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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 February 2016
20 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 FEBRUARY 2016 TRAVEL Chios and Smyrna - massacres, ARTHUR KOKKINIAS Medieval villages which don't look 'Greek'. Sandy white and black volcanic pebble beaches, depending on your preference. Local twists on beautiful Greek food. Exquisite Byzantine frescoes. Chios, in the north eastern Aegean Sea off the coast of Smyrna, is a very different experience for the traveller familiar with the more well-known Aegean islands. Chios is home to the mastic tree, so every sweet seems to be flavoured with it. Walk into any store and the owners want to show their hospitality with a kerasma of masticha liqueur. The mastic villages - the mastihohoria - are 14th century Genoese-built affairs with graffito geometric designs on buildings' exteriors in Pyrgi. Nearby Mesta is surrounded by a double fortress wall and has only four gates to enter and exit. Narrow alleyways are buttressed with archways which also double as secret escape passageways. It was in the central square with its cafes and restaurants, overlooked by the imposing grand Church of the Taxiarches, where we ate local delicacies and watched a director and a producer from Turkey debate about the most appropriate buildings to utilise for their TV series. 1822: THE BEGINNINGS OF A MODERN NATION Without Chios there would almost certainly not have been an independent Greek state in 1832. The horrendous massacre of Chios in 1822 triggered the western European Philhellene sentiments which led to the major powers' intervention and ultimate creation of an independent Hellenic state from the decaying Ottoman Empire. The monastery of Nea Moni on the island captures this historical event in an unrivalled UNESCO-protected complex set in lush mountainous surrounds. Eleventh century Byzantine mosaics here are arguably among the finest in the world. A memorial chapel captures the gruesome history of 1822. It was one of the bloodiest massacres of the Greek War of Independence. Skulls and other bones are neatly arranged with a written commentary of the terrifying numbers of dead and displaced - 42,000 of the island's 117,000 population were slaughtered; the remainder escaped to other islands (21,000) or was sold into slavery (52,000 women and children). Only 1,800 Chiots survived on the island. While visiting this holy and historic site, our family chanced upon a visiting Turkish family with children similar in age to my own. The island now hosts many friendly Turkish tourists, especially from nearby Smyrna. The Turkish father approached me and asked me the significance of kissing the resident priests' hand after witnessing my children carry out this centuries' old custom. He said that Turkish children kiss the hand of elders especially at festivals. I felt for his discomfort as he and his family inspected and took in the enormity of what his forefathers had perpetrated on this island. What was he thinking? Did he have any prior knowledge of this? Did he know only of the bloody Greek massacres perpetrated against the Turks, much l W t h p e D o b m p a like genera- tions of Greeks who were only aware of the horrific Turkish massacres? Over and over on this island we encountered Turkish visitors. The ornate churches in fact had signs on their respective iconostasis in Turkish and English to warn the visitors to not enter the sanctuary. A sign of the times. Restaurant menus in tourist precincts were written in English and Turkish as well as in Greek. 1922: THE LOST GREEK LANDS Before the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, Smyrna was a majority Greek city with sizeable minorities of Turks, Jews, Armenians and Franks. It was a thriving intellectual centre of Hellenism, significantly larger and arguably more sophisticated than either Athens or Thessaloniki at the time. Today it is a thriving Turk- DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Nea Moni. Mastic tree. Chios. Inside the Taxiarxes church at Mesta. Pyrgi village.
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