Avgonyma and Anavatos

One kilometre after the turning for Aghii Pateras, the main road reaches the watershed and begins to descend the western slopes of the island through a wild area, densely treed with pine. The first habitation is encountered at Avgonyma (16km from Chios) which crowns the spur of a hill with wide views out to sea and profits from a shallow and fertile plateau for cultivation. The cuboid houses of varying hue and dimensions give the village the appearance of a study by Cezanne. There was a settlement here in Antiquity; today the village, grouped around an open stone-paved square, shows its Genoese origins of the 15th century in the features of its houses— window-frames, machicolations, buttresses, and general style of masonry. It is a fine architectural ensemble; but it is outshone in setting and atmosphere, by its remarkable neighbour, * Anavatos—one of the most dramatically sited villages in the Aegean and, like Olympos on Karpathos, one of the most isolated up until the recent advent of asphalt roads. The 4km detour to the north of the main road from Avgonyma is of great beauty, winding through mature pine forest and clearings which are rich in wild flowers. Only at the very last moment is the visitor confronted by a vision of the magnificent and inaccessible site of the village, occupying the north face of a limestone precipice, whose south and west sides plummet almost vertically into a gorge.

The name ‘Anavatos’ is cognate with the Greek verb ‘αναβαίνειν’, ‘to climb’ or ‘scale’. The natural acropolis of the summit has a number of advantages which may explain its improbable choice as a place of settlement: apart from formidable natural defences, a deep, sinuous gorge to the west gave direct and quick access to the bay of Elinda which cuts into the central part of the west coast—the stretch most heavily fortified by the Genoese with watch-towers for protection against piracy. Anavatos and Avgonyma are also the closest points to Chios town that survey the western approaches to the island; they were vital links therefore in the defence of the island as a whole. An unverifiable local tradition holds that Anavatos was founded by the wood-cutters and timber-men brought to Chios to make scaffolding for the construction of Nea Moni, implying settlement as early as the 11th century; it must then later have been further fortified to form part of the Genoese system of defences. It appears to have been a flourishing community at the time of the massacres of 1822 which abruptly terminated its existence and gave rise to the abandonment of the site. The inhabitants, spurred by a combination of desperation and pride, are said to have thrown themselves over the western cliff rather than yield to capture by their Turkish assailants. It is a measure of the implacable fury of the Turks that they should have pursued their punitive cause so deep into the interior of the island. A shadow still hangs over the village.

The tiers of uninhabited houses, built in un-rendered stone, are perfectly camouflaged against the limestone escarpments; they have the form of towers, with the minimum necessary perforations for windows, which are only rarely embellished with a small relieving arch above the frame. The stepped streets lead up to the fortress at the summit, where a curtain wall—part constructed, part natural—encloses an area dominated by the ruins of a double-nave church (with vestiges of late painting in the apse). This design of such a building with two parallel naves, can often arise from the contemporaneous need for the celebration of both the Latin and Orthodox rites, suggesting a latterly mixed community here of Genoese and local Greeks.

 

Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Central Chios and Nea Moni. Avgonyma and Anavatos.


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