as a place for social rehabilitation and anachoreticism, and a home for the socially rejected.
3.6.5. Nea Moni’s economy
Since its foundation, the Monastery enjoyed a series of privileges, most imprortant of which were its annual finances from the state revenue office, the assignment of taxes from the Jewish families of the island, the exploitation of lands, not only on the island, tax exemption and a house in Constantinople. It is not known for how long these privileges lasted, but, at least, the monastery’s independence and a number of estates in Chios, Samos, Asia Minor and the Greek mainland were not disturbed by the Genoese and the Ottomans.
It seems that the monastery had a high income by the exploitation of furnaces, forests and pasturelands outside the communities' lands. The people of the nearby village of Anavatos depended on the monastery for their woodcutting and for coal. Nea Moni had many estates all over Chios, even in good quarters of the city, like Agia Marina in Egremos. Many of these estates were given to the monastery as offerings or belonged to people that came here to become monks. Especially in the 17th-18th c., a period of exaltation of epidemics and orthodox-antilatin beliefs, the monastery expands its estate and exploits its land by renting it to farmers who give a considerable part of the produce back to the monastery.
In the mid 19th c., the farmers started refusing to pay taxes to the monastery, attacked its monks and, in many cases, encroached upon its lands. Under these economic circumstances, the monastery had to give away a big part of its property and come under the metropolis’ administration.
3.6.6. From a monastery to a cultural shrine
Today, Nea Moni is almost deserted. What once was a religious institution has become a cultural shrine, for its katholikon with the unique mosaics, the cistern, the refectory and other of its buildings, as well as a small museum inside its walls. The monument has been declared part of the world heritage by UNESCO.
The religious importance of the monastery meets its national importance in a small parekklesion in the monastery’s entrance, where the remnants of the victims of the 1822’s massacres are in display.
3.6.7. The monasteries’ zones of influence
Nea Moni stands in the center of Chios’ network of monasteries. It is located in the center of the island and has metochia with temples and buildings all over it. Its most important metochia were those of St. Georgios, Panagia Agrelopousena in Kalamoti and Panagia kira Velidena in Agios Tharileleos. Most of the monks came from the villages. In the north of the island, Nea Moni leaves the power to the monastery of Moundon in Diefha, where members of Chios’ bourgeois and aristocracy were monks.
3.7. Other temples
In the area of Pirgi, there is the medieval Tower of Dotia and the naiskos of St. Georgios, built with ancient spolia. The Tower has visual contact with a network of towers in the area and with the Apolichnon Castle in Armolia, a very important preserved castle.
At the limits of the medieval villages stand three of the most important temples of Chios; Sts. Apostoli in Pirgi, old Taxiarchis in Mesta and Panagia Agrelopousena in Kalamoti.
To the north and toward the center of Mastichochoria, stands the monastery of Panagia Sikelia, which housed some conventions of the people of Mastichochoria.
(Michalis Varlas – Anna Misailidou)
(Translation: Onoufrios Dovletis)
4.1. In general
Chios owes the uniqueness of its architecture to the development of a local building tradition, unique in Geece, with Byzantine and Genoan origins.
Chios’ built area can be divided in three different regions with important typological, morphological and structural differences: the area of Kampos and Chora, where the artistic architecture was developed, the south part of the island, with its medieval fortresses and settlements, and the north, mountainous part of the island, the poorest of the three, with its simple stock-farming settlements.
4.2. The medieval villages of south Chios
Chios history was defined by the privilege of the exclusive production of mastic, a product that attracted many conquerors from time to time. In 1346, Chios came under the control of the Genoese. That period determined the island’s character. The island’s Byzantine economic tradition was positively influenced by the Genoese and the techniques and morphological features considered characteristic of Chian architecture to our days, like the use of domes, were developed. The land-planning of the islands settlements, as well as their urban planning, are the result of Genoese’s attempt to organize the cultivation of mastic.
At the south part of the island, where mastic is produced, the Genoese organized the settlements like fortresses to achieve three things: protection from attacks, control of the farming population and better distribution of the produce. The fact that the settlements have the same urban planning and architecture indicates that they were built according to specific regulations, which can still be recognized in Mesta, Pirgi, and Olympi. The medieval villages had four closed sides. The outside walls of the houses that stood on the edge of the village fit together to form the oksogiros, a protective wall with two iron gates that closed after sunset. A defensive tower stood in the middle of the village. In Mastichochoria, most houses have two floors and internal stairs. The ground floor housed the facilities and the residents lived in the first floor. Part of the house’s functions was carried out in the domuses that were all on the same level. The atrium (agerto or pounti), on the first floor, gave light and air to the house. In Pirgi and other areas of Chios, survives a unique building decoration technique, called ksista. The ksista are patterns scraped on the front views of the houses.
4.3. The city of Chios and Kampos
In the city of Chios and in Kampos, a unique monumental architecture developed. Genoan and Byzantine influence became one with the local tradition to result in fine sculptures, mostly by colored limestone from Thimiana. In the beginning, noble Genoese built their towers in Kampos, where the land was flat and fertile. In the 17th and 18th c., the towers became impressive manors surrounded by great fields of lime-trees and enclosed in tall walls. The manors of Kampos are big buildings with two or three floors. The various facilities are housed in the ground floor, while the main reception room, which is rectangular and always open to the view, is on the first floor. The monumental staircases leading to the first floor are a distinctive characteristic of the houses of Kampos. The division of volume, the arcades and ledges give asymmetry and plasticity to the façades of the houses. The outdoor living spaces surrounding the manors include alleys, cisterns and pebble mosaics, composing an ensemble of exquisite elegance.
4.4. North Chios
The economy of the North part of Chios is still based on stock farming and the settlements are poorer. Their architecture is purely folk, constructions made with simple materials by the users themselves. Anavatos, which was probably built for the surveillance of the west coasts of the island, is an exception.
4.5. Chios’ architecture after the Ottoman occupation
In 1566, Chios was occupied by the Ottomans and came under the protection of the sultan’s mother and harem. The mildness of the Ottoman occupation allowed the building heritage of the Geonan occupants to last until the late 18th c. After the Destruction of 1822 and the great earthquake of 1881, a great part of the old architecture was lost. Most of the manors in Kampos were destroyed, but the new buildings adopted well in the given environment as they were made with the same materials and followed the same functional model. In the years that followed, the island was being reconstructed. The new public and private buildings in Chora and Kampos have neoclassical influences from the West and eclectistic influences that have similarities with the nearby Smyrna.
(Translation: Eirini Papadaki)
4.6. Medieval Mastichochoria
The villages of southwest Chios still have the structure of fortified settlements; there are villages where the outside wall has survived (Olympi, Mesta), and others where parts of the wall and the general image of the village it surrounded are still visible (Pirgi, Vessa, Kalamoti). The village develops around a central tower and the outside walls of the houses form the wall (oksogiros), which usually had two “doors”. The central tower and the church dominate the central square (piatsa or livadi). Every village has a unique feature worth observing. The most impressive of these features are the geometric decorations scraped on the front views of the houses in Pirgi and the completely restored image of Mesta. We should also mention the door and the community bank of Olympi, the structure of Vessa in two zones and the coexistence of urban and traditional features in Kalamoti.
5.1. Archaeological Museum
Chios’ archaeological museum was built between 1966 and 1971 but was reconstructed in 1998-1999.
The museum houses findings from the prehistoric and archaic times, which were discovered in the excavations of the British School of Archaeology at Emporio, Neolithic findings from Agio Gala, marble parts from the temple of Phaneos Appolon and many other exhibits, including mostly inscriptions and pottery. An inscription with Alexander the Great’s letter to Chians in 332 BC is one of the most important exhibits.
5.2. Chios Byzantine Museum (Mecitiye Camii)
The building is a mosque of the second half of the 19th c. It has undergone small-scale restorations and it now serves as Byzantine Museum, housing sculptures, inscriptions, pottery, objects of folk art, woodcuts, post-Byzantine mobile icons and Byzantine and post-Byzantine frescoes removed from their walls.
5.3. Korais Library – Folclore Museum – Argenti Gallery
Chios Public Central Library “Korais” was first founded in 1792 as an annex of the School of Chios, based on books written by Adamantios Korais and his friends, mostly Greek scholars who lived abroad. It was destroyed in 1822 and 1881, and was transferred to its present building, which was restored with money donated by Philippos Argentis. It is the third biggest library in Greece and includes an important collection of manuscripts, most of them of Chian historical interest, collection of rare “Homeric editions” and old prints, rare magazines and newspapers of the 19th and 20th c., and many Chian scholars’ personal libraries. The most important of these personal libraries was donated by Philippos Argentis and includes the most systematic collection of books, travelers’ editions, maps and publications about Chios and the area around it.
The second floor of the Library houses the Folk Museum and the Argenti Gallery, which include objects, fabrics and costumes representative of the Chian culture, as well as paintings and heirlooms of the Argentis and Skilitsis families.
5.4. Chios Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum, which belongs to the A. & M. Pateras Public Benefit Foundation, is housed in a two-story neoclassic building of the early 20th c. Its exhibits include several portraits of sailing boats and other ships owned by Chians, painted by the Chian artist Aristides Glykas (Vrontados 1870-1940), sailing objects, models of ships of various periods, and rare photographs of the life at sea.
5.5. Museum of Natural History and Physics at the 1st High School of Chios
The Museum is housed in the 1st High School of Chios, which was built in 1885 where the School of Chios (1792) and later the Gymnasium (1839) used to stand. It includes a very interesting collection of physics and chemistry equipment and teaching aids, which can only be compared with the one in the University of Athens.
5.6. Chios Public Art Gallery
The Public Art Gallery is housed in the building of the old Municipal Baths of Chios, which was built between 1939 and 1954 by the architect Ioannis Despotopoulos. It hosts creations of important Chian artists and periodical exhibitions.
5.7. Museum of Nikos Gialouris
The Museum hosts part of the famous Chian painter and etcher’s work (75 pieces) and personal belongings.
6. Homerion Cultural Center
The Homerion Cultural Center stands out between the islands cultural centers. It was founded in 1980 and it is housed in the city of Chios, in a building donated by Michael and Stamatia Ksilas. Aim of the Center is to promote art and science as means of education and improvement of life, as well as the collaboration with cultural entities outside Chios on matters of science, education and culture in general. Since its foundation, it has organized many science and art events, and it is responsible for the operation of art workshops within it.
7. Folk culture - folk art
Chios is a great example of convergence between folk and elite culture. Important aspects of the cultures of the island’s occupants have become part of the folk culture of the city and the villages. In addition, memories of important events in the island’s history have survived as folk events that take place during the carnival.
The village of Armolia is very important for the folk art and the traditional trades on Chios, as items of utilitarian pottery are being produced there for centuries. We know that since the 17th c. there was a guild of potters in the village, which was already identified with pottery production. Today, besides the utilitarian objects, many decorative ceramics, made in the village’s traditional workshops and imported, are exhibited in Armolia.
7.2. Woodcarving - sculpture
Sculpture, and mainly woodcarving, is the most important form of religious art that developed in Chios. The Chian templons were very famous in the Aegean and the coasts of Asia Minor in the 17th-19th c. They are of a unique type, combining the orthodox iconographic curriculum and a rich decoration with characteristics taken from the Byzantine and Western Christian art. Their distinctive feature is the scene of the Crucifixion and the symbols of the Sacred Passion on the top of the templon in full-relief.
7.3. Religion - tradition
Chios’ folk culture revolves around religion. The most impressive tradition is the Rocket War that takes place in Vrontados every Easter. Young people from the parishes of Panagia Erithriani and St. Markos try to strike the “opponent” church’s bell tower with improvised rockets and fireworks.
This tradition dates back to the late 18th c. or the beginning of the 19th c. and is probably related to the arrival of refugees from Peloponnese on the island.
The religious fairs and feasts that take place at country churches and village squares are very important to the islands public life.
The most important happenings take place during the carnival and revolve around two issues. The first one is the wedding and the traditions related to it; the reconstructions of weddings are almost the same everywhere in Greece, but the costumes, the music and the rituals differ from one village to the other. The other is the island’s history. There is the Mostra that takes place in Thimiana the last Synday of the carnival and it is related with the attack of the pirates and how the Chians repelled them; the event is represented with a ritual parade and a dance of armed young men (talimi). The name Mostra seems to come from the demonstration (mostra) of the captured pirates in the village square by the people of Thimiana.
Another important happening is that of Ağa, which takes place at Olympi and Mesta at Clean Monday. It is a parody of the spring tour the Ağa of Mastichi used to make around Mastichochoria. The person that plays the Ağa is asked to “judge” the most well known of the visitors and make them pay a fine to the association organizing the happening. The celebration involves snacks and lots of souma, a spirit the locals make from figs, to remind the obligation of they had to offer hospitality to the Ottoman tax-collectors and officials.
8. Chios’ saints
8.1. St. Markella
The monastery of St. Markella is the greatest shrine on the island and attracts even more visitors than Nea Moni. It is located in the northwest of the island, near Volissos and, every summer, it attracts a great number of pilgrims. According to the tradition, St. Markella was killed by her father at a beach near the monastery because she refused to sin with him. The rocks in that area are rich in iron, giving a blood-red color to the beach where the agiasma and the martyrdom are. The female name Markella, as well as the male name Markellos, is very common in Chios, although they are rather rare in the rest of Greece.
8.2. St. Isidoros and Chios’ mastic
St. Isidoros martyred in Chios in 255. According to the tradition, his torturers dragged his with horses over the rough and full of thorns ground of the island, and the mastic resins come from the saint’s blood and sweat that fell on the ground. Although, there are mentions about mastic long before the time St. Isidoros lived.
St. Isidoros’ tomb, along with St. Meropi’s, is in a 5th c. basilica near Skylitsion Hospital. The saint’s relics were stolen by the monk Gerbanus Gerbani in 1125 and is now in the temple of St. Marcus in Venice. A part of it was returned in the summer of 1967 and is kept in the Metropolis of Chios.
(Michalis Varlas - Anna Misailidou)
(Translation: Photeini Daskalaki)
9. Chian shipping
Chios is located right on the sea line that connected Constantinople with the Wheat producing Egypt and the provinces of Syria. Thus, during the early Byzantine period, Chian merchants traded ariousios wine and mastic –two of the few luxury goods exported by Byzantium – with the ports of Mediterranean and the big urban centers of that time.
The island attracted the interest of the merchant cities of Italy that, facilitated by imperial privileges, were working on their economic penetration to the East. Its geographical position was important because at that time navigation was coastal. As part of the network of the sea lines, the port of Chios was a stopover for stypteria and pewter, as well as local and imported fabrics trade. Taking advantage of the Genoese’ trading network –Genoa’s first contact with the island was due to the Treaty of Nympheon in 1261– Chian products reached the markets of Armenia, Cyprus, Rhode, Damascus and Alexandria, as well as those of Asia Minor, Constantinople, Crimea and the Italian cities of Venice, Florence and Pisa, from where they were forwarded to the big markets of the West. At that time, specialized services developed on the island, like foreign agencies, banks, real estates, shipping agencies and insurance companies, as well as shipbuilding, for which the island’s rich forests were exploited. The “Naval Committee” (officium maris or giunta navale), which consisted of 4 people of Mahona, supervised Chios’ naval activity, mostly the product handling in the port, on which it had rights of police supervision, and equipped Mahona’s small fleet.
Trade, which had flourished during the Genoan occupation, was not eliminated by the Ottoman occupation (1566-1912). Relationships with the West were kept and foreign consulates were established on the island. The trade of silk fabrics also continued; the fabrics were now adapted to meet the preferences of the Ottoman buyers. The establishment of Chians in many cities and ports of the Mediterranean –Smyrna being the most important– and the Black Sea also promoted the creation of a notable Chian navy. In 1854-1885, Chians experienced a new period of economic prosperity through shipping, by taking advantage of the international circumstances. In a consul’s report in 1868, Vrontados is mentioned as the main shipping area of the island, followed by Kardamila, Lagada and Volissos.
The so-called Chian network in trade and shipping came to its peak in the period 1830-1860. Chian merchants are considered to be the ones that set the strategies the Greek shipping networks of the 19th c. followed. The Rallis family stands out for their international activity, but we should also mention the Rodokanakis, Dromokaitis, Skilitsis, Sevastopoulos, Petrokokkinos and Zizinias families. The Chian companies traded cheap bulk cargo (cereals, wool, cotton, linseeds and animal fat) and colonial products, such as wine, dried fruits and oil, from the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea to the countries of Western and Northern Europe. They also transported processed goods, like yarn and fabrics, from countries of the Western Europe to Eastern Mediterranean. A long chain of stations and branches linked Marseille, Livorno, Trieste, Alexandria, the Aegean islands, like Syros –Syros owes its wealthy trade to its Chian community– as well as the financial centers of Eastern Mediterranean, Smyrna and Constantinople.
The Chian families that made money from shipping in the late 18th c. and the early did not share their wealth with the island. Most of them stayed in England and tried to become part of the community there, creating some of the first Greek shipping agencies in London. Even post-war, Chios is considered a traditional shipping area. In comparison with the other islands, the Chians have more companies and their ships are of great capacity. Beside the ones coming from Oinouses, most of the Chian families that did business in London and Nee York came from Kardamila (Livanou, Karra, Hila and Fragou), Vrontados (Andreadis, Phaphaliou, Los, Pittas, Margaronis and Michalinos) and the city of Chios (Chandris and Michalou).
(Translation: Klio Panourgia)
Mastic –mastichi for the locals– is the best-known product of the island. It has been identified with Chios and determined its history until the 20th c.
In most languages of the East, the word for mastic gives Chios the name they call it. In Syrian it is “Chios”, in Persian “Saqqez”, and in Turkish “Sakız” is the word for mastic and “Sakız Adası” (Mastic island) the name of the island.
The Greek word masticha is considered to derive from the word mastix, which means whip, maybe indicating the way the resin was produced. A second, and more plausible explanation is that it derives from the verb mastazo, which means chew and where the Latin words mastic and masticare come from. The word mastic has become international and it appears with in most European and Mediterranean languages with minor differences.
It is interesting how the product has a completely different name that the plant it comes from, the skinos, which is very common in the Mediterranean. As skinos is very widespread, there are sources mentioning Chian Mastic since the Antiquity. Nowadays, mastic is a Protected Destination of Origin Product and only the Chian Mastic is considered genuine.
10.1. Mastic's biology-geography
Mastic comes from a special variety of skinos, the Pistacia lentiscus var Chia, also known as mastic tree or, as the locals call it, skinos. The mastic tree is an evergreen bush, up to 2-3 meters tall and, in some cases, reaching even 5 meters. The resin runs through all the parts of the bush, and when it reaches its sap, it becomes mastic. Pistacia lentiscus bushes grow almost everywhere around the Mediterranean and resins with aroma similar to that of mastic are produced in many areas.
Since the beginning of the 19th c., scientists consider "Chia" a distinct variety of the plant. Chian mastic, though, was preferred to other resins produced in the Mediterranean for its whitter color and its better taste. Galen, as well as Pliny, separates "Chia" mastic from the "Egyptian" mastic, which they describe as black.
Mastic as we know it is produced only in Chios and more precisely, on the south of the island. It is unique because of the great number of substances it has in its chemical composition and the vast number of bioenzymes that take part in its biosynthesis, as studies of Thomas Savvidis and other scientists have shown. A very important component of mastic is the mastic-oil, the essential oil that gives mastic its aroma and fresh taste. With time, the mastic-oil is evaporated and mastic loses its elasticity and turns dry and yellow. Factors like geology and climate seem to be rather important. Keep in mind that the area where the mastic is produced, in southern Chios, is marked by the volcano of Emporio on its south and a seismic fault on its north.
Nowadays, mastic is produced in 24 Chian villages of which 21 are the traditional Mastichochoria and the other 3 are part of the Kampochora, an area where the cultivation of mastic began only the last century, it seems, though, that at least one village in the north, Avgonima, used to produce mastic in the past, but stopped when its people became responsible of watching over the Aegean for defensive purposes. The area Dotia of the village Pirgi, where a fortification tower still survives, can be considered the center of the production of mastic. Many travelers refer to it as the "field of mastic" and it is still where the better-groomed young trees, pixaria, are found.
The only attempt to produce mastic outside Chios was made in Amorgos after the Revolution, but was soon abandoned.
10.2. Production process- time
Production of mastic is a process that takes skill, time and care. The mastic-tree is planted by layering and grows for 5 years before it can produce mastic. Its peak of production comes between its 10 and 15 years, but the tree lives on for 40-50 years. With time and due to its exploitation, the original gray-green color of its skin turns brown and later gray, indicating the plant has grown old.
Mastic is produced by cutting the tree's sap with a sharp tool called kentitiri or timitiri, or with a special tool that looks like a hammer or a small hatchet. The resin comes out to the sap or falls on the ground around the trunk and the bigger branches, which has been prepared for that reason. There, it dries in small or bigger pieces. The mastic hanging from the trunk is exceptionally transparent, the purest form of the product. In the market, though, the best quality is considered to be pita, the biggest pieces, which can be chewed after spending some time in a cool storage to harden.
The circle of the tree's care and of the mastic's production and processing takes up most of the year. It begins with digging, fertilizing and grooming the tree's branches to achieve the resins' exposure to sunlight and the good circulation of air, which is needed for the resins to harden. In June and July, the ground around the trees is prepared, it is cleaned of weeds, stones and dirt, it is swept and covered with a thin layer of white sand, which helps the resins harden and remain clean. Modern travelers often thought, or wanted to believe, that the Chians lay down fabrics to collect the mastic. In July and August, the mastic growers cut the sap once or twice a week so that the resin will come out. In late August and September, the mastic is collected by hand, early in the morning so that it is not sticky, and stored in a cool and dry storage to harden, so that it can be used. Cutting and collection can be repeated after that first time. During that season, the sweet smell of fresh mastic is all over the fields and houses of Mastichochoria.
The product is washed and cleaned by hand in the houses or the appropriate premises provided by the local association, mostly by groups of women, who have leading role in most phases of mastic's production. After this process, the mastic is ready to be consumed, packed to be sold in its natural form, or sent for industrial processing.
10.3. Chios Mastiha Growers Association and mastic companies' development
Chios Mastiha Growers Association (CMGA) was the main responsible for organizing the production and industrial processing of mastic. It is an association consisting of the 20 local associations of the villages that was created in 1938, by the law 1390, under leadership of Dr. Georgios Stagoulis. The Association collects most of the production and processes it either in its natural form, or as industrial products and byproducts. The factory producing the ELMA chewing gums, the best-known industrial mastic product, operates since 1957. Nowadays, the processing of mastic and its trade in its natural form or as an industrial product ingredient is a fast developing sector, in which cosmetic, medical and gastronomic products stand out. Beside CMGA, other companies, not belonging to associations, developed, most important of them being Mastic Spa, that was created by an old pharmaceutical company of the island. The promotion of the products is made through the branches of Mastic Spa and CMGA's Mastic Shop, and the presence of the companies in big stores and malls, like the one in Athens International Airport, Eleftherios Venizelos.
10.4. Products and uses
Mastic itself is a product ready for consumption, usually for chewing, after it is processed in the houses of the growers. Chewing mastic does not only scent the breath, but it is also recommended for mouth hygiene and orthodontics. Mastic is available in various sizes and qualities, pita, the biggest pieces, and fliskari, the small transparent "tears", being the best ones. Crushed or as a powder, mastic is used in cooking and pastry, while dissolved in water it is used as a mild medicine for stomach and cholesterol. Until the late 19th c., mastic was being used in cooking and pharmacy in its natural form. Pharmacists followed recipes found in pharmacologies written in most European languages, Turkish, Arabic and Greek.
One of mastic's best-known applications is in the preparation of chrism, as well as a stabilizer and ingredient in icon painting. In religion, old and dry mastic is used as incense, an application that is still rather common in the Arabic world. In ancient Egypt, mastic was also being used in embalming and in many solutions for its antiseptic and styptic properties.
The drink and pastry industry is one of the major sectors of mastic's industrial exploitation. Liqueurs and spirits with mastic are known even outside Greece; FYROM's "national" spirit is called Mastika. Other sectors of industry where mastic is used are pharmaceutics, cosmetics, paints stabilizers and plastics. Mastic-oil is produced by the distillation of mastic and used mainly in pharmaceutics, pastry, cosmetics and other industries and in the preparation of chrism. The byproduct of the distillation is rosin, a substance used in medical threads and plastics. Mastic-oil was being produced since Antiquity, though the details of the process remain unknown.
Since the 1950's, ELMA chewing gum was the peak of mastic's commercial promotion. The chewing gum is made by a chewing base and natural mastic flavor, and was created as an answer to the modern industrial chewing gums that had taken over the natural resin. Nowadays, new kinds of products with mastic flavor are developed to meet the needs of the market, like sugar-free chewing gum or combinations of mastic and other flavors. The taste and aroma of mastic are used with great success in cosmetics, mouth hygiene and traditional food industry.
10.5. History of mastic and its consumption: a pendulum between East and West
The consumption and use of mastic goes back to Antiquity. The first mentions are found in Herodotus, who refers to its usage in embalming, but most mentions of mastic's usages come from writers of the late Antiquity, of the first centuries A.D. The most important mentions are found in the works of Dioskourides (1st c. A.D.), Pliny (23-79 A.D.) and Galen (131-200 A.D.). Mastic was being used to cure digestive troubles (stomachaches, abdominal trouble, vomiting etc), in mouth hygiene (teeth cleanse, bad breath, gum and teeth diseases) and in any kind of problem they couldn’t find a cause or a cure for. Mastic was used as a panacea. It was also used as a cosmetic, as a sun-block, for skin-whitening etc, while the creation of the first mastic-flavored drink, masticatum, goes back to the Roman times.
The uses of mastic have not changed much throughout the centuries, except maybe its usage in painting. What changes is the rulers of the island and administrators of mastic. The first clear impression of how the production was organized comes from the time of the Genoan occupation (1346-1566), when Mahona had the monopoly of the product. Since 1566, the Ottomans takeover the island and the Soultan gets the profit of the administration of the product, which is sent to Constantinople and distributed from there. Despite the “privileges” they have, until 1839 mastic growers live in a state of constant control, restrictions and strict prohibitions on the use of their land and produce.
During that period, the use of mastic differs in the West, where it is used mainly in cosmetics and medicine, and the East, where it is used in cooking, as air fragrance, for chewing and, also, for religious reasons. Its usage as an aphrodisiac is considered common, though that it is not clearly stated in the literal sources.
19th and 20th c., bring the industrial exploitation of the product and its discovery by the Western as a chewing gum in its natural form or as a mild natural medicine. Mastic is now used worldwide not only in the medicine, plastic, paint and stabilizers industries, but in cosmetic industry as well.
Nowadays, the island is identified with the product, as it used to in Antiquity, as people turn to natural products and re-discover tradition. It seems that mastic, which for many years was a supplement for the economy of Chios, can become a factor of development.
(Michalis Varlas - Anna Misailidou)
(Translation: Onoufrios Dovletis)