Walking through the stone made arches of this castle-village, one can be impressed by the magical atmosphere that comes out of the eternal game between the light and the dark • the wide and dead-end cobbled streets • the past and the modern days.
The mind seems helpless to resist wander back in time to our roots, travel with pirates and crusaders, conquerors and restless workers of the earth and the mastic-trees.
Despite the centuries, the wars and the disasters these stones stay still so sparingly matched one on top of the other. Those same stones that have heard and seen so many stories through the pass of centuries, are now watching us – giving us home, talking and listening – stacked in an alive monument, like the ones that have fought and defeated time.
It seems like since the early Middle Ages, the residents lived in several small settlements (seven to nine) in the surrounding area. The frequent pirate attacks as well as the power changes in the region of the Byzantine Empire urged the residents to merge and gradually build the castle of Mesta.
The castle was developed in a pentagonal shape, with a defense Tower in each corner of it. In the center of the Castle, where today stands the Church of Taxiarhes, there was the greated Tower, which was the last defense line. All towers were connected to each other by a trench on the perimeter of the castle. This way, the villagers could easily move depending on the enemy’s movements. There was a secret underground passage that joined Militas Tower (main defense tower) with the central one, as well as a secret exit leading outside the castle.
Buildings are joined with each other, have common walls and often extend over the streets based on arched arcades, creating the impression that the whole Castle of Mesta is a single building complex. When climbing on a terrace, one can easily access all roofs of Mesta and take a walk enjoying the village from a top view. Wandering around the narrow streets that often end up in bright rectangular deadlocks, one can come up to large clay pots planted with all kinds of flowers. The famous dry tomatoes are hanged in bunches around doors and windows decorating the stone.
The specific architecture for the Castle was intentionally chosen and not following to beauty criteria. The distance of Mesta from the allies and the Byzantine centers, raised the need of a perfect defense plan, which would provide the residents easy communication between the central defense points, rapid force gathering even over the rooftops and ability to surprise the enemy inside as much as outside the walls.
Manned watch towers, some of which are kept until today, were built on all hills around the castle in order to watch the coasts. On the approach of a hostile ship they lit up fires, in order to notify the residents to fortify and prepare their defense.
Inside and around the Castle are several small churches of special interest. Dominant position has the Church of Taxiarchis, one of the largest churches in Greece, which daily welcomes hundreds, even thousands somedays of visitors. The famous wooden icon screen representing the Old and the New Testament is placed in the Old Church of Taxiarchis.
All the entries of the castle lead to the central square (‘livadi’), the brightest and most vivid part of the village which is surrounded by impressive high buildings.
Mutual aid and voluntarism were always, as much as nowadays, a characteristic element of lifestyle in Mesta. These were part of a mindset established in customs and practice of everyday life.
‘Danikaries’ (~ borrowing) were days of teamwork. The owner of a field called for the villagers to help him cultivate it – this was a ‘borrowed one day job’ he was to ‘return’ to each of his helpers, in the current or next year. The team of helpers would line up and start tilling with their pickaxes on the exact same tempo, just like they were all on person. Late at night, after finishing their job, upon their return to the village they all would gather up in the central square. They would place all their pickaxes one next to each other, forming a diamond-shaped pile, drink suma (a local drink) or wine, sing and dance around their labor tools.
Each householder had the commitment to work voluntarily a certain amount of days, in favor of the community, the church and the school.
The inhabitants made their livings by cultivating the poor land of Mesta and mainly produced wheat, barley, olive oil, legumes, etc. Mesta are admitted to have excellent wine, ‘kurmades’ (product related to the black olives), particularly tasty almonds (vulata), figs and dry vegetables.
The main and most profitable employment of Mesta residents over the centuries was the growing of mastic-trees, which for a strange and still indecipherable reason flourishes only in Southern Chios.
Some say that the special existence of mastic in this place, helped the residents obtain special privileges and better living conditions combining to those given to residents of other regions. Yet others say, mastic was the reason behind all invasion and conquering attempt that put the residents in so many adventures through all these centuries. Maybe the combination of mastic and the mythical ‘ariusios’ wine is the secret recipe needed for the built up and maintenance of such a castle-village like Mesta. Maybe mastic, suma and sweet wine all together, have shaped those people to be so hard and sensitive at the same time, welcoming to people, and lovers of shindig as well as hard work.
Spend your nights with us. Here, in the southeastern corner of Europe, in the bright and sunny Greece, on ‘Mirovolos’ (~gently smelling) Chios, in the magic medieval castle of Mesta. Walk through the small alleys and travel back in time. And when it will be time to go away, you will feel inside the wealth you gained and want to live this experience again…