The West Coast to Aghio Gala

The main road which heads northwest from Volissos winds through a wide sandstone landscape different in vegetation from elsewhere on the island: the villages, set athwart the ravines of mountain torrents, are open and panoramic, with the curious exception of Melanios, which is huddled out of sight in a seemingly subterranean dip, at the western tip of the island. Twenty two kilometres from Volissos, the road turns into the steep valley of Aghio Gala, the site of the earliest human habitation on the island so far discovered. The village itself is built high up along the ridge of a projecting spur, with clear views to Psara across a famously windy stretch of water: the rock beneath is perforated with a network of deep caves, entered from the cliff of the gorge above the watercourse below. It is here that human settlers from as early as 6000 bc have left artefacts relating to their habitation or worship; the tiny rectangular plaque of clay, modelled and incised in the form of a man’s face—which constitutes the earliest representational find in the Chios Archaeological Museum—was found here. The combination of shelter, security and numinousness afforded by the cave has meant that cult has continued here intermittently from the Neolithic Age, into historic antiquity—from Archaic through to Roman—and on into the Christian era. Today it is the Christian buildings which are visible; the cave entrance is now closed by the 14th century church of the Panaghia Aghiogalousena (‘Virgin of the Sacred Milk’) whose apse and elongated cupola are in the typical style of late mediaeval Chios. (Generally kept locked, outside July & Aug. Key should be obtained from the guardian who lives in the square of the village above.) The church was restored early in the last century, when the Lindosware and ‘Willow pattern’ ceramic plates were immured in its exterior: the principal interest of the interior is the intricately carved iconostasis and the one remaining area of painting in the apse figuring the Virgin ‘platytera’ (with open arms). Around the church are grouped the abandoned hermitage buildings, dating probably from the 17th century. Standing entirely within the cave, reached through the church of the Panaghia, is the contemporaneous chapel of St Anne, with wall-paintings in deteriorating condition. The cave penetrates for 200m into the rock, through a series of linked chambers with active stalagmite and stalactite formation: it is probably the milky appearance of the calciferous water which moistens the upper surface of the stalactites that has given rise to the epithet of the Virgin here.
   The houses at the southern extremity of the village of Aghio Gala, beyond the rudimentary plateia, are clustered within the walls of what was obviously a tiny fortress. The steps which lead down from here to the cave and the churches pass by the ancient church of Aghios Thalelaios—a simple, early mediaeval, vaulted stone structure which incorporates in its walls a number of blocks and pieces of stone from an earlier construction. Its simple interior contains a finely-carved, early 18th century oak-wood iconostasis, which must be one of the oldest examples of this local style and craft on the island. The wall-paintings, which probably date from the 16th century, are much less well-preserved and have suffered from partial defacing (especially the eyes) during the tourkokratia: the scenes of the Life of Christ on the north side of the vault are the best preserved. Both a footpath from the valley below, and a track from a point on the main road 500m east of the village, lead southeast to the deserted hamlet of Aghios Ioannis (30 mins/2km). The homonymous church, which lies below the cluster of deserted, darkstoned houses, also has an early carved wooden iconostasis, in similar local style to that in Aghios Thalelaios.

 

Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
The NW of the Island. The West Coast to Aghio Gala.


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