West of Pyrgi and spread low in the floor of a wide valley is the quieter village of Olympi (31km from Chios; 7.5km west of Pyrgi), which like Pyrgi was laid out in its present form in the 14th century by the Genoese. There is no access into its squat, fortress-like form from the south and east sides; the main entrance is once again in the north walls, by way of a monumental gateway which preserves its original stone frame. From here the cobbled street leads under a passage decorated with xysta to the central square, where the rectangular fortress-tower has survived to a substantial height. Even though it is the centre of the settlement, there is deliberately no axial access to it. To the north of the tower are the churches of Aghia Paraskevi and of the Taxiarches—simple, low and roofed with schist tiles. The former, which appears to be built over a burial site or ossuary, may predate the Genoese rebuilding of the town: the date of 1742 inscribed over the door refers to a later restoration of the church which included the addition of the carved wooden iconostasis.
Ancient Phanai and Olimpi Cave
A short distance east of Olimpi, a road branches south towards the coast, and leads after 5.5km to Olimpi Cave (open daily, except Mon, May 11–5; June–Oct 10–8). Discovered as recently as 1985, this is a small cave between 60 and 70m in depth at certain points, with particularly fine ‘filegree’ stalactite and stalagmite formations (still actively forming) of a prevailing, yellowy-reddish hue. A small natural entrance lets sunlight in from above. The cave is estimated to be approximately 150 million years old. A kilometre below, the road ends at the church of the Aghia Dinami, beside a ruined mediaeval watchtower overlooking a protected inlet of turquoise water.
At a junction along the same road and approximately mid-way between Olimpi and the Cave (approximately 3km from each), a track leads off, almost parallel and slightly to the east, to Phana, the site of Ancient Phanai (also accessible by 5.5km of partially metalled road, directly from Pyrgi). As the track begins to approach the shore, a spring-house to the left which incorporates some finely-drafted pieces of classical masonry already gives an intimation of an ancient presence in the area. The archaeological site, first systematically explored by the British School of Archaeology and currently still under excavation, is 100m further on beside the chapel of Aghios Theodoros (marked on some maps as ‘Aghia Markella’) which is built over site of the temple of Apollo Phanaios. This was primarily a place of cult, not an inhabited settlement; what is to be seen at the site gives little sense of the size, importance and longevity of the sanctuary, where finds from the Geometric period attest the worship of Apollo from as early as the 9th century bc. The name ‘Phanai’, cognate with ‘φαίνειν‘ (‘to appear’), suggests that the origin of the cult was a divine epiphany of some sort. As so often, there are many successive strata to the site. The peribolos of the earliest Geometric sanctuary (1), of which vestiges survive, was first replaced by an early 6th century bc, Archaic (2) perimeter wall constructed in irregular blocks of limestone. Not long after, in the later 6th century bc, it was rebuilt in a large, regular, interlocking style of masonry (3), a section of which can be seen some way in front and below the west of the modern church, to the side of the track as it climbs up from the shore. The foundations and the corner of the platform of the temple from this period can be seen to the northeast of the church. (The tiny silver-gilt figurine of a helmeted warrior in the Archaeological Museum, which was found here, relates to this period, as do the many fine 6th century bc architectural fragments displayed in the collection.) This Archaic temple was perhaps destroyed in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Ionian revolt of 494 bc, and rebuilt at least once (4) in the late 5th or early 4th century bc. It is from this period that the beautiful masonry, visible to the south and east of the church by the road, dates. These are mostly blocks in a bluish-grey limestone with rustication and precise double-drafting at the edges. A single column base, in a different white marble, lies nearby, with a design of concentric horizontal flutes or channels similar to that found at the temple of Hera on Samos . Finally, an Early Christian church (5), the foundations of whose apse are visible to the east of the present church, was constructed here from the stones of the temple. The story ends somewhat bathetically with the modern chapel (6) of Aghios Theodoros, whose apse conserves a small, carved capital as its altar table. The shoreline has in all probability receded; the pagan temple would have stood on a high terraced platform, directly above the water of a deeper inlet of the sea, from which flights of steps (visible in places) would have given access to the sanctuary. The site is particularly peaceful and atmospheric in the evening light. In May the dunes of the beach are home to the Holy Orchid, Orchis sancta. Amongst the birds that frequent the undisturbed, mixed habitats here are the Little Bittern, Water Rail, and—easier to spot, though elusive—the Kingfisher. (End of detour.)
Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Southern Chios and the Mastic Villages. Olympi.
Archaeolgical Museum of Chios
Mastic tree and products