The Doors of Mastichochoria II

Pyrgi is one of the most visited villages of the Mastichochoria (mastic villages) in the southwest region of the island of Chios. The village is the area’s administrative centre and its largest settlement. It is known as the”painted” village because of its distinctive black and white wall decorations. It goes very well with blue and it is unsurprising that many of the doors in the village are painted shades of that colour.

The wall decoration style is called Xysta that employs a scraffito technique. The walls are painted with white lime and the – mostly geometric – patterns are created by scraping away sections of the paint to reveal the dark underneath. The underlying dark is often enhanced with black paint to ensure that it makes a statement. An article in the journal For the Learning of Mathematics discusses the ‘ethnomathematics’ of the Xysta designs – that is, exploring the use of mathematics among traditional craftsmen and detailing exactly how the designs are produced. The author has also done some historical research and has concluded that designs probably do not date much before the mid-19th century. In fact, most of what you see today is quite modern as it needs to be continually renewed.

The article concludes that the craftsmen have an innate ‘cognition’ (i.e. understanding) of the mathematics it takes to produce the straight lines, the triangles, the circles, etc. In other words, maths are learned by a different process than by book learning in schools. However they came to understand the underlying mathematics, the designs are very pretty and often include fine examples of folk art.

All the buildings in the central square, including the modern terraces with their plain shutter doors and the 17th century church are decorated this way. It struck me as a kind of ‘building tattoo’ that symbolically marks the buildings of Pyrgi.

The village also has a very interesting Byzantine church dedicated to Peter and Paul – not ‘painted’ but preserves rather nice early wall paintings inside. Despite this Byzantine church and the unusual Xysta on most of the buildings, the village was a slight disappointment. Parts of its central tower remain, but it is largely in ruin. The decorations seemed contrived, painted now for tourists as much as for tradition. I must admit that a huge coach load of tourists that swarmed the village snapping pictures everywhere just as we, too, arrived might have played a part in our assesment! It is worth a visit, but avoid peak tourist season.

More Mastichochoria doors at the village of Mesta can be found at this link. Coming up soon are the nearby villages of Olympoi and Vessa.

Also, check out Norm’s Thursday Doors for a whole world of doors.

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14 comments

  1. I do love pretty doors and the painted walls are fabulous. I guess that’s the price you pay when something becomes popular- it then becomes somewhat fake sadly. Still interesting tho isn’t it?:)

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    • I don’t think the designs are fake, but they do continue the traditions with tourists in mind. After all, tourism is a major form of revenue on the island. Nevertheless, it is still pretty. Only go early or late in the season to avoid crowds!

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  2. […] Third in my series of the doors of the Mastichochoria (mastic villages of Chios) is the village of Olympoi. If you visit the region’s wonderful Mastic Museum – part of the fabulous group of Piraeus Bank intangible culture museums scattered throughout Greece – the village of Olympoi is used as a type site to demonstrate life in the Mastichochoria. It is similar, but smaller than the neighbouring village of Mesta, with vaulted passageways, but only one gate into the walled town. Also, Olympoi sports a few scraffito Xysta black and white decorations like the much larger village of Pyrgi. […]

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