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CHIOS is a large island, home to 54 thousand year-round residents, with an area of 842 sq. km and a coastline of 213 km. It is part of the Northern Aegean archipelagos and is located 27 nautical miles south of Mytilini (Lesvos) and 153 nautical miles (approximately 10 hours by ferry) from the mainland gateway port of Piraeus.

The footprint of medieval times is still unmistakably present on the island of Chios. The Genoese, who took control of the island in the middle ages, used it as a hub for their highly profitable sea-trading endeavors. This, coupled with the mastic gum industry that is still active today, and for which Chios is still known throughout the world, caused Chios to become one of the most prosperous islands in the Mediterranean. Archeological evidence suggests Chios has been inhabited continually since about 6000 BC. The Greek race of the Pelasgians arrived in about 3000 BC, followed by the Mycenaeans. The town of Chios was settled shortly before 1000 BC by mainland Greece colonists, who also settled on the Ionian coast (present-day Turkey). Chios is widely regarded as the birthplace of one of the greatest poets and authors of western civilization, Homer. Throughout most of antiquity Chios managed to stay fairly autonomous due to its relative wealth and sophistication. That is until it withdrew from the Delian League in 412 BC, whereupon Athens set out and invaded the island. In the 4th century AD Chios again tried to defy a greater power, Constantine the Great's Eastern Roman Empire, and lost. As punishment, Constantine carted off all the wondrous statues for which the island was known for at the time and moved them to Constantonople. Some scholars now claim the four bronze statues of horses found today in front of St. Marks in Venice, that were hauled off by the hordes of the Fourth Crusade that sacked Constantinople in 1204, are of Chian origin. In 1261 the Emperor Michael Paleologos deeded the island to the Genoese. Under Genoese control Chios once again began to flourish as a center of shipping and trade.

The Ottoman Empire claimed the island in 1566 and Chios continued to flourish well into Ottoman rule, with the Sultan allowing it more liberty than the rest of its empire. The reason for the Sultan's favor was the mastic industry, which continued to produce its unique sweet mastic gum that so pleased the Sultan and his court. It is said that the women in the Sultan's harem used mastic as a beauty cosmetic and Chios was under their protection. This special dispensation came to an abrupt halt in 1822 when Chians proclaimed independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan dispatched Admiral Kara Ali to make an example of Chios. The ensuing massacre of Chios found over 30 thousand Chians dead and 45 thousand bound into slavery. The massacre so effected the European world that such well known artists such as Victor Hugo published public condemnations, and Delacroix painted his famous canvas Massacres de Chios, which now hangs in the Lourve. The Chians had only just began to make their way back to prosperity when a devastating earthquake hit in 1881. Chios gained its freedom from the Ottomans in 1912 and then immediately joined Greece, forming the province and prefecture of Chios. As a result of these misfortunes, many Chians took the seas and built formidable shipping empires, many of which are today based in London, New York and Piraeus. A good deal of the island's current prosperity stems from these families' love and care for their place of origin. Today, Chios is a bustling island with a solid infrastructure, including its own airport a short 3 km south of Chios Town, its capital and main port. While the town of Chios, which some might find boring, is a heady mixture of day-to-day commerce and tourism, the island as a whole is a wonderful place to spend a holiday. Like most of the eastern Aegean islands, Chios has its ancient as well as its medieval sites of interest for the siightseer. However, of special interest and unique to Chios are the well-preserved and restored medieval villages that dot the southern part of the island. They are known as the Mastic Villages and are the center of the cultivation and trade of this unique agricultural product of the island. These settlements, led by Mesta and Pyrgi, are a testament to the island's great prosperity during the Middle Ages.

Also not to be missed, are the historic monastery of Nea Moni and, although a bit of the beaten path, the village of Kambos; an area of pinkish-red fieldstone mansions with imposing gates set upon stone-wall lined streets originally favored by Genoese and later by local Chiot landed aristocracy and Ottoman nobility.

 

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