The Northern Aegean Islands: Places to Explore

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Pirgi

Beginning in the 14th century, the Genoese founded 20 or so fortified inland villages in southern Chios. These villages shared a defensive design with double-thick walls, a maze of narrow streets, and a square tower, or pyrgos, in the middle—a last resort to hold the residents in case of pirate attack. The villages prospered on the sales of mastic gum and were spared by the Turks because of the industry. Today they depend on mastic production, unique to the island—and tourists.

Pirgi is the largest of these mastic villages, and aesthetically, the most wondrous. It could be a graphic designer's model, a set of a mad moviemaker, or a still town from another planet. Many of the buildings along the tiny arched streets are adorned with xysta (like Italian sgraffito); they are coated with a mix of cement and volcanic sand from nearby beaches, then whitewashed and stenciled, often top to bottom, in patterns of animals, flowers, and geometric designs. The effect is both delicate and dazzling. This exuberant village has more than 50 churches.

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