The Mastic Villages

The hilly landscape of the south of Chios is dominated by the cultivation of mastic trees, and the villages in this area were the centres of production for the gum. Mastic never was or could be a large-scale industry, but the demand was constant from Byzantine times on and its importance to Chios lay in the fact that this area of the island was the only place in the Mediterranean where the tree had been successfully cultivated and cropped. Byzantium and Italy were the principal markets for the product, later to be superseded by Turkey and the Orient. Most of the villages in this area probably have Byzantine origins, but it was under Genoese rule in the 14th and 15th centuries that they were properly organised into a community of settlements, with special administration and special architectural design so as to protect themselves from the predations of piracy. This was done with the methodical determination and pragmatism for which the Genoese were (and are) well-known. The villages, still referred to generically as the Mastichochoria, have certain features in common: they lie inland and are hidden from view from the sea; they are walled for protection; they are built around a central fortified tower, which formed the ultimate safe-refuge for the inhabitants and their precious product in case of attack; they have the tight-knit plan of narrow streets and passageways typical of the mother city of 14th century Genoa, and in which the backs of the outer ring of houses is one with the enceinte of walls. The villages’ special administrative privileges, put in place originally by the Genoese, were confirmed and enlarged when the Turks took control of the island in the 16th century; so important was the mastic trade and supply to Istanbul, that the Mastic Villages were specifically spared the gruesome Ottoman reprisals of 1822 which so badly affected the rest of the island. The Mastic Villages are canonically over 20 in number, some (Armolia and Kalamoti­) mentioned already: for the purposes of this guide, the four finest examples are looked at in particular— Pyrgi­, Olimpi, Mesta and Vessa.

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

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