Watchtowers on Chios

The long rugged coastline of Chios has a protective girdle of watchtowers. They are almost 50 in number and punctuate the island’s promontories regularly in a complete circuit. Many survive in good condition, especially in the west and southwest of the island. A number of these towers, referred to as vigles or phriktories, are Byzantine in origin, but the majority date from the Genoese occupation of the 14th and 15th centuries. The organisational thoroughness of the Genoese has been noted elsewhere in this chapter; this went beyond the political and commercial structures which they created for the island’s economy and administration, and was underpinned by a formidable military security system of which the towers were an integral part. This was an expression of the value they set upon their possession of Chios—its strategic position in trade with the Orient and the Black Sea, and its unique production of mastic—a market the Genoese were set on monopolising.
The walled and fortified villages of the Mastic area, the chief fortress at the port of Chios, the critical look-out points over shipping routes, such as Avgonyma and Anavatos, and the coastal signalling towers or vigles, were all part of an integrated defence system of impressive design. In this strategic chess-game, the vigles were the front line of defence—the pawns on the board: their form is somewhat similar. They are the descendants of the Hellenistic towers, such as that at Drakanon on Ikaria—only they are constructed in rough stone rubble bound in mortar, rather than in ashlar masonry. Their strength was increased by the fact that they were solid to at least half their height. For this reason the only aperture—a cross between a door and a window—was rarely lower than 6 or 7m above ground level. This meant that access to the interior was only by rope-ladder and grappling hook. Only a small garrison of three or four men was needed to man the towers whose job was to relay messages by pigeon or fire signals; this related principally to any approaching danger, such as pirates or enemy forces; but it also importantly included giving vital notice to the markets of the main city of the arrival of commercial vessels of Genoese ownership.


Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Chios. The NW of the Island. Watchtowers on Chios.

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