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Vrontados & the Kardamyla Valley
Along the shore to its north, the town of Chios blends seamlessly into the area of Vrontados, which had already become a seaside retreat for Chiots who wanted the luxury of a villa in a garden close to the shore, by the time the arrival of refugees from Smyrna and Asia Minor in 1923 began to swell its borders. Suburban spread outside of the main town of Chios, between the 15th and the 19th centuries, had always been towards the south into Kambos; then, at the start of the 20th century, it moved towards the north here at Vrontados—favoured by the beautiful setting between the steep slope of Mount Aipos and the sea, and by clearer waters for bathing, freshened by the prevailing north-south current of the sea-channel.
The shore-line road passes the bronze statue and memorial to the Lost Sailor, by Thanassis Apartis (1899– 1972). Apartis was from Smyrna, on the coast opposite, and, like his contemporary from Andros, Michalis Tombros, studied and worked extensively in Paris early in his life.
Vrontados ends, to the north, at the mouth of a ravine: at this site, between mountain and torrent and sea, a sanctuary to Cybele was established perhaps as early as the 6th century bc. Its remains are known as the Daskalopetra, or ‘Teacher’s Stone’, sometimes just referred to as ‘Homer’s Rock’ because it was long considered to be the spot where Homer taught his pupils the poet’s art. The predominantly Ionic nature of the mixed dialect of Homer’s epics has always been taken to suggest the poet’s origins in this part of the Greek world, and Chios and Smyrna (modern Izmir) on the mainland opposite have traditionally had the strongest claims to have been his birthplace.
What the visitor sees here is an outcrop of limestone whose upper surfaces have been fashioned by hand into a terrace; in the middle of this is a roughly cuboid protrusion of the bedrock—originally a throne—on whose sides the very eroded reliefs of lions and (at the four lower corners) lions’ claws can just be perceived. The throne faced due east; the knob of stone in the middle of the east face probably corresponds to the knees of the seated divinity. To one side, a raised lip of rock has been fashioned into the form of a long stone bench. The wild setting of the gorge, the overhanging mountains, the torrent and the shore, all combine to make a site typical of such ancient sanctuaries; the rock protrusion was the altar, and the bench, a defining part of the ritual area frequented by celebrants. The lion reliefs help to identify the cult as that of Cybele, the great mother-goddess of Anatolia—mistress of wild nature, which was symbolised by her ever-present attendant lions. Cybele, who was later associated with and integrated into the Hellenic pantheon as Demeter, was widely honoured on Chios, and this may have been one of her principal sanctuaries. Archaeological finds from this area (now in the museum in Chios) of votive offerings and inscriptions confirm the identity of the cult: it took place in the open air, and often involved ecstatic states, inducing prophetic rapture and insensibility to pain. Cybele’s strong presence on the island is witness to the rich cross-fertilisation of different cults between east and west in the early historic period in this part of the Aegean.
After a stretch of inhospitably rocky coast, the deep inlet and attractive waterfront of Langada (15km) come into view, with fertile land behind and around. Ancient inscriptions and archaeological soundings have shown that in the north area of the bay was the sanctuary of Apollo Delphinios and Artemis Delphinia. It was in this bay, following the revolt of Chios against Athens in 412 bc, that the Athenians fortified their position after the capture of the island of Oinousa and maintained a constant presence up until 406 BC.
A year-round water-taxi service runs between Langada and the islands of Oinousses (4 nautical miles to the east in the channel between Chios and Turkey; see below pp. 137–149). Inland of Langada a steep, cemented track climbs up through the village of Agrelopo to the deserted settlement of Kidianta, set in a valley to one side of a bare and impressive gorge. The village was a stronghold of the islanders’ resistance to the German occupation during the Second World War. Beyond Kidianta, the track climbs further onto the bleak rock plateau above, with views across Oinousses and far into Turkey. On the saddle (c. 2km beyond Kidianta), dominated by a flat-topped tor to the east, scattered masonry and ancient remains have been located, which are believed to correspond to the site of Ancient Koila.
At 22km from Chora, the main road descends into the * valley of Kardamyla, one of the island’s most attractive corners with a long and little-explored history. Apart from the references to ‘Koila’ and ‘Kardamyle’ in Herodotus and Thucydides, there is epigraphic evidence of the cult of Zeus Patroos in a forested grove on Mount Pelinnaion above the town, as well as of Dionysos Actaios, of Aphrodite Kytheria, and of Poseidon, in other parts of the territory at places yet to be pinpointed with precision. On a steep eminence directly to the south, stand the remains of the 15th century Grias Castle—essentially a small fortress, consisting of two towers of slightly differing form, linked by curtain walls and built over the site of earlier Hellenistic fortifications (accessible by foot in 45 mins from Ano Kardamyla by signed footpaths).
Recent settlement in the area is split between two nuclei— the picturesque hillside village of Ano Kardamyla above, and the administrative centre of Marmaro below, which clusters around the coastal inlet to the northeast: between the two, stretches the fertile ‘kambos’, fed by the waters that descend from Mount Pelinnaion through the upper village and into the valley. Kardamyla is predominantly mediaeval in character; from the attractive plateia, shaded by huge plane-trees, the steep, narrow streets of stone houses rise to the area of Spilia which was the original settlement here. Marmaro, by contrast, is predominantly Ottoman and neoclassical in architecture, pleasingly grouped around the deep inlet with windmills at various points amongst the houses. On the waterfront is a another bronze sculpture by Thanassis Apartis (see above)—The Unknown Sailor. The name of the settlement— meaning ‘marble’—would suggest the presence of quarries of some antiquity in the area: the peninsula of Margaritis, which closes the deep bay of Marmaro on its east side is visibly scarred with signs of the ancient extraction of a compact, opaque and fine-grained, grey-black stone, similar to the better known North African ‘nero antico’ and occurring sometimes with the browner tonality of ‘bigio morato’. From the southeastern corner of the bay, a road (unsigned turning after 1km, just before bridge) leads into the tranquil, wooded northeastern promontory of the island and up to the panoramic point of Megali Vigla, 260m above the sea (6km detour), looking over Oinousses and the Karaburnu peninsula into Turkey. Beyond the church of Aghia Irini, the track descends to a beautiful stretch of coast comprising a series of pebble coves, rocks promontories and clear water, which is good for bathing. Surface finds have suggested that the southernmost cove, Vroulidia Bay (5km), was used as a harbour in Hellenistic and Roman times.
Four and a half kilometres northwest from Marmaro is Nagos—whose name is a corruption of
naos , ‘a temple’, the 4th century bc remains of which were found during excavations (now covered) in the vicinity of the spring, to the west side of the village. The steep, densely treed slope of the mountain dropping down to the sea, run through by the waterfalls of a torrent, marks a dramatic change in landscape, announcing what is to come to the west of here. As the road rises into wilder and steeper hills, the pines give way to deciduous forest, where the abundant water, humidity and tree-cover are home to a rich flora. The yellow fritillary, Fritillaria pelinaea, whose petals have a greenish tinge towards the stem, grows here (and nowhere else in the world) in the area of the villages of Amades and Viki, and higher up the mountain slopes beneath the pine and maple trees. In the autumn, several varieties of the crocus-like Sternbergia are a common and beautiful sight. In the air above, there are always birds of prey—short-toed eagles, long-legged buzzards, and occasionally some particularly unusual species, such as the Levantine sparrowhawk, distinguishable by its pronounced dark wingtips on the pale under-side of the wings. The ravines below are full of nightingale song in the spring. The villages are isolated, densely-packed clusters of stone houses—often small towers, of the kind noted at Anavatos— built around springs and churches marked with stands of plane-trees in their central squares.
The road turns south at Kambia (47km from Chora), a village famous for its production (and festivals) of cherries: to the north, on precipitous rock-stacks in the ravine below, are the ruined castle of Oria and the precariously perched church of the Panaghia; to the west are hillsides, traced and retraced with stone walls defining an extraordinary variety of shapes across the barren rocky terrain; to the south (2.5km) the watershed is marked by the remains of a mediaeval watchtower, directly east of the peak of Mount Pelinnaion, which rises to a craggy 1,297m above. The summit is best reached by the safer route from Viki, which is marked and takes about two and a half hours each way; otherwise there is a slightly longer and shadeless route up from Spartounda (5km south of Kambia). The upper slopes of the summit are home to the beautiful mauve-blue, alpine squill, Cilla bifolia, and the elusive Campanula cymbalaria.
From Spartounda, there are expansive views of the west of the island and across the water to Psara. The surrounding landscape has re-grown with scrub vegetation after repeated fires: only the hardiest pine-trees have survived and, in consequence, have grown into solitary and massive, sculpted forms, memorials to the forests that until recently clad these slopes. At 16km from Kambia, and 2km north of the junction with the main east/west road from Vrontados to Volissos, a turning branches off the road to the west and drops down (0.5km) to the monastery of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, known as * Moni Moundon, which sits on an eminence just above the village of Dievcha. For the combination of its position with stunning views (especially at sunset), its atmospheric ruined buildings, and its unusual cycles of wall-paintings, this is one of the most interesting monasteries in northern Chios. (Outer buildings always open, though now undergoing restoration. catholicon closed; key has to be obtained from the custodian in the village of Dievcha. T. 22740 22011). Originally a late 15th century foundation, the monastery was enlarged and re-established in 1574 by a certain Iakovos Langadiotis, after which it acquired considerable importance on the island functioning as a monastic retreat and school for the Chiot aristocracy: it possessed a large and significant library. Although devastated in 1822, it was restored and re-decorated only to be abandoned finally a century later. Inside, the ruined buildings line both sides of a paved pathway which leads from the grandly domed entrance built in the 16th century, to a similar, roofed loggia in front of the west door of the catholicon.
Archival material shows that there were no fewer than three campaigns of paintings in the catholicon in the 17th and 18th centuries, the sum of which was lost in the damage wrought in 1822: the present paintings date from 1849, with restorations carried out after the earthquake of 1881. They figure many traditional images of the icon-painter’s gamut, treated with the attractive naivete of ‘folk art’. A good example is the Ladder to Heaven, in which a huddle of robed monks, encouraged by St Michael, leave the security of the cloister to attempt the precarious ladder that ascends to Heaven, while demons attempt to derail their endeavours. On the south wall is a more idiosyncratic scene—The Life of the True Monk, in which the crucified monk is flanked by Hell to one side and by the worlds of temptation and death to the other.
Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
The NW of the Island. Vrontados & the Kardamyla Valley.