Continuing at my exceedingly leisurely posting pace, allow me to take you back to Chios Island, where I volunteered at a refugee camp in 2017. Souda camp has since closed down and all refugees relocated. Some to better camps on the mainland, and some to the way more miserable Vial camp on Chios. The refugee crisis continues unabated as the homes and families caught in Middle Eastern chaos and war are steadily and ruthlessly destroyed. Please don't forget about these people whose lives have been stripped away from them in the worst possible ways. If you haven't read about my time there and wish to, please go HERE.
Prior to beginning our volunteer work, Erik and I spent several days driving around and touring the island, which was abundant in quaint villages and impressive ruins. In contrast to the southern mastic villages we visited, the villages on the northern side of the island were built into the rolling hills with sweeping views and more defensible spaces. But today they lie partially abandoned, like the southern villages, and some of them are home to nearly nobody but ghosts.
As I mentioned in my posts about the southern villages and the roadside shrines, it's very easy to drive around the island, and half of the enjoyment of the villages is simply getting to them. Allow me to share just a few of our destinations with you.
Anavatos is abandoned now except to the wandering tourist and a handful of people who man the cafe and gift shop. Oh, and who feed the cats, of course! This was the most impressive hilltop village, a Byzantine "tower-village" perched at the very top of a range of hills. Yet, it was raided numerous time by pirates and brutally sacked completely, along with the rest of Chios, in 1822 by the Ottoman Turks in what is known as the Chios Massacre, and much of whatever managed to persevere after that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1881.
Sadly, the massacre, which happened during the Greek War of Independence, was sorely undeserved. Although most of Greece was in revolt against the Turks, the Chios inhabitants had no desire to be involved. The Turkish sultans had maintained good relations with the island on account of its mastic production and trade. But other Greeks fighting the sultan came to the island, and the sultan made the erroneous assumption it was the Chians taking up arms. He was particularly infuriated in light of the amicable relationship he thought he had with Chios. He felt betrayed and ordered his forces to carry out a complete genocide of the islanders. No village, not even those on the hilltops, was spared.
As you can see, the inhabitants had a clear view of their surroundings and could only really be attacked on one side. But the hilltop advantage wasn't enough to save it. The Turkish fleet landed on Chios's shores in April of 1822 and promptly began carrying out their orders: to kill everyone on the island. Approximately 50,000 Chians were killed, another 50,000 enslaved, and about 20,000 managed to escape and flee to the European mainland. Thousands more died of diseases after all the pillaging, or maybe of broken hearts, considering how many of their family and friends suffered and died. After all was said and done, only about 2,000 people remained on the entire island. The current population is a little over 50,000.
It's not as though this kind of sorrow is not known throughout Europe and throughout the entire world, over and over again through history; still, the quaint beauty of the stone buildings and the spring flowers in the rolling hills quivers a little under the weight of such a massacre.
Some of the buildings still shelter various abandoned items such as the little shrines below.
And of course, what is a Greek village without a kitty cat??
Want more kitties? Check out Kitties of Chios post all about the friendly feline inhabitants of the island.
Our favorite village we stopped at a couple times for lunch, snacks and exploration, was Volissos. It's another village sprawling up to a hilltop fort, and unlike Anavatos, is still inhabited in large sections. While Anavatos is in the interior of the island, Volissos is near the coast and commands authoritative views of both land and sea. But of course, it was raided and then sacked just like everywhere else on the island. It has a very long history, however, and persistent legend names it the birthplace of Homer. Even the revered Herodotus makes mention of Homer writing his epic stories here. It was nice to stand on the hill and imagine for a moment the muse of such a titanic contribution to literature whispering in the ears of the imaginative Homer.
Because of the mix of abandoned and currently-used buildings, we sometimes presumed we had found one type but had instead found the other. We'd been wandering a narrow street characterized mostly by abandonment when we ran across this church below the street.
We thought it was probably abandoned and scrambled down the hillside to the entrance and found, to our surprise, the door unlocked, welcoming us inside to this lovely little space, clearly still in use.
We saw a lot of these metals frame with painted faces behind them. Not knowing anything about the Greek Orthodox religion, I had to Google them after I got home. So I learned these free-standing (unmounted) frames are actually considered as shrines and are intended to be portable so they can be used in processions or other ceremonies outside of the church. The painted face is usually a saint, and at least one ceremony that the shrine will be carried outside the church for is the name day of the patron saint.
This abandoned building appealed to me largely for the simple detail of the two buckets hanging near the window at the top. I would have liked it anyway, but when you include those, I *really* like it. I also appreciate ruins being digested by vines and other plants, even though it means the ultimate destruction of the building. Still, I'm mesmerized by the floral feasting.
This is typical of rooms we ran across in our abandoned-town wanderings. Just full of random stuff, remnants of lives past and passed, jumbled together by no obvious organizing factor.
I always feel partial to scenes of abandonment in which the story is still so tangible or the lives so easily imagined. For example in my Tuesday Tale from Mesta, "A Life Left to Cats." (The first photo below was included in a brief photo essay in Gravel online magazine.) Both of these pics below seemed to me sad yet picturesque settings for ghosts, and metaphors for the human condition of being inextricably tethered to time, either restrained by it or liberated, depending on our choices -- to stay locked inside the past or to step forward into the light of the unknown.
And how do you know that Volissos is a genuine Greek village?? Surely you know the answer, in the form of this little critter hanging about .....
While we drove to some villages as destinations to spend time in the entire village, some others we stopped at spontaneously or only briefly to see one particular thing mentioned in a guidebook. I don't remember the names of those places, but here are a few shots of some of those stops, just for a feel of the island villages in general. Also a typical view from the northern hilly roadsides where the villages were nestled in so comfortably.
Nea Moni Monastery was built in the mid-11th century. The story goes that three monks on the island found a holy icon of the Virgin Mary hanging from a tree branch, and the monastery was built on that spot by the Byzantine emperor whose rise to power was foretold to him by those same monks, who said they saw it in a vision. The monks were promised a monastery if their vision came to pass. In 1042 it did, and so the emperor kept his word and began constructing Nea Moni. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are still some well-preserved frescoes in the interior. I liked the colored stone, too.
Nea Moni was not spared during the 1822 Chios Massacre. Here is a plaque inside the monastery talking about it:
What Erik and I really appreciated about this place was the mix of ruins and preservation. So often you visit a place either all in ruins, or else all preserved or restored or reconstructed. But like so many of our favorite villages on the island -- Volissos, Pyrgi, Mesta -- this ancient holy complex had a nice mix of both present and past to explore and admire.
And here's your random photo of the day. A pay phone booth next to a grazing donkey and the ruins of a monastery. So I guess the booth, too, is technically a ruin ... abandoned and illustrating a time past.
In retrospect, I'm not really sure why I didn't take more pictures around Chios Town, which is where we spent the majority of our time. It's the hub of the island, where more than half of the island's population lives, and the main port area. There is a nice medieval town center with the narrow passageways typical of such historic towns, and a center courtyard ringed by cafes and shops. The narrow alleys are quaint until you get stuck in one with a car and need to turn around. Remember that scene from Austin Powers where he's doing the 5-point turn in the golf cart? That was us a couple times, but add a couple more points and me outside the car spotting so we didn't scratch the rental car on the buildings. No way in heck would I be driving the streets in this town, nor many old European towns, where you have to pull in your side mirrors not to hit parallel-parked cars and pedestrians. And ALWAYS pull in the mirror while you're parked! Erik's a trooper as our official trip driver.
Here are just a few shots from around town. There is also a nice central park with trees and park benches, and cafes around the outside. One evening there was a big soccer match on TV, and even the outdoor cafes and bars put up big TV screens for the patrons to watch on. It had a very nice community feel in general. However, the community vibe was being whittled away by the tension between the exploding refugee population and the locals, particularly an active fascist party that was physically aggressive toward the camps and refugees. While we were there, a new hospital was being built in Chios Town and its administration said that it would treat refugees who needed its services. Some of the islanders staged protests against this -- they wanted refugees denied medical care.
But here are some random peaceful streets. We found the food in town always delicious, just FYI should you wish to check out this lovely Aegean island for yourself. Many, many restaurants, cafes, pubs in the central part of town and along the waterfront. So, although the island has its share of tragedies both historical and current, it's well worth a stop to see the bountiful beauties.
And of course ... a kitty. Oh wait! That's no kitty! An imposter. A sweet dog that was just down the block from our hotel in Chios Town. We walked past him several times in our daily quests to park our car as close to the hotel as possible on these narrow streets. Our little friend. It felt a bit weird that his owners left their front door open all the time. How can you not want to push it open and walk inside?? Well, we managed to restrain ourselves.