Turkish road

The stone-paved road to Volissos, the picturesque main settlement of north-western Chios, is possibly one of the most distinctive footpaths in this one-of-a-kind place. This path, known locally as the “Long road” or the “Turkish road”, features striking architecture and myriad points of interest to stop and explore. Hikes on this path are like mini journeys “back in time” and will have visitors feeling like they’ve visited the past.

The so-called “Turkish road” is a major point of interest for both its history and the natural environment it winds through, a vital example of historical heritage as hiking trip. The route traces its origins back to the 19th century, originally part of the Tanzimat-era road network that connected the south-western and north-western sections of the island. It’s a prime example of the technical works that were carried out back when the island belonged to the Ottoman empire. The “Turkish road” remains in good condition to the present day, thanks in part to its sturdy construction but especially because the construction of a new road network rendered it obsolete. In fact, it survives in good condition without any additions or interventions to maintain it. Because of this, it’s an ideal route for both nature enthusiasts and history lovers. At the same time, its construction allows us a glimpse into how roads were constructed back in Ottoman times.

The area of Amani in the north-west of the island is one of those rare places that haven’t been over-promoted to tourist audiences. The landscape here is authentic, immaculate, almost untouched by human intervention. Less well known and not as saturated with tourism as other places, Amani offers itself as an ideal seaside location for nature lovers and travellers alike year-round.

The villages of north-eastern Amani have all been connected recently by two main footpaths totalling fifty-five kilometres in length. A fragmentary footpath network with signs connects all the settlements.

The old roads that connected the settlements of Lithi and Volissos with the capital of Chios constituted the old “Turkish road”. These roads were designed and laid down under the guidance of the engineer Iakovos Aristarchis, who was “educated in Europe, a patron of music and well-mannered…” according to the head of the gymnasium of the School of Chios Georgios Sourias, back when Sadik Pasha was governor of the island. Roadworks were carried out in the 1870s and 1880s. A fascinating tidbit is that the inhabitants of the local villages to be serviced by the road were required to provide four days of work per year for its construction[1].

Iakovos Aristarchis (1860-1920) was a scion of a prominent Phanariote family. He studied in Paris, Oxford and at the Zurich Polytechnic. As a member of the Ottoman bureaucracy, he was the chief mechanic of the Islands of the Aegean Archipelago. Important Ottoman roadworks throughout Lesbos, Chios, Rhodes and Ikaria bear his stamp. At the legislative level, he compiled and published the Ottoman urban planning laws in French.

It’s worth noting how the narrative sources of the 19th century depict the importance of Iakovos Aristarchis’ contributions. Also worth noting is the high engineering quality of the Turkish road for its time, in the 19th century. Contemporary accounts, whether written by travellers, merchants or even simple visitors, all abound with admiration for the project. The French archaeologist, author and journalist Gaston Deschamps (5 January 1861 – 15 May 1931), who visited Chios in 1888-1889, had this to say about the roads: “The mastichochoria, the home of mastic, dot the southern mountain slopes of Chios. We rode the length and breadth of this place together with James Aristarchis. Once upon a time, visitors and travellers to the region would have had to make exhausting journeys on mule-back. Scrambling up sheer rock faces, balancing on the edge of cliffs, travellers had no other choice but to follow the rough old mountain paths. But now, thanks to the recently constructed mountain roads, a traveller can easily cross the region back and forth on horseback. It’s truly a marvellous achievement. Of course, there are still certain dangerous sections that lead to sheer falls and cliffs and force one to turn back”. The French author paints a stark verbal image of the route, providing the modern-day traveller and hiker of the “Turkish road” both a fascinating insight into his time and a vital historical account.

  • [1] Χειρόγραφο 25216.03.1874. Λυτά φύλλα Καλλιμασιάς, Φ.349Β, ΓΑΚ, Ιστορικό Αρχείο Χίου.

Fa Valley

The area of Fa encompasses a small valley in the southern foothills of Mt Lepros.

To the well-tended local olive and almond groves charm visitors to the region to this day. Recently a forest fire destroyed the woodlands around the Fa valley, but the rate of reforestation is truly impressive. Fa is the jump-off point for a captivating hike to Lithi through nature. This dirt footpath starts on a gentle downhill slope and leads hikers over a stone-paved road that dates to the immediate aftermath of the Greek revolution. It’s said to have been laid down around 1850. The road was once the vital artery connecting Lithi with the paths of Central Chios.

This paved route is one of the few to survive in such admirably good condition and is an exceptional example of mid-19th century roadwork. Transverse channels help drain rainwater from the road, while its good condition is in no small part down to its well-laid dry-stone support foundations. The engineers addressed sharp slopes wherever they encountered them by splitting the road into two zones of successive layers. At difficult points on the route, the dry-stone foundations were embedded into limestone boulders, while road access points were built of stone steps jutting out from the supporting slopes.

The initial phase of the hike out of the picturesque Fa valley gradually gives way to steeply inclined stream, with truly striking views of Lithi and the harbour after the halfway point. Arguably the high point of the hike is that first glimpse of the sea. As the route extends, its downward slope becomes ever more inclined. Travellers looking for an easier route can opt for a short footpath that bypasses the sharp turns and cuts down on the hike. However, anyone walking this path should do so with caution as it’s not preserved in good condition and is likewise quite steep. Rounding a bend in the road, the village of Lithi appears before hikers. This bend has historical significance: back in 1912, it was where the Cretan volunteer and freedom fighter Georgios Perros was killed in battle against the Ottomans. This section of the route leads to the beach at Lithi.

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