Perhaps the Island of Chios is just the right place you've been looking for. A place where the tourist feels more like a guest and has the opportunity to discover many values and traditions the mass tourism has driven away from other places.
The rich Chios history, the various monuments and the crystal-clear beaches are just few of the things that make Chios unique among other islands.
Chios is known to have been settled at least by the Early Bronze Age but it only enters the main-stream of the Aegean history when the Ionians settle here from about 1100 BC. These Ionians - said to be from mainland Greece - colonized a series of islands and cities along these shores of Asia Minor and soon were taking the lead in advancing Greek culture. It has been generally accepted that Homer was a native of Chios in the 8th century BC. In the following centuries Chios produced other influential individuals including the 5th century tragic poet Ion, the 4th century historian Theopompus, and several important sculptors in the 6th and 5th centuries, one of whom, Glaucus, was credited with inventing the soldering of metals.
Although Chios formed a loose confederation with the other Ionian city-states and islands, they were conquered by the Persians in the second half of the 6th century BC. And then it was the revolt of Chios and these other Ionian states that brought Athens into direct conflict with the Persians and led to Marathon and Salamis. After the Greek-Persian Wars, Chios joined the Athenian League, but soon grew restive under Athenian ambitions. Athens punished the rebellious Chiots in 412 BC, and Chios moved back into alliance with Athens until regaining independence in 354 BC. By then it was too late, for the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander and then the Romans would exert power over virtually all of the Mediterranean, including Chios.
Christianity took hold and Chios came under the Byzantine Greeks, but Saracens abused the island in the 8th century. In the 13th century, in the aftermath of the 4th Crusade, first the Venetians and then the Genoese moved in. Chios actually prospered under the Genoese, but in 1566 the Turks took over. In 1821 Chios joined Samos in the general revolt of Greeks against the Turks, and the next year the Turks singled out Chios for particular punishment, slaughtering an estimated 25.000 Chios and enslaving 80.000; those who escaped went to other islands or on to major cities around the world. Later that year the Greek admiral Kanaris, entered the harbor of Chios at night and blew up the Turkish flagship. Chios gained revenge of sort by entering the immortal realm of art when both Delacroix and Hugo commemorated the terrible massacre of 1822. A major earthquake in 1881 also left many islanders dead, but it has long since recovered, and since 1912 it has been formally joined to the Greek Nation.
The town of Chios lies in the centre of the eastern coast of the island facing the Erythrean peninsula and Asia Minor. This clearly shows the close relationship it has always had with Ionia. The great geographical importance that the city possessed, at least in earlier periods, derived in part from its proximity to a fertile plain, but mainly from the location of its harbour overlooking the channel to the North Aegean and Constantinople. For this reasons, this has always been the site of the most important city on the island. Chios City - The CastleToday Chios (Chora, as it is known locally) is the capital of the prefecture and has approximately 25.000 inhabitants. The headquarters of the Public Services, the Administration and the Cathedral are all located here; it is also the point from which all communications with the outside world originate, both by sea and by air, and the centre of the island's commerce and industry.
The city covers a wide, almost flat area, with semi-urban districts extending as far as Kambos in the south and Vrontadhos in the north, which may be regarded as a suburb. To the west the city is limited by hills and to the north by the foothills of Aipos. Towards the east the horizon broadens out and offers a view of the Asia Minor Coast. The modern city is a bustling port and commercial city, not obviously picturesque and not especially geared for foreign tourists, but a city that offers several diversions to those who like to truly visit a foreign locale. Most of the hotels, restaurants, cafes, gift shops, ticket and travel agencies and such facilities are located around the large harbour quay-road, but the visitor should make a point of walking back from that and explore some of the older streets.
The Cymnasium The center of this old town is the Vounaki Square, which the buses to various points around the island use as their terminal. At the far corner is a small museum with a random collection of archaeological and historical exhibits from the island's past. Some blocks away is the Gymnasion, or high school, built in 1792. The Library of Chios was founded in 1817 by one of Chios's <native> sons, Adamantios Koraes, a famous scholar and educator of his generation (1748-1833) who gave his many books to the library; the library was also greatly enriched in 1962 by the donation of more books by Philip Argenti, a Chiot who had become a scholar in England. On the upper floor of the library is the Ethnological and Folklore Museum with exhibits of local costumes, emproideries, wood carvings, and such works.
The Region of Kambos
The area to the south of Chios city is known as Kambos. It is completely flat and it is covered by a dense network of small roads. Most of the land is planted with citrus trees. The orchards are individually surrounded by high stone fences to protect the trees form wind and dust. The scenery of Kambos is distinctive and bears little resemblance to that of the other Aegean Islands.
Modern Chios has owergrown the site of the ancient city, but only a few remains - of walls and the theater - are to be seen. Much more impressive are the remains of the medieval fortress on the northern edge of town; originally a Byzantine fort, it was greatly enlrged by the Genoese in the 14th century. When the Turks took over Chios in the 16th century they also built their own structures over the Genoese houses within the citadel.
The second most popular excursion on Chios is to the Medieval Villages. The major group of these are also called Mastic Villages (Mastikokhoria), because this is the region where the mastich tree's resin is harvested. The most known of these villages are described below.
Chios, MestaThe village of Mesta is the most distant of the medieval villages but it is also the most well-preserved. the form and architecture here is totally unique. The houses are build side-by-side to each-other, so tightly that there are only two entrances to the village. The streets are very narrow, and most of them are covered with arches and vaults.
The whole village has been intendently planned and built as a maze, in order to prevent the pirate raiding parties from reaching easily the most important buildings located in the center of the village. The oldest monument of Mesta is the church of Palaios (=Old) Taxiarchis on the north-west part. It was originally a vaulted one-nave basilica, dating from the Byzantine period. In 1794 it was extended to become two-aisled. Some traces of old wallpaintings can be seen, although most of them have been covered with plaster. The iconostasis of the church is wood carved and an excellent example of local woodwork (finished in 1833). To find out more about Mesta, you can visit the Mesta Complete Guide.
Chios, AnavatosAbout 17 kilometers West from the city of Chios is the village of Anavatos. It is built on a rocky elevation with sides so steep it can only be approach from one point. The natural defenses of the site make it probable it was originally founded to control the island's west coast during the period of piracy. The village is now completely deserted but the overall shape of the settlement is quite well-preserved to give a unique picture of a ghost town surrounded by a wild and rough natural environment.
Chios, PyrgiThe village is a fortresslike complex of narrow streets, tightly packed houses and arches, with a ruined tower-dungeon at its center. Even more unexpected is the distinctive graffito technique used to decorate the exteriors of many of the buildings: The outer layer of cement is painted white and then geometric shapes (triangles, chevrons, circles, etc.) are scraped away. The church on the main square is truly eye-catching, while off the square is the small church of Aghii Apostoli, with frescoes dated to the 12th century.
Other medieval villages
The village of Olympi is located between Pyrgi and Mesta and it has mostly the same architectural form. Closer to the city of Chios are the villages of Armolia (20 km) best known for its <ceramic products>, the villages of Kalamoti, Nenita, Kallimasia and a variety of smaller villages.
Chios' Mastic Gum
Chios is the only place in the world where a special type of lentisk resin is produced by the mastic tree. The cultivation of the mastic has been known since ancient times and it has been strongly tied to the islands history. The importance of this unique product, made the island many times in the past a target for various conquerors. In fact, one of the main reasons the Medieval Villages were built like fortresses, was to protect the mastic and its producers from the barbarian raiding parties who often attacked the island to steal mastic and women.
While the island was under Genoese and Turkish control, special privileges and certain freedom were given to the villages in the region where the mastic tree grows. The harvesting of the resin takes place between July 1st and October 31. For the collection of the raw mastic, small incisions are made on the trunk of the trees and the mastic gum flows in the form of liquid drops which become solid as soon as they come into contact with the air. This procedure is called the "Kentima".
The mastic tree and the "Kentima"
A variety of products is made from the mastic resin, including chewing gum, alcoholic drinks, sweets, spices, perfumes, and various chemicals; while the most important use is by the medical industry all over the world. Today, almost 5.000 families in the southern Chios earn a significant portion of their incomes by cultivating the mastic tree. Most of the product (almost 90%) is exported, mainly to the Arabic countries.
Chios offers a great variety of beaches, ranging from cosmopolitan sandy beaches which offer full services, to isolated lagoons where one can enjoy the primitive beauty of the Aegean sea and sun. Some of the most popular beaches are located near the city of Chios, while some others are more distant. Crowded and popular or distant and little-known, all beaches in Chios have crystal clear water and clean sand or pebble stones.
- The sandy beach of Karfas
Located a few kilometers south of the city, this is perhaps the most popular beach on the island. It offers full services and a wide range of water sports since it is next to an area where some of the biggest hotels of the islands are built. Restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and rooms, car rentals are within walk-distance from the beach. The water is very shallow and warm in most of the area of Karfas Bay, and therefore the beach is especially suitable for families with little children. During the high-season time in the mid-summer, the beach can sometimes get a little bit too overcrowded, since it is popular among both locales and tourists.
Near Karfas is also the beach of Megas Limnionas, which has less fine sand and is more popular to locales. A full variety of restaurants and bars is also offered in Megas Limnionas. It is easy to get to both of the above beaches; there is frequent bus service from the city and the price of hiring a taxi is affordable, while the rental of a car or moped is perhaps the most convenient way to visit any beach in Chios.
- The Daskalopetra beach
Located north of the city, next to the Homer's Stone ("Daskalopetra"), the place where <Homer> teached according to the tradition. The beach has white pebbles and it is quite popular, although not as much as the Karfas beach. A few hundred meters from Daskalopetra is the Lo beach, which is maintained by the local sea-sports club. This beach has sand and it offers some watersports. There are taverns near the beaches where you can enjoy fresh fish and other delicious Greek food. The blue city buses have frequent service to Daskalopetra. Alternatively, a taxi or a rented vehicle can get someone to the beach. The south-east beaches
Further from Megas Limnionas to the south are the beaches of Agia Fotia and Agios Aimilianos, near the village of Kallimasia. The beach of Agia Fotia has white pebbles and it is larger and more popular than Agios Aimilianos. It also has rooms, restaurants, bars and various services while Agios Aimilianos is more quite. The beach of Komi is a large sandy beach about 25 kms away from the city. Rooms, restaurants and bars are also found in Komi. Best way to get to these beaches is by the provincial (green) buses, by taking a taxi or by renting a vehicle.
- The beach of Emborios
A unique beach with round black pebbles ("Mavra Volia"). The stones have volcanic origin and the beach is located between the cones of two now non-active volcanoes. If fact there are three large beaches, each in its own small bay. The most distant is ofcourse the most quite, while all restaurants and cafes are near the first beach. The water is truly transparent and not too warm, and it gets deep very near the shore. You can get to the beach by the green (provincial) buses, by taxi or with a rented vehicle.
- The south-west beaches
The beach of Kato Fana is in the area where the ancient temple of Apollo was built. According to Historian Strabo, a large Palm tree forest existed there. Today,
only a few ruins from the temple remain next to the sandy beach. There is no habitation near the beach and the road leading there is not paved. Therefore, no restaurants, or any other services are found near, while Kato Fana is ideal for a day-long pic-nic. Best way to reach the beach is by renting a car or a good motorcycle. After the village of Mesta, next to the Passalimani harbor is a small beach with a few restaurants near it and connection by provincial (green) buses.
- The west coast beaches
The large sandy beach of Lithi has some common features with the Karfas beach, while it lacks the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the second. The beach is near the village of Lithi, 30 kms from the city, and there are no big hotels; only a few good taverns serving fresh fish and other specialties. The water is very shallow and warm in the Lithi Bay, and therefore the beach is, like Karfas, especially suitable for families with little children. The bus service is not very frequent and most of the people come to Lithi by car or moped.
Along the west coast, there are many small or larger beaches, sandy or with pebbles. The main road passes near them but some of these have no direct road connections and can be reached only with a few hundred meters walk from the road. Renting a car or motorcycle is the best way to get there. It is an area where the ones who decide to walk down the steep hills and get to the sea, are often rewarded with a small, absolutely clean and picturesque beach for their exclusive use and enjoyment. The beach of Elinda is the most popular on this area and it has a road connection.
- The northern beaches
The beaches of Giossonas and Nagos are found a few kilometers north of Kardamyla. There are taverns in Nagos and a frequent bus service from the city.
On the North-west, the beach of Limnia near the village of Volissos has a few good taverns and bars, while further to the north is the beach of Agia Markella, next to the Monastery of Agia Markela. Because of the distance from the city (near 50 kms), the only way to get to these beaches is by renting a car.
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