Chios - a Greece that still waits to be discovered

Island has been producing mastic for 3,000 years

09 October, 13:22

    (by Patrizio Nissirio) 

    Chios (Greece) - Intermittent red light at night from the wind turbines on the nearby Turkish coast signal that we foind ourselves at Europe's border. We are in Chios, set in the eastern Aegean, one of the last Greek islands where tourism still hasn't ravaged millennial local activities. Instead, its most ancient production, which dates back to some 3,000 years ago, is one of the island's main attractions - besides its 91 paradisiac beaches: Mastic is the resin of the mastic tree, or the pistacia lentiscus bush, an evergreen related to the pistachio plant, for which the Greek island is known. It has extraordinary medical and cosmetic properties and a fine taste that can be added to food as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

    Contended throughout history for these miracle 'drops' and its strategic geographical position - Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Genoese and Ottoman conquerors ruled it before it joined the Greek State in 1912 - Chios is said to be the native land of Homer. Famous composer Mikis Theodorakis was certainly born on the island, which continues to produce some 50 tons of mastic a year. A production that takes place in the south of the island, in 24 villages - the so-called 'mastichochoria', or mastic towns - and which is rigorously controlled by the Association of producers (Emx) founded in 1939. The association sells it and publicizes it. Its history is on display at the Museum of Masticha, which opened in 2016 under a project designed by Greek studio Kizis.

    In the contemporary building, set over a hill that dominates a valley dotted by mastic trees, visitors can get acquainted with the history, production, fortunes and misfortunes of this resin and the history of Chios that is so closely connected to it.

    Not far from the museum, we meet Albanian workers who are scraping the resin from tree trunks. The resin drops to the ground where it is collected and sifted. The cleaning process is often entrusted to the expert hands of women who live in the nearby villages, including Pyrgi. The village is characterized by homes decorated with black and white geometric designs (called xystà) and where it is easy to see through the houses' open doors elderly ladies as they clean the precious substance.

    On the houses' balconies are bunches of 'anidro' tomatoes (the neame means, 'which don't need water'). They are completely identical to the ones that can be found in southern Italy. They were picked in the summer and they will be good to eat until Christmas.

    Chios also houses maritime activities and is a land of ship owners (in particular the nearby island of Oinousses). It is attractive all year round and its fascination goes beyond the little-known world of mastic.

    There are, for example, fortresses built by the Genoese (Genoa's rule lasted from 1363 until 1566), or villas in the enchanting area of Kampos, the land of citrus fruits. There are Ottoman ruins, like the hammam in the city of Chios, or the small Islamic cemetery nearby. There is Anavatos, a village in the north with only one resident. Visitors interested in the connection between history and the Orthodox religion can go to the imposing monastery of Nea Monì or the Church of St George in the village of Agios Georgios Sikousis.

    Over the past few years, however, the island has gained media attention in particular over the migrant crisis, together with the nearby islands of Lesvos and Samos.

    There are overall some 2,000 migrants, less than elsewhere.

    Many live at the former aluminum factory Vial, just outside the main city, and they are perceived as a serious problem by the local population (about 52,000 people).

    However, a visitor can't perceive this, apart from seeing a few small groups of Syrians of Iraqis downtown. ''It is not a problem of Chios or Greece but of Europe'', Nikos Niktas, the deputy governor of the northern Aegean region, told ANSA.

    ''Here, migrants also live in homes or hotels, hosted by local authorities. But many, the majority, don't want to stay here but go to other European countries''.

    In front of the Giustiniani palace (14th century), at the entrance of the center-fortress of Chios, we met two young Iraqis. ''I am a student - says the young man - and we are looking for housing. We like it here''. A group of Nigerians are shopping at a nearby spice store. They are also welcomed with a smile and talk in English to the vendors. Because 'filoxenia', the legendary Greek hospitality, is what makes a difference in Chios, as well as in the rest of the country. (ANSAmed)

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