One of the significant islands of the Aegean, Chios is the island most famous for Masticha, a unique product that grows only in its southern part, the fragrant plain with its citrus trees and its imposing villas, the Captains and the shipowners and the impressive rocket war at Vrontados between the two churches of the village during the Resurrection of Christ on Holy Saturday.
On Wednesday morning when I arrived on the island, the first place I was curious to see was Mastichohoria. They are about 40 minutes away by car. The first stop was Pyrgi. The village is known for its special decoration on the exterior plaster of the houses, using the "Ksisto" (scratch) method. Their walls are full of geometric shapes, which are made by scratching the plaster on the outside, with forks.
After a few tsipoura (greek strong alcohol, similar to Vodka, made from grapes) in the village square, I took off for the Monastery of "Nea Moni", which is a UNESCO-listed monument and was built in 1042 AD. This monastery is located close to Chios town, so it was a good stop before returning to the base.
It was really a special and very beautiful monastery and I was impressed by its famous mosaics and the room with many human skulls from the victims of the 1822 massacre. You can make nice strolls around the monastery's yard if you also enjoy the mountains, not only the beaches.
I then paid a visit to the castle village of Anavatos, a short distance west of Chios Town. Approaching this village is very impressive, as it is built on the top of a mountain and really gives you the feeling that you are part of a medieval-themed movie. Unfortunately, the castle is now abandoned, except for a cafe serving visitors and a single permanent resident Smaragda Papastylianou. I met her in the village church, Taxiarhis, while she was doing some maintenance work at the church and took some pictures.
I had decided to spend Good Friday, the day of the Epitaph in Pyrgi. My basic criterion for this day is the architecture of the place since the Epitaph is carried around in every village in Greece. Therefore, I try to find places with interesting backgrounds for my photos.
So I visited the village early in the morning and as it turned out it was a wise decision since on the morning of Good Friday the people visit the church to worship the Epitaph and then most of the people of the village are present in the cemetery to commemorate the deceased.
I had lunch in the central square and then sat at another place for a coffee. It was still too early and I had at least four to five hours before the Epitaph would come out. Fortunately, I met some locals and so I learned that there is only one priest for several villages and that he would start the Epitaph earlier to be able to do the liturgy in every one of them. The first village would be Patrika.
I thought it would be a good idea to go and take a look since I hadn't been to that village yet and I had several hours to spend anyway. So I did. Patrika is a very beautiful village, one of the Mastichochoria, and has several old buildings, many of them abandoned. I had a quick stroll around the village to see the place, and there I found a lady sweeping her front porch, who told me that the Epitaph would come out at around four in the afternoon. The time was only two, so I had some time for a power nap in the car since I was a bit tired from waking up too early in the morning.
At four, the Mass had begun in the church of the village and around half past, the Epitaph went out on its litany.
Once the Epitaph came back to the church, I immediately returned to Pyrgi. Soon after the night fell and the Mass of the Epitaph began. People kept coming in and by the time the Epitaph was about to come out the place was totally packed, both inside and outside the church.
The central square, which was full of tables from local cafes and tavernas, empty at noon, was now full of people and it was very difficult to find even a chair to sit. The village has two Epitaphs that go out on litany and meet at some point in the village.
So I followed the Epitaph around the whole village until I returned to the church and then I went to a table that I found after a long time with my company and had a few drinks and mezedes (Greek tapas). The atmosphere was very beautiful because the whole village was gathered and many had come from all corners of Greece and abroad to spend the holidays in their hometown.
The following morning I woke up at my base in the village of Vrontados. It is a seaside village, a few kilometres north of Chios Town. It was Holy Saturday, the day which, at midnight, during the Resurrection of Christ, the rocket war between the two churches of the village, Panagia Erethiani and St. Markus takes place.
I definitely wanted to meet at least one group of rocketeers so I can get better access during the evening. So I started early in the morning by going to Panagia Erethiani and trying to find my way around it, maybe by finding a café nearby or getting to know someone who would advise me.
Unfortunately, there was no one around the church. Only the janitor told me about how the rocket war is going on and how the two teams are set up. Between the two churches, there is a small ditch that separates them. The groups are set on opposite sides, one just below the church of St. Markus and the other opposite a little more right to the Erethian one. So I thought I would go down the ditch and go around these two locations. Maybe somebody prepares for the evening who could give me some more information.
As I walked down the ditch and reached its base, I suddenly found myself in a "secret" garden with some shacks and storage areas, and a large table set with plastic chairs. There were quite a lot of people who made preparations. It was the one group of rocketeers!
As soon as we crossed paths, I told them who I was and what I was doing and they invited me to sit with them at the table at the feast and so I found myself eating and drinking with the team of Panagia Erethiani.
The evening was one of those that stay with you for the rest of your life. The two teams had been set up and shortly before the rocket war had begun they had brought the rockets to nearby warehouses, built for that purpose.
I went around both sides since after some time the war stops for the people to be able to go to church. They have approximately an hour and a half window, and after that, they have to be fortified on their side of the barbwire-protected churches. During rocket warfare, of course, it is not very smart to move around unprotected places. Of course, the rockets can not kill you, but they fly at very high speed and of course, they can even cause you a serious burn.
Most visitors choose to watch the battle at high points that oversee both churches and are far away from the danger zone. The younger people get their drinks and go with their companions to watch the spectacle from above.
Easter Sunday passed with music and a lot of food. For that, I chose Mesta, perhaps the most famous of the Mastichohoria. There was live music almost everywhere around and, of course, Easter lamb was roasting.
It's one day I usually do not bother making images because there is little photographic interest and since I was with friends I decided to enjoy food and wine and good company.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, I would pick up my camera once more because I learned that in the seaside village of Katarraktis there is a litany that starts from the Monastery of Panagia in Rohouni and goes through the village where it spends the night, to return to its base in the next morning.
So I found myself in the village to follow the procession where it was the last event I attended in Chios. A nice closure with many rifle shots from the rooftops of the village.
Chios is a very beautiful island that left me with pleasant memories and a lot of inspiration to come back and make images of the cultivation of Masticha but also for the wonderful, fragrant plain with its citrus trees and its old villas, which have little to envy of Tuscany.