Chios Island, Greece.
Chios Travel Guide
Southern Chios & the Mastic villages
This itinerary follows, in clockwise direction, the loop-road southwest from Chios town, via Armolia, Pyrgi, Mesta, and back to Chora via Vessa and Chalkeio. There are three detours off the main road: (1) to Panaghia Sikelia and the area between the road and the coast at Katarraktis (east); (2) to the area of Kalamoti, Emporeio and Dotia (south); and (3) to the site of Ancient Phanai (southwest).
Twelve kilometres southwest of Chora, and 1km after passing the turning (south) for the villages of Myrmingi and Didyma, a small branch road bears left to the south towards Kalamoti, and runs along a ridge amid groves of mature mastic trees.
Just over a kilometre after leaving the main road, the ruined base of a circular tower can be seen to the left of the road, in a field. The construction, while bearing similarities (in form, diameter and position) to the many Hellenistic towers of the Aegean area, does not have the masonry typical of such buildings and probably represents the remains of a late mediaeval watchtower, designed for signalling and for the protection of the area’s valuable mastic groves. At 2.5km the picturesque ruins of the monastery of the Panaghia Sikelia come into view on a rise to the right (west).
The 13th century catholicon of the monastery survives—reroofed and virtually bare in the interior. The interest here is in the characteristic Chiot brick-decoration, which runs throughout the building, alternating with courses of stone blocks, delineating a series of blind arcades, and creating the window arches of the octagonal drum; the decorative work is most varied at the east end and northwest corner. The brick designs incorporate small, hollow, cross-shaped elements which, because of their similarity to the crimped mouth of a certain kind of water jug, are called ‘phialostomia’ (‘bottlemouths’) and were a particularly popular kind of decoration on Chios. They are made by pinching circular rings of wet clay into a cross-design before firing. They are both decorative and functional, helping to ventilate the walls.
The area to the east, between Panaghia Sikelia and the coast at the pleasant sea-side village of Katarraktis is a fertile lowland of hills and valleys given over to the cultivation of olive, mulberry (for silk production) and, above all, mastic trees. The name ‘Katarraktis’, meaning ‘waterfall’, comes from the earlier settlement now referred to as ‘Palaio Katarraktis’, which is at the head of the deep valley southwest of the modern village, at a confluence of streams and waterfalls coming down a series of small ravines. This is reached by taking the road for Pagida and Kini southwest from Katarraktis, past the rebuilt church of the Panaghia Rouchouniotissa, which sits amongst its ruined 17th century convent buildings in a hollow to the north of the road: 1km (south) after Rouchouniotissa, a left turn leads into the area of Palaio Katarraktis. The road passes Aghia Hermioni, on the edge of a narrow ravine, and descends to Aghios Ioannis Argentis, an abandoned church and monastery set amongst groves of olives and fruit trees. Only the decorated narthex of the church dates from the original 14th century structure; the rest was rebuilt in the 17th century and subsequently abandoned. Fragments of the marble templon, and a discarded millstone, remain as testimony of its former activity. There are a great many rural, stone churches in this area and the scattered villages conserve a number of fine stone houses of the 18th and 19th centuries. (End of detour)
(19.5km from Chios) is the centre for a production of decorated ceramics. One kilometre northwest of the village is the 15th century castle of Apolichnes (reached by a steep track from the north end of the village), built by Girolamo Giustiniani in 1446 as part of a systematic plan by the Genoese occupiers for fortifying and protecting the valuable southern territory of the island. The fortress, enclosed by double ramparts, was large enough to afford temporary protection to the locals in case of attack. It still preserves its Great Tower, or ‘keep’, and a number of smaller defensive and look-out towers in the walls. To the south of Armolia extends the fertile valley of Kalamoti.
A kilometre southwest of the village of Kalamoti (700m south from the southwest corner of the village, then 300m west to the top of the hill) is the solitary church of the Panaghia Agrelopousena, now deprived of the monastery buildings which must once have surrounded it. The church was a 14th century dependency of Nea Moni, but the presence of Early Christian spolia nearby and of a fine section of ancient cornice-moulding with palmette design, incorporated in the building over the west door, may indicate earlier places of worship, possibly on this same panoramic site. Although predominantly a stone structure, the brick elements which are included have been put to constantly varying designs. The simple vaulted space of the interior is animated with blind arcades along the lateral walls and the scant remains of wall-paintings: the best preserved area of 14th century paintings is in the domed narthex, where the figures of the donors of the church remain; the name of one, Irene Mentoni, is legible.
South of Kalamoti, a fertile agricultural plain extends to the coast at Komi; this is probably the oldest consistently cultivated area of Chios, which provided food for the island’s earliest settlements around the protected harbour of Emporeio at its southern extremity. The harbour is marked by a hill to the west—ideal as an acropolis— and by another, higher mountain (today’s Prophitis Elias hill) to its north and east; with a source of fresh-water in addition, directly behind the bay, the site was an obvious choice for settlement.
The importance of the ancient site of Emporeios derives from the antiquity, variety and continuity of settlement here; the excavations have also provided interesting information about early ancient dwellings. The various points of archaeological interest are spread over the whole area.
Excavations at the neck of the west promontory have revealed settlement remains beginning as early as the 5th millennium bc: no fewer than 10 subsequent phases have been distinguished by archaeologists, of which Phase III (late 3rd millennium bc) is the first to have had a strong defensive wall. Obsidian debitage is evidence that there were trading links with the Cyclades from early on. Mycenaean finds show that settlement continued until the end of the Bronze Age. When the island was re-colonised by Ionians from Histiaia on Euboea in the 8th century bc, the site they chose for settlement was not the previous one, but the slopes of the hill to the east and north instead which was to function ultimately as their acropolis. Here they constructed the sanctuary and temple of their patron goddess, Athena; while below, by the harbour, a sanctuary to Artemis was established. Between the two, stretched the inhabited town with its simple residences. Thucydides (VIII.24) appears to refer to the settlement as Leukonion. The area was populated in Roman times—when a fortress was erected on the summit of the promontory to the west of the harbour—and in Early Christian times, when the temple of Artemis was dismantled and used as a quarry to build an Early Christian basilica, whose baptismal font (still visible today) was beside the same water source which had supplied the very earliest settlements here, nearly 5,000 years before.
The road from Komi to Emporeio passes below the entrance to the Archaeological Site on the south slopes of the hill of Prophitis Elias (open daily, 8.30–7 in summer; 9–one hour before sunset in winter). First excavated and published by John Boardman and the British School of Archaeology between 1951–54, the hillside today is laid out as a manicured archaeological park with concrete walkways and suggested itineraries. The visitor encounters principally four types of architecture on the site: temple, megaron, simple dwelling, and storage-house. The focus of the ancient town was the temple of Athena, which sits at the top of the site, within a walled acropolis encompassing the summit and the southern shoulder of the hill of Prophitis Elias.
In the earliest phase (8th century bc) there was only a rectangular altar (‘Altar A’) here and a peribolos defining the sacred area. The first temple was built in the 6th century bc. It would have been a flat-roofed, rectangular building with a porch: it enclosed and covered the 8th century bc altar—the sanctuary’s most sacred spot—and housed the cult image. A new external altar (‘Altar B’) was now built for communal cult: this is the long rectangular structure placed, a short distance away, parallel to the north side of the temple—an unusual position, since altars were nearly always to be found to the east of the front of a temple. Immediately following its destruction in the early 4th century bc, the temple was rebuilt in the form visible today, this time with a pitched roof instead of the flat roof: a new altar (‘Altar C’) was created, in front of the east entrance, but at a curiously skewed angle to the temple building.
The masonry of the temple visible today has the characteristic precision of Hellenistic (4th century bc) construction. Its magnificently panoramic position is characteristic of Greek temple-sites of all periods. Inside the confines of the temple, the stone base for the cult statue can be seen in the southwest corner and the remains of the earliest, 8th century bc altar are next to it, just to the north.
From in front of the temple, what remains of the 800m circuit of walls of the acropolis can be seen flanking the ridge to east and west as they rise up to the summit. Almost contiguous with the western wall, and just north of the temple, is the megaron of the 8th century bc—a long rectangular hall, preceded by a porch supported on wooden columns whose stone bases can still be seen: this was the official residence of the ruler and would also have served as a council chamber for the elders. The lowest courses of its perimeter-wall are of massive blocks settled amongst pieces of the bedrock; on top of these, the walls are made of smaller stone pieces. They would have been finished with plastered mud-brick at the top, and covered with a flat roof, supported on a line of three central wooden columns. On the slopes of the hill below the walls, a number of houses of great simplicity have been uncovered: mostly single-chambered dwellings with a stone bench along the walls for sleeping, sometimes a semiinterred storage area and a single threshold giving on to an external courtyard, often shared by more than one such house. In the southwest corner, one building distinguishes itself by its unusual circular form (c. 5.2m in diameter) and by the presence of a storage jar beside the door: this may represent a communal storehouse. The humble simplicity of every construction here is striking.
A short distance (40–50m) up the road that rises to the west of the harbour, a signed track leads (right) into a field below some modern houses where there are the remains of a late 6th century ad Palaeochristian basilica and baptismal font. The cruciform font, still with its marble revetment of the steps leading down into the pool, is protected by a modern circular stone structure. To the east of this, and now much overgrown, are traces of the basilica to which the baptistery was adjoined; a deep apse with mosaic pavement can be distinguished. The area is full of finely-worked masonry and architectural decorations taken from ancient buildings by the port and incorporated randomly in the foundations and walls of the basilica. The road continues up over the hill to the southwest of the harbour and drops down almost immediately to the ‘Black Beach’ of Mavra Volia Bay where, between the sea and ochre-coloured cliffs behind, an extraordinary volcanic strand of evenly sized, black pebbles stretches for a good hundred metres. A different variety of colours, no less unusual, are to be seen at the bay of Phoki, 300m by path to the south along the shore.
On the Emporeio to Pyrgi road (1.2km northwest of Emporeio), a turning back to the south leads to the Genoese tower of Dotia (2.2km) which constituted the impressive, central keep of a fortified settlement in the midst of a wide area of mastic trees. At the centre of the villages of Mesta and Pyrgi there are similar towers, suggesting that Dotia, too, would have been a similar but smaller mediaeval village: although most is now rubble, the walls and corner bastions of the surrounding settlement are still visible. The tower itself, which stands to almost 20m in height and shows vestiges of three interior floors supported by brick vaults, is similar in design and material to the Genoese towers on the north coast of Samothrace which also date from the first years of the 15th century. The tower here is slightly larger and has greater elegance in the slight talus at its base. Like its predecessors, the Classical and Hellenistic towers of the Aegean, it was a multi-purpose construction, providing protection for agricultural land and, at the same time, functioning as a look-out and signalling tower.
The road back north from Dotia leads through undulating hills covered with mastic groves towards the most famous of the so-called ‘Mastic Villages’, Pyrgi (7km), where the main loop-road from Chora is rejoined. (End of detour.)
Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Southern Chios and the Mastic Villages. General information.