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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mastihohoria Part I : The beginning

Chios is one of the biggest islands in the North-eastern Aegean Sea and is renowned for its mild climate, its beautiful beaches and its numerous historical monuments. But above all, Chios is worldwide famous, since ancient times indeed, for its Mastiha.
Chios mastiha is an absolutely natural product, collected from the bark of mastic trees, a species that grows exclusively at the southern part of the Chios island. That is why mastiha gave its name to the medieval settlements of Southern Chios, described as “Mastihohoria” (meaning Mastiha villages).
The foundation of those settlements dates from Byzantine times, the Justignani period, and despite all kinds of damages and disasters they have gone through for so many centuries, they are still monuments of cultural heritage.
The Justignani lords (1346-1566 A.D.), well aware of the importance, the exclusivity and consequently the high price of mastiha, sought since the very beginning to acquire the absolute control and to exploit that monopolistic product in the best possible way. For that reason, they tried to protect mastiha from pirate invasions, but also from smugglers and uncontrolled growers. So, after counting and “nationalizing” all lentisks (mastic trees), they founded 22 new settlements, called Mastihohoria –Mastiha villages– in locations invisible from sea, and built them in a fortress-like form. Before that, as lentisk growers lived dispersed in many small hamlets or farms, the task of supervising them was indeed very difficult.

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