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Friday, October 21, 2011

Mastihohoria Part IV: Mastihohoria through history

Out of all Mastihohoria, the ones best preserved are those that were not greatly damaged during the catastrophic earthquake of 1881: that is Pirgi, Mesta, Olimpi and somehow less Vessa, Kalamoti and Elata.

Today, those medieval villages’ town planning and architectural characteristics are still recognisable in a limited number of settlements to the South of the island.


Michael VIII Palaeologus, emperor of the kingdom of Nicaea, signed in 1261 the Treaty of Nymphaion along with Genoa’s doge of Nymphaion, with a view to reconquer Constantinople, assisted by the Italian city-state. One of the privileges he granted to the Genoans was the right to found trading posts in several towns – commercial hubs of the empire, among which Chios. It was during the Genoese Occupation (1346–1566) that the cultivation of mastiha became systematic and that 22 Mastiha villages were founded in Southern Chios. 


In case of pirate invasion, Chios had a warning system that dated from Byzantine times; but Genoans were the ones who optimized it, by building the so-called Viglas up on higher ground. A Vigla or observation post was a cylindrical building without doors, and guards went in and out from windows up high, using wooden ladders. Whenever they saw unknown ships coming nearby, they warned all neighbouring viglas by lighting fires, the others did the same to their neighbours, so the news reached the villages very quickly.


Those guards also kept an eye inland, in order to prevent mastiha’s smuggling. Manning the viglas was the obligation of each village. Indeed, in some villages, all inhabitants took turns watching for threats up on those observation posts, each staying for twenty-four hours.


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