Khios is the capital and main port of the Greek island of Chios. The island is located about 5 miles off the western coast of Turkey in the North Aegean Sea.
This kidney shaped island is revered as the birth place of Homer and is the 5th. largest of the Greek Islands. Like the whitewashed buildings and alleys of the famed Cyclades Islands, most notably Santorini and Mykonos, the island and its capital, Khios, boasts its own authentic character.
One of its cultural distinctions revolves around the island’s production of mastic. This aromatic gum is created from resin from the Lentisk trees which are scattered everywhere on the island. Mastic has been a staple ingredient in cosmetics, perfumes, and medicines since Roman times. In Khios mastic is also used to flavor foods and beverages.
Much of the island’s industry from ancient times to today revolves around the Mastic trade. In fact it was so important that the island established fortified Mastic Villages throughout the 14th. and 16th. centuries to keep the industry safe.
Collectively known as Mastichochoria these 5 Mastic Villages are situated deep in the southern point of the islands. The villages are Pyrgi, Mestá, Kalamoti, Armólia, and Lithío. A visit to Khios would not be complete without a trip to at least one of these quaint little villages.
The 2 most picturesque are the Pyrgi and Mestá, each one has features unique to each village, and each are still involved in the mastic trade.
The village of Mestá was built around the 12th. Century during the Byzantine Era. The village is located about 35km from Khios and is build at a height of 120 meters. This fortified walled village protected mastic merchants from pirate raids.
The village has one way in making it much easier to defend. The narrow streets wind thru the village between shops and houses like a labyrinth. The 2011 Census showed 337 inhabitants.
The church of the Older Taxiarchi located in the center of the village was built in 1794.
A few steps from the church is the main village square. Here’s you’ll find a few restaurants and cafés with tables and chairs lined up under bright umbrellas in the square.
The streets leading from the main square host a few souvenir shops and businesses.
It’s a quiet village and a great place to spend a quite morning or afternoon if you’re looking to get away from the more crowded port of Khios. Khios is really not too crowded unless there’s a cruise ship at port, then the restaurants and bars along the main road are packed.
Pyrgi is the largest of the the Mastic Villages with a local population of 775. It is also the municipal seat of Mastichochoria.
This charming village is truly unique. Built during the 13th. century, Pyrgi boasts stunning architecture designed in the “Xysta” style. This style is a process that uses geometric framework in black and white plaster to adorn the buildings. It really is amazing.
The village’s narrow streets are lined with these intricately decorated buildings, even the underside of balconies are decorated!
The 16th. Centruy St. Apostle’s Church and bell tower are beautifully decorated inside and out.
The facade is designed in the “Xysta” style.
While the interior is richly decorated with chandeliers, guilt pulpits, and painted icons.
While visiting the church don’t forget to step out on the loggia for a bird’s eye view of the village square.
The square is surrounded by restaurants and bars with canopied tables and chairs in the center. Be sure to grab a seat and enjoy a refreshing drink or snack.
Christopher Columbus was one of the village’s famous visitors. He’s visited the village to confer with mapmakers before he set out for his grand voyage to the West Indies, that’s when history tells us he discovered the Americas instead.
One of the houses on the main street is where Columbus reportedly lodged during his stay. The Columbus crest is etched above the front door of that house.
Every where you look in Pyrgi you will be treated with one of these buildings. You can’t miss them!
When you’ve had your fill of wandering around the Mastic Villages of Mestá and Pyrgi head back to Khios for a well earned dinner. You’ll find many restaurants lining the main road by the port with bistro style seating so you can enjoy sea views.
Thanks to its coastal location Khios has an array of fresh seafood dishes. Try the local specialty “atherina, a deep fried pancake of fresh fish or shrimp with onions. Or try “tomato Kaftedes”, deep fried tomato balls.
Or better yet have my new favorite fried Mastelo! This soft white cheese is made exclusively on the island of Chios by Mr. Konstantinos Toumazos.
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