Pyrgi

The largest and most important of the Mastic Villages— because of its central position in the area—is * Pyrgi­ (23km from Chora). The village is most vividly memorable for its idiosyncratic grey and white decorations on the façades of the houses, executed in a sgraffito technique, i.e. scraping away the outer white surface of the rendering to expose the grey pozzolana (or cement today) in predetermined geometric patterns—referred to locally as ‘xysta’, (‘scrapings’ or ‘grazings’). Although this is found elsewhere in the villages, nowhere has it reached a comparable complexity and ubiquity as in Pyrgi­. Combined with the delicate wrought-iron work of the balconies, and occasionally set off by foliage and flowers in the narrow streets, the effect is unusual and unforgettable. The ubiquitous spread of the elaborate decoration is a recent phenomenon, dating from the turn of the last century; but its origins almost certainly go back to mediaeval Genoa, where it was used sparingly on the fronts of patrician houses.
   The town originally had one principal entrance—a gateway on the north side, which is the most appropriate way to approach the town. Ahead is the central plateia, grouped around the large, modern church of the Koimisis tis Theotokou. To the south, at the highest point of the town is the three storey ‘pyrgos’ or ‘Great Tower’, now partially ruined and lower than its original imposing height; it stands at the heart of the town, with an empty ‘cordon sanitaire’ around, which separates it from the dense network of streets beyond. This was the refuge in case of attack, and was originally entered by a wooden bridge which was then removed and pulled inside.
   One of the island’s loveliest and most important churches—the 14th century * church of the Aghii Apostoli— is entered down an arched alley off the east side of the central square. (Open daily 8.30–3 except Mon.) The approaching passageway allows only a confined and focused view of its striking west front: the beautiful masonry of the walls, with each stone-block carefully framed by brick tiles; the classical marble door-frame with carved decorations, surmounted by an arched niche of the same size above—now deprived of its painting, but still preserving the delicate border of phialostomia (tiny open crosses of terracotta) which surrounds it; and the magnificent drum and cupola which rises as high again above, with undulating eaves, decorative brick dentils, and broad window-frames composed of concentric arches of brick patterns. Like the Panaghia Krina, this is deeply influenced by the architecture and design of the catholicon at Nea Moni; but it is no mere copy. Its form is more compact, and its surface more decorated, but there is less of the aristocratic stylisation in its design. Since the building was renovated in 1564 by a certain ‘Simeon’, later Bishop of Chios, according to the inscription above the door, it is hard to be certain of its original date of construction: a mid-14th century date is generally agreed, but its style suggests that it may have been put up as much as a hundred years earlier. A walk around the exterior (access from either of the parallel streets to north or south) reveals the inventiveness and constant variety of the brick decoration. Inside the church is covered with wall-paintings, signed and dedicated in a panel on the north wall by the Cretan artist, Antonios Domestichos, in 1665: he was working, it might be recalled, a full two generations after his fellow islander, El Greco. The gentle but intentful face of the Pantocrator in the cupola is stylistically far in time and distance from the 11th century Constantinopolitan world of the solemn figures of the mosaics at Nea Moni.
As always with late Byzantine painting, the accent here is on narrative content and decorative pattern: this is particularly noticeable in the two memorable scenes of the Ascension and of the Harrowing of Hell on respectively the south and north walls of the crossing. The lattereniously incorporates an overlay of iconographic aspects of the Resurrection, in the open tomb and the slumbering Roman guardsmen below.
   A little over two kilometres west of Pyrgi­, along the branch-road southwest to Phana, is the tiny chapel of Aghia Marina, to the north side of the road. The modern construction is built on ancient foundations and incorporates ancient masonry in its structure: it is probably the site of a small 5th century bc sanctuary, related to the presence of the main sanctuary of Apollo Phanaios (see pp. 95–96) further southwest at the coast.

 


Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Southern Chios and the Mastic Villages. Pyrgi.

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Volissos village

 

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