The Kampos

Everything that may disappoint in the architecture of Chios town today, is compensated for by the unique beauty of the * Kampos area. Although a shadow of what it once was before the massacres of 1822, the earthquake of 1881 and the encroachment of the airport and city periphery, the area’s patrician villas and churches, wooded gardens, and the warmth of the variegated red stone from which everything is built, still combine to make this one of the most atmospheric and architecturally significant suburbs in the Greek world. The area lies 4–5km due south of Chios, in the plain bounded by the city to the north, the shoreline to the east, and the village of Thymiana to the south. It is reached either by cutting inland from the coast after the south end of the airport runway, or by following signs for ‘Neochori’ and ‘Thymiana’ from the centre of town: it is a labyrinth of high-walled streets and water channels which can only really be explored serendipitously. It would be cumbersome to describe a particular itinerary here; only general observations, therefore, to help the visitor understand its genesis and character are offered below.

History and development

The eastern sides and slopes of island mountain-ranges benefit from ideal conditions for fruit-growing; softer water, greater rainfall and humidity, cool moisture early in the day’s cycle and remission from the dry air and winds that areas facing the sunset receive. For these reasons, the Kampos area was the main cultivated area for the city of Chios from Antiquity onwards. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Genoese masters of the island built towers, or pyrgi, in this area: these were not watch-towers, but rather glorified toolsheds and residences for farm-managers, built sturdily so as to mark and protect their estates. In the greater security afforded by Ottoman occupation, these pyrgi gradually were turned into summer retreats on family estates, becoming eventually necessary status symbols for any family of substance. The important merchant families, who had a combination of wealth to dispose from trading in the island’s produce and experience, through their travels, of the great city suburbs in Egypt, Italy and the Levant coast, began to compete in the construction of ever finer villas and residences, adopting some of the architectural lessons learnt from overseas. They also built ‘family’ churches in the area as a further expression of status—always using the same tender red stone. The late 18th and early 19th century was the short-lived heyday of this area: not long after, the majority of the owners were rounded up and exemplarily killed in the 1822 massacre, and many of the houses were abandoned or suffered subsequent destruction in the earthquake of 1881, which was of a magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale. For these reasons only a few of the villas remain—some maintained as before, some restored (more or less faithfully), and others in a state of ruin.

The design of the villas

The villas functioned both as farmhouses for the family estate, and as country residences: hence they are surrounded by low storage buildings and stone barns, and centred on a shaded courtyard around the well from which the water was drawn by a yoked donkey treading in a circle. The sound of creaking wooden machinery and splashing water would have lasted throughout the day. In this manner the sterna— a deep stone cistern, often covered with a pergola supported on pillars at the corners—was filled with water, which was then channelled throughout the estate to irrigate the citrus and fruit trees, whose colour aptly set off the deep red of the stone used in the high walls which invariably surrounded them. The sleeping and reception rooms were on the upper floors of the buildings, illuminated with long windows and giving onto shaded terraces and balconies, from which it was possible to see—and be seen—above the walls. Access to this upper area is generally by a grand stone staircase on the outside of the building, whose landings and balustrades are punctuated with carved stone urns. The overall design is prevailingly Italian—distantly reminiscent of suburban villas in Genoa—but the decorative gateways onto the street often have an Ottoman flavour in their alternating use of two colours of stone in the arches, and the porch-like roofs which cover them.
   The protected micro-climate of Chios town is particularly well-suited to the cultivation of citrus fruits, and many of the walled gardens of Kampos are still given over to orchards of lemon, orange, mandarin and other fruit trees. The scent, when the tress are in flower, overwhelms the air. An informative, permanent exhibition, entitled ‘Citrus’, recounting the cultivation of the trees and the preparation of a variety of citrus products has been created in the fine villa at nos 9–11 Argentis Street in Kampos—home also of the Perivoli Hotel (see lodging, p. 134).
Both the main arterial street from Chios to Neochori through the centre of Kampos, and the parallel streets (e.g. Argenti Street, to the west) pass many monumental entrances, behind which hide groves of flowering trees and the façades of houses. The textures and colours—of cypress and pine trees, of red and ochre-coloured walls— combined with the smells of citrus flower and the sounds of birds and occasional running water, give a fleeting sense of the tranquillity, elegance and beauty of this area which was so repeatedly commented on by visitors from overseas in past centuries. A number of the churches in the area—many with unusual epithets—are signposted: Aghios Giorgios ‘Ghiazou’, Panaghia ‘Kokorovilia’, Panaghia ‘Syriotissa’ etc. All date from the 19th century and most were restored after the earthquake of 1881: the exteriors have nothing Byzantine in their design and are prevailingly western in form, but the lavish—often baroque— decoration of the interiors, with an ostentatious display of gold leaf, is nonetheless of Orthodox layout. What unites all the architectural elements of this area is the distinctive ‘poros’ stone, richly coloured by the presence of iron oxides. The quarries—ancient in origin and still in use today—which lie in the hills between Thymiana and Karfas, produce a stone which varies in colour from an ochre orange, through all shades of pinks and reds, to a deep magenta, depending on exactly where in the quarry the stone is cut.

 

Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Chios town and the Kampos area. The Kampos.


Random information you might what to know about Chios Island
Medieval Genoese watchtowers
Portasanta marble-quarries

 

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