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The sights of the island of Chios in Greece

The Nea Moni Monastery. This famous New Monastery was founded in 1042 by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monómachos, at the place where three monks under mysterious circumstances found an icon of the Virgin Mary. Mary predicted the hermits in a vision that Constantinos, Constantinos VII's son, would climb the throne of Constantinople in a short time. This Constantinos lived in exile on the island of Lesbos. The three monks visited him to tell him of the vision. He promised that if the prediction would come true he would build a monastery on the spot where the icon of the Virgin Mary was found. After Constantinos indeed was proclaimed the new emperor in 1042 the construction of the Nea Moni monastery began. The monastery was given countless privileges by the emperor and became one of the richest monasteries in Greece. That wealth more or less ended in 1802 when the monastery had to pay a big penalty to the Turkish rulers after two Turkish women had converted to Christianity. The Nea Moni Monastery was forced to sell the land that they owned.

The architecture and the applied mosaic and painting techniques are typical of the "Renaissance" of the 11th century, the official imperial court art of the Macedonian dynasty. At the entrance of the monastery is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, with a portion of the skulls and bones of 600 monks and 3,500 women and children that were massacred after their refuge here during the horrors of 1822 when the Turks almost butchered the entire population of Chios and sold other inhabitants as slaves. Many monks were killed and the monastery complex was set on fire. An earthquake in 1881 brought more damage to the monastery. The dome collapsed and the mosaic floors were badly damaged. The floor mosaics that can still be seen in the monastery are among the most important examples of Byzantine art that was made in the 11th and 12th century. These mosaics have been a gift from the Byzantine emperor. The murals that were on the walls and the domes that collapsed are gone (except for a very small part). The central dome once portrayed the image of the Virgin Mary and eight martyrs. However, there are still mosaics on the walls that tell of saints and of the betrayal of Judas.

Nea Moni monastery is situated 13 miles west of Chios Town and is open daily (but closed between 13.00 and 16.00). The ride to the monastery through the deserted mountain landscape is impressive. On the last stretch to the monastery are large cypress trees along the road. Instead of the 300 monks who once lived there are now only two people. At the monastery is a museum where the treasures of the monastery can be seen (open 8.00-13.00). There is also a cemetery near the monastery (at about 200 meters away) and underneath the church there is still a crypt with thousands of skulls piled in rows.

Chios, Nea Moni Monastery & Chapel of the Holy Cross Chios, Nea Moni Monastery & Chapel of the Holy Cross Chios, Nea Moni Monastery & Chapel of the Holy Cross Chios, Nea Moni Monastery & Chapel of the Holy Cross Chios, Nea Moni Monastery & Chapel of the Holy Cross

The mastic villages. The twenty mastichochória (mastic villages) in the south of Chios owe their name to the profitable extraction resin that is produced here since the Middle Ages. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Genoese founded these villages far inland so they had some protection against invading pirates. They are all identically reinforced with corner towers. The evergreen 1 to 3m high mastic trees (Pistaccia lentiscus) on Chios separate an aromatic resin, that before the time of petroleum-based products, gave raw materials for paint, cosmetics and drugs (for chronic cough and stomach ache). Now it is used for the production of mastic gum, toothpaste and liquor. Every summer there are about 300 tons of resin extracted from notches in the bark. When the resin then solidifies in the air itis stripped of its bark, and further dried.

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The villages are the only ones spared in the massacre of 1822. This confirms the suspicion that the massacre of Chios was held at the insistence of the harem ladies of the Sultan, that were so addicted to chewing mastic that the revolt of Chios in Constantinople made them furious: the mastic production should at all costs be safeguarded. Pyrgi is famous for its brightly colored houses, much of which are decorated with geometric motifs (xystrá), unique in Greece. Mestá is one of the best preserved mastic villages. It still has its original towers. The impressive church Taxiárchis Mesta that dates from the 19th century is the largest church on the island of Chios.

Chios, Kimisis Church in Pirgi Chios, Kimisis Church in Pirgi Chios, Kimisis Church in Pirgi Chios, Kimisis Church in Pirgi Chios, Kimisis Church in Pirgi

The deserted village of Anavatos on Chios. The village hidden in the North of Chios - the medieval Anavatos with 400 homes - is also worth a visit. You cannot see it from far away because it is built in the rocks to protect it from the Turks. Anavatos lies on top of a mountain and is only accessible from the south. Anavatos means inaccessible, and it was a refuge for the inhabitants of Chios. The road to Anavatos could not be found by people that were not inhabitants of the island. This natural protection came in handy when Anavatos was besieged by the Turks. The Turks could not find the way up and so the inhabitants of Anavatos were safe. Eventually the people of the village were betrayed and in 1822 and a terrible massacre took place. After this the village was left as good as deserted.

The road to Anavatos runs through a valley with olive and pine trees. Suddenly a rock rises up in front of you. At first glance it looks like an empty rock, but if you look closer you see the little square houses at the top. The cliff is surrounded by deep ravines and can only be reached from one side. You can park your car in the parking and walk up the stairs past the ruins of the village. Originally the village was built at this site to protect it against the Arab pirates and there were more than 400 homes and several churches. In the massacre that took place in 1822, many people jumped into the ravine. The Turks massacred the people, and put the village on fire. Some people who had escaped and fled, returned and began to rebuild the village. In 1881 during the earthquake, all houses were destroyed and the last inhabitants left for good.

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The Acropolis and the Temple of Athena at Emporio. Just before the entrance to the village of Emporio you see a sign pointing to the Acropolis of Emporio. You follow a path up and then after a bit of a climb eventually you reach the Temple of Athena, with two altars and Megaron. A Megaron is an elongated building that was used as a palace and had different rooms.

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Chios Chios Chios Chios Chios

The monastery of Panagia Rouchouniotissa and the Church of St. John Argenti in the village Kataraktis. This village lies 16 kilometers south of Chios Town. A large number of people also visit the ancient Kataraktis, which is located 2 km away. Although the village is deserted, it is particularly important because of the damaged houses and medieval Byzantine churches.

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Chios Chios Chios Chios Chios

Chios Town. The modern city of Chios Town (24,000 inhabitants) is the capital of the Greek island and department (nomos) Chios. It is located on the east coast of the island, a little higher than the ancient city with the same name (not much has remained of this old town). The Ionian colonists once chose this place because from here it was easy to sail to the Minor Asian mainland, and not because it was a good anchorage. Although the city is relatively new (few dates from before 1881), there are a number of museums and other material evidence of the eventful history of the island. Kastro (fortress) was originally a Byzantine fortress that was significantly modified by the Genoese. The area inside the castle offered the occupying Turkish a safe place to stay the following centuries. One can see the tomb of the Turkish admiral Kara Ali ("Ali Black") who commanded the massacre of 1822, he was killed when the Greek admiral Kanaris destroyed his ship. Noteworthy is the Korais library with its collection of more than 130,000 books, one of the major libraries of the Aegean islands. This library has grown around the legacy of Adamantios Korais who bequeathed his books to the island where his family originally came from.

Near the village Vrontádos (4 km north of the center) is the Daskalopetra or Teachers Rock, a rock throne with a circle of brick seats where the poet Homer possible did his teaching, but which the archaeologists prefer to recognize as a cult place for the eastern goddess Cybele. Not far away is the grave of the writer Ioannis Aris Psych.

On the outskirts of the village Vavíli (7 km south of the center), is the 13th-century Byzantine church Panagia Krina, famous for its frescoes and beautiful architecture.

© Hans Huisman, 2014
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