The island - Εξερευνώντας τον κόσμο του Βυζαντίου


The island - Εξερευνώντας τον κόσμο του Βυζαντίου
The island
Chios is well-favoured in terms of its privileged geographical location, topography, climate and
natural resources, factors which determined its character from early antiquity.
Neolithic finds from Emporio and Agios Galas confirm that Chios was settled early, and seems to
have flourished and developed mainly in the years after the Ionic colonization (11th-10th century
BC). When a city-state was established in the central region of the east coast, in around the 8th
century, it rapidly gained control of the entire island, ushering in a golden age in shipping,
commerce and the arts. Ancient times were to prove turbulent and unsettled: signs of habitation
have been found from as early as the Neolithic period. In early Christian times, Saint Isidore was
martyred on Chios during the persecutions of Decius (c. 250). Excavations have revealed that the
island flourished at that time, becoming a major trading hub on the sea route that linked the new
capital at Constantinople to the eastern provinces of the empire. The emergence of Chios as a
centre of commercial activity was historically linked to the spread of Christianity in the Aegean –
both developments are illustrated by the remains of early Christian basilicas and coastal
settlements and by coin circulation. Among contemporary monuments, the Church of St. Isidore in
Chios town was first built in the mid 5th century as a three-aisled basilica with a horseshoe-shaped
In the mid-Byzantine period the Aegean was plagued by Arab raids, leading to stagnation on the
islands once more. It was in this climate of terror that Chios was pillaged by the Arab caliph Moab
in the mid 7th century. This turbulent time of destruction, abandonment and unsafe sea routes
came to an end in 961, when Nicephorus Phocas recaptured Crete. Emperor Constantine IX
Monomachus erected the castle of Chios and founded the monastery of Nea Moni in the mid 11th
century, strengthening ties between the island and Constantinople, as part of imperial efforts to
restore Byzantine rule over areas affected by the Arab peril. Nea Moni is the island’s most
prominent Byzantine monument and one of the most important in all Byzantine culture; it greatly
influenced religious architecture on Chios, as attested by the churches modelled on it, such as the
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Virgin Mary Krina in Vavili, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Pyrgi and the Church of St. George
Sikousis in the village of the same name.
A raid by the Turkish emir Jahan in 1093, attacks by the Venetians in 1124 and 1171 and brief
subordination to the Latin State of Constantinople loosened Chios’ ties to the Empire and prepared
it for the transition to Genoese rule. Under the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261), Michael VIII
Palaeologus, Emperor of Nicaea, secured the help of the Genoese in his attempt to recapture
Constantinople from the Franks. In exchange for this he granted them significant trade privileges
and gave them access to many Aegean ports. In Chios’ case, Genoese rule can be divided into
two phases. In the first of these (1307-1329), the Zaccaria brothers assumed control of the island
from the Byzantines after the latter failed to defend it against persistent Turkish raids. Emperor
Andronicus Palaeologus briefly recaptured Chios, but in 1346 it was given back to the Genoese –
this time to the Mahona Company owned by the Guistiniani family. For the next 220 years the
Genoese Giustiniani made successful and effective use of the island’s produce (gum, wine, silk,
citrus fruit) and its trade and workforce, transforming Chios into a large and prosperous
commercial centre. Part of the Genoese plan for more systematic and profitable exploitation of the
island’s resources involved establishing the quaint medieval fortified settlements in the south,
known as the Mastichochoria (mastic villages), at Anavatos, Pyrgi, Mesta and Olympi. Chios town
and the fertile Kambos plain extending to south proved favourable not only for citrus tree
cultivation, but also for the monumental architecture of Genoese towers.
The lengthy period of Ottoman rule began in 1566, when Chios surrendered almost without a fight
to Piali Pasha, and came to an end with the island’s incorporation into the newly established
Greek state in 1912. The Ottomans granted the islanders tax exemption, allowed the nobility to
retain property and established a local government and trade, providing Chios with important
advantages and enforcing a mild regime, though this failed to prevent the island from falling into
decline. A turning point in Chian society was reached in the 18th century, with a move towards
urbanization that drastically transformed the prevailing climate and brought the island renewed
growth and prosperity. The expansion of trade to include the major markets of the West created
conditions for the organization of small-scale silk and gum industries, leading to the growth of the
city centre and bringing people in contact with western education and culture. Via trade and
related financial activities the economy flourished hand in hand with education, as is illustrated by
the establishment of the Chios School in 1792. Dark moments in the island’s history include the
pillaging and slaughter committed by the Turks under Ali Kara in 1822, which shocked the
European world, and the devastating earthquake of 1881.
Glossary (3)
Paleo-Christian (early Christian) era: in Byzantine history, the period that typically starts in 330
AD, when Constantine the Great transferred the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to his
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newly-founded city of Constantinople, and ends with the death of Justinian in 565.
basilica: type of large church, divided internally into three or more naves. The central nave was
usually covered by a raised roof with windows that illuminated the space.
conch (Sanctuary niche): Niche in the eastern end of a basilica. Semicircular on the inside, with a
horseshoe shaped, rectangular or polygonal exterior.
Information Texts (3)
The city: Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, was built on the site of the
ancient Greek colony of Byzantium, on the triangular peninsula formed by the Golden Horn, the
Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. This was an excellent location that controlled trade routes
linking the Aegean to the Black Sea. Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople in 330 AD as a
city to rival Rome in splendour, wealth and power. The city grew fast, leading to problems of space
and facilities, so Theodosius I extended it to the west by building new strong walls that protected
Constantinople until the end of the Byzantine Empire. The city was laid out after Rome. A main
road, the Mese Odos, linked the palace to the Golden Gate. On this road was the Forum, a
circular plaza with a statue of Constantine mounted on a column, surrounded by public buildings.
Theodosius I and Arcadius later built more forums decorated with their own statues. Following the
Nika riots in the 6th century, Justinian adorned Constantinople with magnificent edifices, palaces,
baths and public buildings. This time also saw the construction of Agia Sophia (the Holy Wisdom),
the church which served as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate throughout the Byzantine
period. During the 7th and 8th centuries Constantinople faced major problems that threw it into
disarray: attacks by the Avars (a siege in 674) and Arabs (attacks in 674 and 717-718); natural
disasters (a powerful, destructive earthquake in 740); and epidemics (plague in 747). Limited
building activity resumed in the 8th and 9th century, mainly concentrated on strengthening the
city's fortifications. With the recovery of the Byzantine Empire from the 9th to the 11th century,
Constantinople became the most populated city in Christendom; the majority of inhabitants were
Greek-speaking, but many other ethnic groups lived alongside them, such as Jews, Armenians,
Russians, Italians merchants, Arabs and mercenaries from Western Europe and Scandinavia.
Many public, private and church-owned buildings were erected at the time, with an emphasis on
establishing charitable institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages and schools.
Higher education flourished, thanks to the care of the state and the emergence of important
scholars. This renaissance lasted until the mid-11th century, when economic problems due to poor
management set in, compounded by the adverse outcome of imperial operations beyond the
borders. The Crusaders left Constantinople entirely unscathed when first passing through, but in
the Fourth Crusade of 1204 the Franks conquered and ransacked the city, slaughtering those
inhabitants they did not take prisoner or drive out. In 1261 the city was retaken by Michael VIII
Palaeologus, who rebuilt most of the monuments and the walls but proved unable to restore the
city to its former splendour and glory. Enfeebled as it was, the empire was incapable of checking
the advance of the Ottomans, and in 1453 Constantinople finally fell into their hands. The fall
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signalled the end of the empire. Nevertheless, the Byzantine intellectual tradition remained
significant, as many scholars settled in the Venetian dominions of Crete and the Peloponnese, as
well as in European countries, conveying Greek learning to the West.
The castle: The turmoil and insecurity of the Arab raids against the Aegean islands in early 10th
century declined significantly after the re-conquest of Crete by Emperor Nicephorus Phocas in
961. During the period that followed, the seaways became more secure boosting trade and the
large ports were fortified as part of the projects of the capital to secure order in the Aegean. The
construction of the Castle of Chios dates back to the last years of the 10th century, although
almost none of the Byzantine fortifications survive. The castle is of an irregular pentagonal shape
and encloses an area of ​180,000 square meters and was built by the Genoese in the early 14th
century. The fortified wall dividing the city into the Civitas Chii, the area inside the city walls which
was the seat of political and military authority, and the Vorgo, the city outside the of walls. Its
present form is due partly to the additions and successive interventions of the Genoese, the
Venetians and the Ottomans, and extensive damage caused in the 19th century, by the bombing
of 1828, the earthquake of 1881 and the demolition of the southern part of the construction of the
new harbor in 1896. Both the land and sea walls of the castle were reinforced with nine bastions,
of which eight still survive today. The land walls were surrounded by a moat. Three gates provided
access to the interior of the castle: the Central Gate (Porta Maggiore), at the southern end, the
West Gate (Portello) and the Water Gate (Porta di Marina), which has not survived. Interesting
buildings and monuments are preserved within the walls, including the Palace Giustiniani, a twostorey building dated to the 15th century, the seat of the Genoese administration, the Dark Prison,
a place where in 1822 74 island notables were jailed and then hanged, the Ottoman cemetery
Kara Ali- the tower-observatory also known as Koulas, and the Cold Fountain, the main cistern of
the castle. Finally, inside the castle the church of St. George which was converted into a mosque
during the Ottoman occupation still survives.From this phase also survive the Medrese and the
fountain in the church courtyard.
The monastery complex of Nea Moni of Chios: In the place of a small church built by three Chian
monks, John, Nikitas and Joseph to house the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, was founded in
the mid 11th century the magnificent monastery complex of Nea Moni of Chios. The construction
of Nea Moni relates, according to tradition, to the prophecy of the three monks about the rise of
Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055) to the imperial throne. After his coronation Constantine,
as a reward for the prophecy, build a new church for the Virgin Mary, satisfying the monks’
request. The catholicon was built and decorated with the lavish imperial sponsorship, and
inaugurated in 1045; later the monastery received many privileges and donations from
Constantine Monomachos and the emperors after him. Nea Moni was modeled after the little
church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople; it is an octagonal-type church with a narthex and
exonarthex, also known as nisiotikos. It is the oldest and most complete example of the type and
displays the strong architectural influence of the capital. The characteristic of this type is that the
octagonal shape of the church is not surrounded by the perimeter of the building, but is formed as
the square nave is converted into an octagon in the upper floors, through four narrow squinches in
the corners, on which the twelve-sided dome in based; the dome rests on the exterior walls
without the mediation of internal supports, thus offering an impressive result. Similar to the
architectural character of the monument is the interior decoration. The luxurious marble
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revetments combined with the brilliant mosaic compositions attest to the economic prosperity and
welfare, and the imperial care to help the monasteries and the religious institutions of this period.
The mosaics of Nea Moni, works of high artistic quality which reflect the trends of the capital, as
far from the spirituality and abstraction of the decoration of the Monasteries of Daphni and St.
Luke. The correct use of color, the golden background and the structuring of the multi-person
compositions give expressiveness and deep spirituality to the forms. As a typical example of a
Byzantine monastic complex, Nea Moni was protected by high walls, which enclosed the catholic,
the refectory, the cistern and the cells. Nea Moni sustained significant damage in 1822, when it
was burned and looted by the Ottomans, and by the 1881 strong earthquake. In 1990 Nea Moni,
the Monastery of Daphni and Hosios Loukas were included in the International List of World
Heritage of UNESCO, as a unique artistic achievement and an excellent example of an
architectural whole.
Bibliography (7)
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