Natural and human environment
Walking around the villages of Mastiha (that the locals call Mastichochoria) is the best way to get to know the medieval fortified settlements of southern Chios. No less than twenty-four villages are expecting you to discover their secrets, their unique architecture and relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss a visit to the largest ones: Pyrgi, Olympoi, Kalamoti and Mesta. As part of a well – preserved defence network, the villages of Mastiha transport us to times past.
The landscape of south Chios is very different from the north part of the island. More welcoming due to the lack of large mountains and the presence of valleys full of mastic trees, which have replaced olive trees for the most part. 25.000 acres of land are devoted to the cultivation of mastic trees. The total number of trees cultivates is more than 1.000.000.
The systematic cultivation of Chios mastic started during the Genovese rule of the island. The Genovese administration lasted for two centuries (1346 - 1566) and affected significantly the architecture and organisation of the mastiha villages. Aiming at making the most from the monopoly of the unique product, the trade of which belonged exclusively to the Genovese, they oragnised small communities in fortified settlements, hidden from the sea. All the villages of the south follow the same principles in their organisations and they are built like castle - villages.
The external walls of the houses create a defensive wall. Usually there was only one entrance to the castle, which would close with a heavy hidden door. At the corners small towers enhanced the defensive system. At the centre of the village a high tower without an entrance was used as the main defensive tower of the settlement. The houses are built from stone. The ground floor housed the stables and storing rooms. The first floor was the house of the family which was organised around an open space, called “pounti”. The houses’ roofs communicate creating an escape route towards the tower in case of an enemy attack.
Kalamoti was the administrative centre of the Mastichochoria area. The castle of Apolichna which oversees the valley of Kalamoti is part of the Genovese investment in the defense of the villages.
Today, it is apparent from walking around the village that the catastrophic earthquake of 1881 and human interventions have affected its appearance. The castle wall is not that obvious. The houses built after 1881 are influenced by the city’s architecture. There is a great variety of impressive doors and windows. Kalamoti had a very impressive and high tower.
The village has two squares the Outer and Inner plazas and it is definitely one of the most charming mastic villages.
The village of Pyrgi is one of the largest villages of the island. Boasting life all year long, it is an open air museum, as the houses are decorated with sgrafitto an Italian decorative method of black and white geometric designs. It dates back to the 11th century, but the medeval traveller Christophorus Buondelmonti defintely notes it on his map of Chios of the 14th century as a fortress. It has two gates. Part of the tower is still visible today.
Pyrgi had an extra defense zone around the Tower. Because of the houses’ unique facades, Pyrgi is one of the most famous and instagrammable villages of Greece!
Pyrgi has a lot of churches. Don’t miss a visit to St. Apostles’ church near the village square. It dates back to the 14th century and it is a copy of the Nea Moni Katholikon (main church). The colurful decorations and hagiography are the work of Antonios Domestichos from Crete in 1665.
Mesta village is one od the best examples of Chios island’s medieval architecture. It dates back to the Genovese period and has a polygon shape with small towers.
The main gate is the Captain’s Gate at the north side of the castle. The main tower was demolished in 1860 and the church of the Great Taxiarch was built. The labyrinth like arched alleys of the village take you back in time. The picturesque square is a hot spot for locals and visitors especially during the summer.
Olympoi village was created from the unification of smaller villages of the area. Here too we can see the defensive wall circling the village. The central Tower is preserved in this village.
Here the streets are labyrinth like too, and arhed. The arches operated as support system of the buildings in case of earthquakes. One of the most important churches of the village is Agia Paraskevi (1742) with an impressive woodcarve temple. The Olympoi “Trapeza” is the only public building that is preserved, but sadly it is not open for visitors. It was used to host wedding receptions and the names of the newlyweds would be printed on the walls.