Chios is one of the biggest islands in the Aegean Sea and is renowned for its mild climate, its beautiful beaches and its numerous historical monuments. But above all, Chios is worldwide famous, since ancient times indeed, for its mastiha.
That is why mastiha gave its name to the medieval settlements of Southern Chios, described as Mastihohoria (meaning Mastiha villages). The foundation of those settlements dates from Byzantine times and despite all kinds of damages and disasters they have gone through for so many centuries, they are still monuments of cultural heritage. It was during the Genoese Occupation (1346–1566) that the cultivation of mastiha became systematic and that 22, in all, mastiha villages were actually founded in Southern Chios. The target for organizing those villages was to better exploit the monopolistic product of mastiha. The locations of those villages were invisible from sea and their layout was fortress-like for the protection of villagers from marauders that scourged the Aegean back in Medieval times.
All villages are commonly characterized by a specific layout: they have a closed quadrilateral shape and the last raw of houses towards the outside forms a perimetric defensive wall protecting the entire settlement. In the centre of each settlement, there was a tall rectangular tower, while at the angles of the defensive wall, there were smaller cylindrical turrets. The streets did not follow geometrical linings and entrance to the settlement was possible through one and only access. The houses generally follow the same principles as to the layout of their spaces, without excluding though a certain variety. They are stone-built, with a ground floor and a first floor, and their spaces are covered by semi-circular domes (called germata). The ground floor usually housed stables and storing spaces for agricultural products, while the actual rooms of the residence were situated at the top floor, surrounding a central open space, called pounti, used for sunning and airing the entire floor. All lofts were almost at the same height, in order for inhabitants to escape easily from one house to another in case of external danger. Out of all Mastihohoria, the ones best preserved are those that were not greatly damaged during the catastrophic earthquake of 1881: that is Pirgi, Mesta, Olimpi and somehow less Vessa, Kalamoti and Elata.