The Mastic Villages of Chios Greece

There are many fine traditions in Greece, and one of these centres around the tradition of producing mastic, which is a resin-like substance obtained from the Mastic Tree, which grows only in the south part of Chios Island. This island is the fifth largest island in Greece, and it is located in the Aegean Sea, just seven kilometres off the coast of Turkey.

Mastic is a natural substance which flows from the tree in droplets which resemble tears, hence mastic is also called the `tears of Chios’. When the liquid mastic dries it becomes hard and brittle, and is a popular gum.

Chewing is not mastic’s only use, though. Mastic appears to have many applications ranging from the medicinal to the functional, including use as a stabilizer in paints and making varnishes, especially for musical instruments. It has been used in the production of tires, aromatic soaps, insecticides and electrical insulators. Frankincense is produced from gum mastic and resin, and it has been used in the tanning, weaving and beekeeping industries.

There are 24 towns on Chios that are given the name mastic villages. Because of their close proximity to the Turkish coast, these villages have been attacked and pillaged many times. In order to protect their homes, the local generally built their villages out of sight of the sea and surrounded them with large walls as a defence against the invaders.

Built in the Middle Ages, these villages display exquisite architecture and unique decorative elements, such as the ksistá, “scratched surfaces”, on the facades of the houses in Pyrgi, the biggest of the villages. Ksista are geometric designs that are scratched onto the plaster.

A typical village is Mesta whose stone houses form an impregnable fortress. The village has only one gateway for people to enter and the houses are built so close to one another that locals say the only way to walk around is by climbing over the roofs.

Invasion was the only calamity to threaten the mastic villages as many were totally destroyed in the great earthquake of 1881.

Getting to Chios is relatively easy as a number of airlines service the island. Greece also has an efficient inter-island ferry network, so it is easy to catch a ferry from Piraeus near Athens or to do some island hopping. It is also possible to reach Chios by ferry from the Turkish port of Cesme.

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