The tour of Central Chios can be one of the most impressive itineraries of the island. The road cuts through a solitary, rugh, mountainious landscape with thick vegetation and sparse villages to conclude downward in the serene and beautiful west shores from where the sunsets are immacute. The ascent on the cenral range of Provatas Mountain that rises up to a thousand meters offers an excellent view of Chios and of the Asia Minor coast opposite.
From the town of Chios starts a road traversing central Chios as it ascends to Nea Moni. Outside the city we firts see the new nunnery of Panayia. Six km. further, is the beautiful village of Karies; it has cool climate, fresh springs and a majestic view of the city, Kampos, the open sea and the Asia minor coast. Next is the small monastery of Panayia Kourna, possibly the Domican abbey of Theotokos Incoronata in the Genoan era. Now the road climbs even higher on the main range of the Provatas Mountain where a lush pine forest begins; not far from the left side of the road is the cloister of Ayios Markos, accessible but not without some difficulty. It dates from 1700 but its buildings belong to a later period. Up there the view is really dream like.
About half way between east and west, 15 km. from Hora stands Nea Moni (New Monastery). Its compound with tha large church, the buildings and the tall cypresses is awe inspiring as it rises alone in the middle of the mountainous landscpe. It is the most important christian and historical monument on the whole island. According to tradition, 3 Chian hermits, Nikitas, Ioannis and Iosef discovered the miracle working icon of Theotokos ganging from the boughs of a myrtlee tree located at the site of today’s sanctuary. The icon survived to our days in a miraculous way. The three hermits were befriended by Constantinos o Monomahos (the Combatant) then in exile in neighboring Lesvos. He promised them to build a church where the icon was found if he was soon to become an emperor.
Indeed in two years, Monomahos Unexpectedly became the emperor of Byzantium and respectfully fulfilled his promise. Top architects were sent from Constantinopole to build Nea Moni. The works lasted for 12 years, after the emperor’s death, they were continued by empress Theodora, who sould no less real than her predecesson in building Nea Moni. The architecture of Nea Moni’s Church is a good example of the elegant actagonal style encountered only in Chios and Cyprus. The church’s central area is a square with a cupola that has no supports, making the interior a continuous free space that overwhelms the faithful. The cupola is proportionally huge and especially high (15.5 M.) with corresponding windows that illuminate the interior with abundant light. The whole support system is considered very daring, a high point of architecture, linking Nea Moni to similar mouments in Constantinopole. All the interior walls underneath the mosaic zone were covered by elaborate fake marble panels.
In the chapel of the Holy Cross (Timios Stavros), a late addition to the compound, the bones of those massacred in 1822 are kept until today. The monk’s cells in the west wing have been turned into a small museum, where important relics from the monastery’s long history exhibited. With the passing of centuries the abbey suffered many evils, from the 13th c. Saracen raiders to the Turks who in 1822 pillaged everything in sight and massacred all the Chians who had sought refuge there. The Turks returned 1828 to inflict more destruction, to conclude the catastrophe came the 1881 earthquakes which all but deserted the monastery.
Nea Moni is today under restoration, slowly regaining its old byzantine grandeur. Administratively the abbey was inder the direct jurisdiction of the Patriarch in Constantinopole. During the Turkish occupation, for a long period it enjoyed autonomy. Every August 23rd when the Virgin’s Dormition is commemorated, a large number of pilgrims flocks to the monastery.
Leaving Nea Moni with a westward direction, in close distance ;ies the chapel of Agion Pateron (Holy Fathers) founded by monk Pahomios to commemoorate the three hermits who found the miraculous icon of Theotokos and established Nea Moni. The western course on the main road is of unique beauty. The thick pine forest lasts all the way down to Avgonima. The 11th c. village is situaed on a plateau, its architecture typically medieval with tall stone houses, small windows and narrow alleys.
From Avgonima the view of the west shores and the sunset is very impressive. Here one can stay overnight in beautiful medieval houses with modern accomodations. Four km. away to the borth lies Anavatos. The traveller must firts get very close to Clearly make out the houses nested upon the rugged rocks. One must really know the village is there in order to see it.
The sight of Anavatos is deeply impressive and awe inspiring. A whole village perched on top of a granite rock at the end of a cliff. The only way to reach it is from the south. The road snakes upwards from the foot of the rock to the village’s entrance. All around deep, unspoiled, shadowy ravines complement the landscape. Even its name Anavatos (inaccessible) reveals the reason it was built there. Its strategic natural locations and the wall protected the villagers from the pirates raiding in the west coast. It is said that the village was originally built on a nearby site by byzantine lumberjacks brought to build Nea Moni, by emperor Constantine the Combatant. Yet the rsidents for reason of the frequent raids, never took root there.
Near the gate there used to be a three story building 15m. tall. On its ground floor was housed the olive oil mill, today the oil-press’ two huge round slabs are still there. On the second floor there was the school and on the third the church of Theotokos and the precious water reservoir. Up on the citadel, two aisled and double roofed was built the church of Taxiarchi. Today only its uniquely arcaded walls still survive. A picture of the Archangel has been moved to entrance of the new church of Taxiarchis where more relics from the village’s old churches are now kept. Most of the buildings are well preserved and as a whole they put forth an image of a living ghost town, adding to the sublimity of this rough country.
This is why many calls Anavatos ’’the Aegean’s Mystras’’. The village has been deemed a national monument to be preserved under the law and restoration works have already begun. Around the first turn outside Anavatos is the chapel of Ai Yiorgis (St.George). Surviving in good condition since the 16th century, it has a good part of its frescoes still intact. This single-aisled basilica is all built with Chian stone. Its iconostasis is newer and with no special value. Across the chapel is a memorial for those fallen in the 1822 battle against the Turks.