Chios: The Old Man and the Tree
One of the most underrated Greek islands, Chios is nothing if not unique. With a history as diverse as any, it exists on a different realm to the rest. Its close proximity to Turkey means it is invariably singular in its make-up and traditions. The people are fiercely proud of their heritage and are known to be some of the most hospitable.
As is the case with most Greek islands, Chios has its fair share of history. This is manifested through several impressive medieval and byzantine churches and fortifications scattered throughout the isle. The island has been colonized by Ottomans, Genoese and Byzantines and has a distinct architecture to the Cyclades and Ionian islands.
Unesco World Heritage sites includes the Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas, and Nea Moni of Chios. In addition to that, the Emporio Archaeological site contains the ruins of an 8th BC settlement. The temple of Fanaios Apollo which was built in the 6th century BC also dominates interest, although the draw here is the fortified medieval village of Anavatos. Situated on top of a hill, its empty houses are reminiscent of Jericho. It is a somewhat spooky yet entrancing view that definitely lets the mind wander back in time. And if that doesn’t do it for you, look no further that the ‘Daskalopetra’ rock in the Vrontados village. This solitary marble rock was allegedly one of Homer’s favourite teaching locations. It is said that Chios may in fact be the great poet’s original birth place, along with several other Greek cities.
Chios has charm. Its beaches are some of the best in Greece. However, the main draw in Chios is a tree: masticha. Or mastic in English. Long revered since antiquity for its healing powers, its resurgence has revitalized the island as it is primary industry. And with good reason. Hippocrates himself referred to it some 2,500 years ago as being a cure for stomach problems, colds and even bad breath.
Even though mastic trees are found all over the world, only the trees on the southern edge of the island produce the sappy tear that is painstakingly harvested. Most of the island’s invasions have resulted because it is highly coveted. There is a clear denomination of origin and the trees and villages are protected under EU law.
Nowadays, the mastic tree resin is collected by a cooperative company that locals have set up to make the process a fair one for everyone. The mastic villages are about 3 or 4 in total. They are immediately recognizable by the mysterious geometrical patterns that adorn the facades of each house in the village.
The medieval mastic villages of Pyrgi, Mesta and Olympoi are a gem unto themselves. But, add this layer of significance (and a stop at the Mastic museum) and you see why people flock to this part of the world.
Chios is mysterious and accessible all at once. The people, as always, are the real jewel here. And its why everyone keep coming back every year.