Chios (Greek: Χιος, alternative transliterations Khios and Hios) is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea seven kilometers (five miles) off the Turkish coast. An eleventh century monastery of “Nea Moni”, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on the island.
Chios claims to be the birthplace of Homer, Hippocrates the mathematician, and Oenopides. Oenopion, a legendary king, is said to have brought winemaking to the island.
Chios is home to one of the biggest ship-owning fraternities in Greece, with such families as Livanos, Chandris, Los, Lemos, Pachos, Pateras, Fafalios, Frangos, Pittas, Caroussis and Xylas hailing from the island. About 60 families became international grain merchants as a result of the 19th Century diaspora, settling in Smyrna, Amsterdam, Trieste, and moved into shipping when their markets closed after World War I.
Some claim Chios is Christopher Columbus’s birthplace. Columbus said he was from the Republic of Genoa, but he never claimed he was from the city of Genoa itself. Chios was a Genoese possession at the time of Columbus birth, and ‘Columbus’ is a common surname on Chios. Furthermore Columbus appears to have known Chios very well, since he often made references to it in his journals.
Chios is the birthplace of 19th century Ottoman grand vizier Ibrahim Ethem Pasha who also had notable descendants (carrying the surname “Eldem” to this day), the most notable among these being the painter Osman Hamdi Bey.
The town of Vrontados is home to a unique Easter celebration, where competing teams of locals gather at the town’s two (rival) churches to fire tens of thousands of homemade rockets at the other church’s bell tower while the Easter service is going on inside the churches, in what has become known as rouketopolemos (“the Easter church war”).
Chios island is approximately crescent or kidney shaped, 50km long from north to south, 29km at its widest, and covers an area of 842 km² (325 sq. miles). The terrain is principally mountainous and arid, with a ridge of mountains running through the spine of the island. The largest of these, “Pelineon Oros” (1297 meters or 4260 feet) and “Oros” (1188 meters or 3900 feet), are situated in the north of the island. The centre of the island is divided between east and west by a range of smaller peaks, known as Provatas.
Chios has a current resident population of 51,936 (2001 census). It is comprised of eight of the ten municipalities in Chios Prefecture (all excepting Oinousses and Psara, which are on separate islands) and has more than 97 percent of its population. A large number of Chians have moved to the major urban centres on the Greek mainland and the island has a considerable diaspora abroad, notably in London and New York. The island is famous for its medieval villages, its scenery and good climate. Its chief export is mastic but it also produces olives, figs, and wine. Its international fame is based on the size and quality of its merchant shipping community.
Midway up the east coast lies the main population centres, the main town of Chios and the regions of Vrondathos and Kambos. Chios Town, with a population of 32,400, is built around the island’s main harbour and medieval castle. The current castle, with a perimeter of 1400m, was principally constructed during the time of Venetian and Ottoman rule; although remains have been found dating settlements there back to 2000 B.C. The town was substantially damaged by an earthquake in 1881 and only partially retains its original character.
North of Chios Town lies the large suburb of Vrontados, which lays claim as the birthplace of Homer substantiated by an archeological site known traditionally as “Teacher’s Rock” (Δασκαλóπετρα).
Directly, south of Chios Town lies the island’s airport and the region of Kambos, a large fertile plain noted for its stone mansions and walled orchards. At the southern edge of the Kambos plain lies the town of Thymianá (Θυμιανα). Thymianá is noted as the sole source of a beige-burgundy two-tone sandstone used both in the local mansions and much of the town itself. Inland lie a number of villages rising up into the central mountains culminating with the village of Ayios Georgios Sycoussis perched at the peak dividing east from west. Along the coast lies Karfas (Καρφας), a large sandy beach, which along with the nearby village of Agia Ermióni (Αγια Ερμιονη) is now the main tourist centre with a number of large and small hotels.
The south of the island is noted for the “Mastichochoria” (literally: Mastic Towns), the six villages of Mestá (Μεστα), Pyrgí (Πυργι) und Olýmpi (Ολυμποι), Kalamoti (Καλαμωτn), Vessa (βèσσα), and Elata (Ελατα), which together have controlled the production of Mastic gum in the area since the Roman period. The villages, built between the 14th and 16th centuries, have a carefully designed layout with fortified gates and narrow streets to protect against the frequent raids by marauding pirates. Between Chios Town and the Mastichoria lie a large number of historic villages including Armolia (Αρμολια), Myrmighi (Μυρμnγκι), and Kalimassia (Καλλιμασια). Along the east coast are the fishing villages of Kataraktis (Καταρρακτις) and to the south Nénita (Νενητα)
The south coast is sparsely populated with only two populated areas; the modern bay of Komi, and the ancient village of “Emporio” inhabited since 1800BC, and the site of a the black volcanic beach of “Mavra Volia” believed to have been created by the explosion of Santorini island in 1600BC.
The west coast, between the deep natural harbour of Limenas at the south and the town of Vrondathos at the north, forms a crescent shaped series of almost uninhabited rocky bays. The nearest population centres being the two hillside villages of Lithi and Sidirounta, while further inland lie the villages of Elata, Vessa, Avgonyma and the deserted village of Anavatos. Although sparsely populated, the west coast has a system of stone beacons built at regular intervals to signal the approach of ships and warning the islander against the frequent invasions by pirates.
The north of the island contains two substantial villages: Volissos on the west coast, and Kardamyla on the east. Further to the north, are three villages that are renowned for growing cherries; Amades, Viki and Kambia. These are the only villages on the island that grow cherries. Kambia in June has an annual festival named “Giroti Ton Kerrasion” – Cherry Festival. Kambia has many festivals during the summer months. It is one of the most attractive villages in the north part of Chios. Another village worth visiting in the north-western part of the island is the beautiful village of Kourounia that lies 20km north of Volissos.
Directly in the centre of the island, between the villages of Avgonyma to the west and Karyes to the east, lies the 11th century monastery of Nea Moni, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery was lavishly built with funds gifted by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VIII, after three monks, living in caves nearby, had petitioned him while he was in exile on the island of Mytilene. The monastery had substantial estate attached with a thriving community until the infamous massacre in 1822. It was further damaged during the 1881 earthquake. In 1952, due to the shortage of monks, Nea Moni was converted to a convent. It is said that when the last nun living in Nea Moni dies, the convent will once again be transformed into a monastery.
Further south is the verdant region of Kambochoria. This is a collection of medieval villages (Halkios, Vavili, Vassileoniko, Ververato, Dafnonas, and Zifias) with a combined population of about 3,000 and an agricultural economy. The region is particularly noted for the four varieties of wild tulips that grow locally.
West of the Kambochoria on the central ridge of the island lies the 16th century village of Agios Georgios Sikousis. The village is situated 400m above sea level, strategically overlooks both sides of the island, and was previously fortified with both wall and tower.
The island’s climate is mainly Mediterranean, with average temperatures ranging from 27° in the summer to 11° in January. Cold winter temperatures can sometimes be encountered in higher elevations.
Archaeological research on Chios has found evidence that the island has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic era. The primary sites of research for this period, have been cave dwellings at Hagios Galas, in the north, and a settlement and accompanying necropolis in modern-day Emporeio at the far south of the island. The lack of information on this period however, cannot be overstated and theories on the size and duration of these settlements have not been well established.
The British School of Athens excavated the Emporeio site from 1952-1955 and most of our current information comes from these digs. The Greek Archaeological Service (G.A.S.) has been excavating periodically on Chios since 1970, though much of their work on the island remains unpublished.
The noticeable uniformity in the size of houses at Emporeio is what primarily drives scholar’s theory that there may have been no serious social distinction during the Neolithic on the island, the inhabitants instead all benefiting from agricultural and livestock farming.
It is also widely held by scholars that the island was not occupied by humans during the Middle Bronze Age (2300 – 1600), though researchers have suggested recently that the lack of evidence that exists during this period may only demonstrate the lack of excavations on Chios and the northern Aegean.
By at least the eleventh century BC the island was ruled by a kingdom/chiefdom, and the subsequent transition to aristocratic (or possibly tyrannic) rule occurred sometime over the next four centuries. Future excavations may reveal more information about this period.
Pherecydes, native to the Aegean, wrote that the island was occupied by the Leleges, aboriginal Greeks themselves reported to be subject to the Minoans on Crete. They were eventually driven out by invading Ionians.
Chios was one of the original twelve member states of the Ionian League. As a result, Chios, at the end of the 7th century BC, was one of the first cities to strike or mint coins, establishing the sphinx as its specific symbol. A tradition it maintained for almost 900 years.
By the fifth to fourth centuries BC, the island had grown to an estimated population of over 120,000 (two to three times the estimated population in 2005), and based on the huge necropoli at the main city of Chios, the asty, it is thought the majority lived in that area.
In the decades immediately preceding Macedonia‘s domination of the Greek city states, Chios was home to a school of rhetoric which Isocrates had opened, as well as a faction aligned with Sparta. After the Battle of Leuctra, many supporters of the Lacedaemonians were exiled. Among the exiled were Damasistratus and his son Theopompus, who had received instruction from the school and went on to study with Isocrates in Athens before becoming a historian.
Theopompus moved back to Chios with the other exiles in 333 BC after Alexander had invaded Asia Minor and decreed their return, as well as the exile or trial of Persian supporters on the island. Theopompus was exiled again sometime after Alexander’s death and took refuge in Egypt.
During this period, the island also had become the largest exporter of Greek wine, which was noted for being of relative high quality. Chian amphoras, with a characteristic sphinx emblem and bunches of grape have been found in nearly every country that the ancient Greeks traded with from as far away as Gaul, Upper Egypt and Eastern Russia.
During the Third Macedonian War, thirty-five vessels allied to Rome, carrying about 1,000 Gaulish troops, as well as many Gaulish horses, were sent by Eumenes II to his brother Attalus.
Leaving from Elaea, they were headed to Phanae, planning to disembark from there to Macedonia. However, Perseus’s naval commander Antenor intercepted the fleet between Erythrae (on the Western coast of Turkey) and Chios.
According to Livy, they were caught completely off-guard by Antenor. Eumenes’ officers at first thought the intercepting fleet was friendly Romans, but scattered upon realizing they were facing an attack by their Macedonian enemy, some choosing to abandon ship and swim to Erythrae. Others, crashing their ships into land on Chios, fled toward the city.
The Chians however closed their gates, startled at the calamity. And the Macedonians, who had docked closer to the city anyway, cut the rest of the fleet off outside the city gates, and on the road leading to the city. Of the 1,000 men; 800 were killed, 200 taken prisoner.
After the division of the Roman Empire 395AD, Chios was for many centuries under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. This came to an end when the island was briefly held (1090-97) by Caka Bey, a Turkish emir in the region is Smyrna during the first expansion of the Turks to the Aegean coast. However the Turks were driven back from the Aegean coast by the 1st crusaders, and the island reverted to Byzantine rule.
This relative stability was ended by the sacking of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade (1204) and during the turmoil of the 13th century the island ownership was constantly affected by the regional power struggles.
After the 4th crusade, the Byzantine empire was divided up by the Latin emperors of Constantinople with Chios nominally became a possession of the Republic of Venice. However, defeats for the Latin empire resulted in the island reverting to Byzantine rule (1225). The Byzantine rulers had little influence and through the treaty of Nymphaeum, authority was ceded to the Genoese (1261). At this time the island was frequently attacked by pirates and by (1302-1303) was a target for the renewed Turkish fleets. To prevent Turkish expansion, the island was reconquered and kept as a renewable concession, at the behest of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II, by the Genoan Beneto A Zacharia (1304), then admiral to Phillip of France. Zacharia installed himself as ruler of the island, in the short-lived Lordship of Chios. His rule was benign and effective rule remained in the hands of the local Greek landowners. Beneto Zacharia was followed by his nephew (Benedetto II) and then son (Martino). They attempted to turn the island towards the Latin and papal powers, and away from the predominant Byzantine influence. The locals still loyal to the Byzantine empire, responded to a letter from the emperor and, despite a standing army of a thousand infantrymen, a hundred cavalrymen and two galleys, expelled the Zacharia family from the island (1329) and dissolved the fiefdom.
Local rule was brief. In 1346, a Chartered company or Maona (the ‘Maona di Chio e di Focea’) was set up in Genoa to reconquer and exploit Chios and the neighbouring Phocaea in Asia Minor. Although the islanders firmly rejected an initial offer of protection, the island was invaded by a Genoese Fleet, lead by Simone Vignoso, and the castle besieged. Again rule was transferred peacefully, as on 12th of September the castle was surrendered and a treaty signed with no loss of privileges to the local landowners as long as the new authority was accepted.
The Genoese being interested in profit rather than conquest, controlled the trade-posts and warehouses in particular the trade of Mastic, alum, salt and pitch. Other trades such as grain, wine oil and cloth and most professions were jointly run with the locals. After a failed uprising in 1347, and being heavily outnumbered (less that 10% of the population in 1395), the Latins maintained light control over the local population, remaining largely in the town and allowed full religious freedom. In this way the island remained under Genoese control for an unprecedented two centuries.
By the middle of the 15th century, Asia Minor and the surrounding islands had fallen under Ottoman rule, however the Genoese families managed to maintained control over the island through the payment of a tribune to the Sultan. By the 16th century, as Genoese power waned, trade with Genoa had died down and the local rulers assimilated into the local population. This largely independent rule continued until 1566, when with tensions rising the Sultan decided that the island could potentially be used as a base for papal attacks on Constantinople. The island was invaded by Ottoman troops without a battle and absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.
As well as the Latin and Turkish influx, documents record a small Jewish population from at least 1049 AD. The original Greek Jews, thought to have been brought over by the Romans, were later joined by Sephardic Jews welcomed by the Ottomans during the Iberian expulsions of the 15th century.
During the Ottoman rule, the government and tax gathering again remained in the hands of Greeks and the Turkish garrison was small and inconspicuous. Chios town itself however, was ethnically segregated, with the castle (Kastro) barred to the native Greeks and inhabited by Turkish and Jews.
The mainstay of the island’s wealth was the mastic crop. Chios was able to make a substantial contribution to the imperial treasury while at the same time maintaning only a light level of taxation. The Ottoman government regarded it as one of the most valuable provinces of the Empire. However during the later Ottoman rule taxation increased as the
When the Greek War of Independence broke out, the island’s leaders were reluctant to join the revolutionaries, fearing the loss of their security and prosperity. However, in March 1822, several hundred armed Greeks from the neighbouring island of Samos landed in Chios. They proclaimed the Revolution and launched attacks against the Turks, at which point many islanders decided to join the struggle.
In revenge, the Sultan ordered a massacre of the islanders. Depicted by Eugène Delacroix in his famous artwork at The Louvre, the Ottoman massacre of Chios massacre expelled or annihilated 5/6 of the 120,000 Greek inhabitants of the island. Wiping out whole villages and even affecting the valuable Mastichohoria, the mastic growing villages in the south of the island. It triggered enormous public outrage in Western Europe, as can be seen in the art of Delacroix, and in the writing of Lord Byron and Victor Hugo.
Further misfortune struck the island in 1881, when an earthquake, estimated as 6.5 on the Richter scale, damaged a large proportion of the island’s buildings and resulted in great loss of life (reports at the time talk of 5500-10000 dead).
Chios rejoined the rest of independent Greece after the First Balkan War (1912), however it was further affected by the population exchanges after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, the incoming Greek refugees settling in the, previously Turkish, Kastro and in new settlements hurriedly built south of Chios Town.
Chios was officially annexed from Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
During World War II, the island was occupied by the Germans (1941-44), resulting in severe deprivation for the inhabitants and the deportation of the few remaining Jewish families. Although most of the Jews had fled the island during the Turkish attack of 1822, and subsequent earthquake 1881. As of 1944, there are no Jews living on Chios.
Domestic flights From Athens are running all year round about 4-6 per day. In the summer time ? there are other flights from Thesalloniki and Rhodes 2-3 times a week
Charter flights From some major european capitals there are direct flights to Chios
Hellawings From Oslo Norway directly to Chios Greece once a week
Jet Air From Brussels Belgium directly to Chios Greece once a week
Martin Air from Amsterdam Holland directly to Chios Greece once a week
Transavia from Amsterdam Holland directly to Chios Greece twice a week
Lauda Air From Vienna Austria directly to Chios Greece once a week
You can take the boat from Pireaus once a day (twice a day in the summer) from NEL Lines or Hellenic Seaways or Kabala (operational only in the summer). There is also regular trips from Samos and Lesvos all year round. You can also come by boat from Cesme (Turkey} with a once a day all year round service.
You can bring a car using a ferry, or you can rent one on the island. Chios is a big island and if you want to get around (out of the place where you are staying you have to have wheels) you better rent a car or motorbike. You can also rent a bicycle if you are not traveling big distances.
The castle of Chios consists of an inhabited area surrounded by a large stonewall structure with various fortifications purposed to defend the enclosed population and properties against naval attack and siege. The castle of Chios is situated adjacent to the main port of Chios and it’s east side borders with the sea. The castle of Chios was constructed in the medieval period with its first construction phase having started in the 10th century by the Byzantines. The structures surviving to this day are part of later construction and expansion dated to the time when the Genoese, who maintained commercial concerns, ruled the island during the 14th to the 16th century.
The Korai Library is one of the most important in Greece, containing 95,000 volumes.
Archaeological Museum of Chios
Address: 10 Michalon Street in Chios town, Chios, Greece
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Closed: Mondays
Admission: € 2
The Archaeological Museum of Chios was constructed in 1966-1971 and covers a total area of 2500 m². 1200 m² of floor space is occupied by the exhibitions. The museum underwent renovation in 1998 and reopened in November 1999 and features a collection of antiquities from the Neolithic Era up to the Roman times excavated at the ancient sites of Emporio, Fana, Dotia, Aghio Galas and at Chios town. Many of the artifacts unearthed at the sites were dug by the British School of Archaeology. The periodical exhibition is housed on the third floor and is named “Psara in Antiquity”. It contains artifacts such as vases, gold jewelry, terracotta figurines and funeral gift items. The Psara collection was found at the Mycenaean Necropolis of Archontiki on Psara Island. Of major note is a prehistoric vase found in Emporio, dated back to the 14th century B.C., geometric amphoras found in the town of Chios, dated to the 8th century B.C. and golden leaves unearthed in a grave at the town of Chios, dated back to the Hellenistic period.
Museum of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Art of Chios
Address: 3rd Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, Chios; Tel: +30 2710 26866.
Open: Monday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Admission: € 2
The museum exhibits Early Christian, Byzantine, Genoese, Islamic and post-Byzantine periods murals; Jewish tombstones and 17th century canons.
Sacred Monastery of Nea Moni
Nea Moni (Greek: Νεα Μονη, lit. “New Monastery”) is an 11th century monastery and museum that has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located on the Provateio Oros Mt. in the island’s interior, about 15 km from Chios town. It is well known for its mosaics, which, together with those at Daphni and Hosios Loukas, are among the finest examples of “Macedonian Renaissance” art in Greece.
The monastery was built in the mid-11th century, by Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and his wife, Empress Zoe. According to tradition, it is built on the location where three monks, Nikitas, Ioannes and Iosif, miraculously found an icon of the Virgin Mary, hanging from a branch of myrtle. At that time, Constantine was exiled in nearby Lesbos, and the monks visited him and told of a vision according to which he would eventually become emperor. Constantine promised to build a church if this should come to pass. Indeed, in 1042, Constantine became emperor, and in gratitude began constructing the monastery, dedicated to the Theotokos. The main church (the katholikon) was inaugurated in 1049, and the complex finished in 1055, after Constantine’s death.
The monastery was early on endowed with privileges: in a chrysobull of July 1049, Constantine Monomachos granted the monastery the head tax of all Jews of the island of Chios, and set the monastery apart from any superior ecclesiastic or secular hierarchy. As a result of land grants, tax exemptions and other privileges granted by successive emperors, the monastery prospered during the Byzantine period. Over the centuries, the monastery amassed substantial riches and became one of the wealthiest monasteries in the Aegean. At its peak, around 1300, its estates covered one third of Chios and it is estimated that up to 800 monks belonged to it. The subsequent Genoese domination reduced its wealth, but the monastery prospered again during the Ottoman era, when it was subject directly to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and enjoyed considerable autonomy. The late 16th century traveler Samuel Purchas recounts that it had 200 monks, and that “alone in all Greece they had the right to use bells.” During the 17th century the number of monks decreased further, but recovered in the next century. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Chrysanthos Notaras, and the French priest Fourmont, who visited the monastery in 1725 and 1729 respectively, commented on the large numbers of monks, the quantity of relics preserved, and the beauty of the church and its decoration.
The monastery’s decline began only after the destruction of Chios by the Ottomans in 1822, during the Greek War of Independence. The monastery was sacked and looted, and never recovered its former glory. In 1881, an earthquake added further damage to the main church, leading to the collapse of its dome, while several other buildings, like the 1512 bell-tower, were destroyed. In 1952, due to the shortage of monks, Nea Moni was converted to a convent. According to the 2001 census, it is inhabited by only three nuns.
The monastery complex covers an area of approximately 17,000 m2 and consists of the katholikon, two smaller churches (dedicated to the Holy Cross and to St Panteleimon) the dining hall (“trapeza”), the monks’ cells (“kelia”), the reception hall or “triklinon” and underground water cistern (“kinsterna”). The complex is surrounded by a wall (the original Byzantine wall was destroyed in 1822), and in the northeastern corner stands a defensive tower, in earlier times used as a library. In addition, outside the walls, near the monks’ cemetery, there is a small chapel to St Luke.
The katholikon is the monastery’s central structure, dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. It is composed of the main church, the esonarthex and the exonarthex. The main church is of an octagonal shape, the so-called “insular” type, found in Chios and Cyprus. Although all three sections date to the 11th century, the main church suffered significant damage in 1822 and 1881, with the result that its current, rebuilt, form is different from the original. The bell tower was constructed in 1900, replacing an older one built in 1512. Originally, the remains of the three founders were kept in the exonarthex, but most of these were destroyed during the sack of 1822.
Along with the katholikon, the only remaining 11th century buildings are the partially ruined tower, the chapel of St Luke, the cistern and parts of the trapeza. The cells, most of which are in a ruined state, date to the Venetian and Genovese periods. A small museum, opened in 1992, exists to the NW of the katholikon, housed in a renovated cell. The displayed artifacts date mostly from the latter 19th century.
Daskalopetra (Homer’s rock)
Daskalopetra (Homer’s rock) is one of the island’s best known monuments associated by legend with a Homer’s school.
Agios Markos Monastery
Agios Markos Monastery is located 6 km from Chios Town. It was established in 1886 on a hill providing a breathtaking view of Chios Town and the surrounding area.