The ferry docks at the harbour of Aignousa: the port is formed by a protective chain of islets to west and south, which are crowned with churches. One islet, which has a family villa to the north end, is clearly marked ‘Pateri²niso’ (‘Pateras island’), in case there should be any doubt as to its ownership. The main waterfront is remarkable for a Greek island in its lack of the customary buzz of cafes and shops; out of season, there are none. It is punctuated by several bronze statues of members of the prominent Pateras and Lemos families, as well as more symbolic memorials—to the ‘Unknown Sailor’, the Mother of Oinoussaians (1979), and the Mermaid of the Port.
In the centre of the promenade is the recently renovated Maritime Museum (generally open mornings in high season only).
This is a remarkable collection of models, cannon, nautical instruments and machinery, and a number of fine painted figureheads. There are also two cases of antiquities from Cyprus, and armaments of the 18th and 19th centuries.
An important section of the museum is the Antonis Lemos collection of over 30 models of ships, executed with great craftsmanship by French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars: many of the models are of battleships used in the conflicts between the French and British. The prisoners were taken in the period between 1793 and 1815, and were interned at Portsmouth: while in captivity they supplemented their meagre rations with this activity—at first using chicken and fish bones from the kitchens, and then, as their skills became evident, adding other materials which were provided for them, such as the cotton for the rigging. The models are not always accurate, but are intricately and finely constructed.
The other strength of the museum is the collection of more than twenty attractive watercolours by the successful and popular artist of ships and marine subjects, Aristides Glykas (1870–1940), who was a native of Chios. His intimate knowledge of ships came from his having been a mariner. His art marks the passage of taste from the world of the international professional painter of ships’ portraits to that of the local Greek, ‘folk’ portraitists. The pictures have a freshness and simplicity. They were largely done on commission, and are mostly static images; but, occasionally there are dramatic scenes such as that of the Torpedoing of the Agios Georgios in 1917 by a German submarine. Glykas used the simplest materials: glue from almonds or from fishbones for the priming of his cardboard supports and as a distemper for the simple colours. He generally used an Indian ink for the blue. Latterly he began to work with oils.
At the western end of the waterfront promenade is the Navtiko Gymnasio, or Academy of Commercial Navigation— the only non-military, nautical boarding school in Greece. From this point there is a good general view back over the Chora, which spreads attractively to one side of a cavea-shaped hollow in the hills.
The Chora is surprisingly large, and spreads substantially to the east onto the slopes of the next valley. The original settlement, founded in the mid-18th century in times of insecurity from piracy, lay higher up the hillside, 2km to the northeast, just below the ridge of the island. Only the ruins of stone habitations remain. The modern settlement is grouped around the large church of Aghios Nikolaos, an early 20th century building, lavishly decorated inside and well endowed with icons; the church functions as the ‘centre’, since there is curiously no plateia—no real heart to the town. On the climb up from the port you pass a number of fine neoclassical buildings—many abandoned—with window frames and carved architectural details in stone. On the hill to the west is the community’s cemetery—of interest for the names of the shipping families represented. There are a number of marble mausolea of different branches of the Lemos and Pateras families; but the difference in artistic quality between these and the much finer memorials in the cemeteries in Syros and Andros is marked.
Around the island
The coastal road, which leaves from beside the cemetery, passes through an area scattered with houses and signs of abandoned cultivation. The slopes of the hills facing the sea here are covered with a rich maquis of arbutus, rosemary, thyme, saxifrage, broom, euphorbia and cistus, whose colours, density and fragrance are greater because so little disturbed.
After 30 minutes (3.5km) the road rises steeply towards the north affording good views of northern Chios. At the top of the rise, the convent of the Annunciation of the Virgin (Evangelismos tis Theotokou) comes partially into view, sunk in a fold in the hills amongst pine and fir trees. The nunnery, for all its wealth, is not large or particularly showy: it is just meticulously constructed from the best materials and deliberately hidden behind manicured hedges of cypress and jasmine. Above it on the crest of the hill is a landmark cross, with the church of the Analipsi (the Ascension) just beyond; below it, nearer to the shore, are the gardens which supply the religious community. Men are not permitted entry to the convent: the author therefore is at a disadvantage in describing the interior.
The convent was built in 1962 at the wish of Katingo Pateras, grieving mother of a daughter of 20, Irini, who, after a life of genuine but precocious piety, died of cancer. Her father, Panagos Pateras, had contracted Hodgkin’s disease; it is said that Irini prayed that the disease be taken from her father and visited on her instead. The father improved or at least went into remission; the daughter fell ill; and after taking vows as a nun, she died in 1959. Three years later her body was exhumed and it was discovered that the corpse had not decayed, but rather had been preserved and desiccated by burial. Many—first and foremost, Katingo Pateras—saw this apparent miracle as a sign of her sainthood. The body of Irini is now kept in a glass coffin inside the convent built by her mother, who elected to become the community’s Abess. Panagos Pateras died in 1965.
The upper road which runs back east along the ridge of the hills, skirts the island’s summit, Voutyro (182m), with views towards the mainland of Turkey. A little beyond, after a thick stand of pines, are the remains of a small settlement in a hollow; this safer, more hidden site, is all that remains of the earlier settlement on the island, before the development of the modern port-town of Aignousa. To the east the panorama is delightful, over rolling hills which, in the middle distance, alternate with water towards the extremity of the archipelago, and finally blend seamlessly with the hills of the Karaburnu promontory and the bay of Ancient Erythraia. There are many sheltered inlets and little habitation in this gentler half of the island.