The tradition of Rouketopolemos features the two Greek churches of St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani built on two separate hilltops about 400 meters apart from each other, firing tens of thousands of homemade rockets at each other. Rouketopolemos brings in a lot of income and visitors to Chios, during this time Easter in this corner of Greece is all about fireworks and Easter traditions. The event takes place from March 18th until April 30th, 2015 during Easter and attracts visitors locally as well as from overseas.
The literal “rocket war” generally begins during midnight services on Easter Sunday. Priests inside the churches deliver their sermons despite the 60,000 rockets soaring outside. While direct hits on the church bells are said to determine a winner, usually a final winner is not determine; one reason being so that the tradition may carry on next year and be celebrated.
The origin of Rouketopolemos is unclear, yet local tradition holds that it goes back to the Ottoman era. Local Greeks wishing to celebrate Easter used the noise of the rocket launches as a means of providing cover while the services occurred. With countless traditions surrounding the celebration of Greek Easter, the historic Rocket War ranks as a unique way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The town has a strong tradition in merchant seafaring and is currently the home of various important Greek ship owners. The event annually occurs on Easter in the town of Vrontados, which resides in one of Greece’s largest islands, Chios, the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea. Alongside its rich history starting from the Neolithic Age and including adventures with Saracene pirates and the Turks during the Greek Revolution, Chios also claims to be the birthplace of Homer. Homer’s Stone seems to omit this as the rock shaped somewhat like a throne is where the eponymous poet supposedly sat, wrote, and staged some of the original masterpieces of Western literature.
Chios offers visitors local drinks such as Mastika, which is a sort of clear brandy that is flavoured with resin from the mastic tree and has a taste reminiscent of licorice. Sfougato is another local favourite; a meat pie that seems to be very popular in this corner of the Mediterranean.
It is easy to get more into Classical and Byzantine Greece with visits to its well-known museums. Chios Archaeological Museum for example holds a periodical exhibition on the third floor and is named “Psara in Antiquity”. It contains artefacts such as vases, gold jewellery, terracotta figurines and funeral gift items. The Psara collection was found at the Mycenaean Necropolis of Archontiki on Psara Island. Of major note is a prehistoric vase found in Emporio, dated back to the 14th century B.C., geometric amphoras found in the town of Chios, dated to the 8th century B.C. and golden leaves unearthed in a grave at the town of Chios, dated back to the Hellenistic period. Another would be the Chios Byzantine Museum located in the central town square, has been in operation since 1980, displaying items that were donated from collections as well as findings discovered in local excavations. The most important items of the present exhibition include: a mural by Michael Chomatzas dated 1734 which depicts three girls sleeping, a scene from the miracles of Aghios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas). There are also two marble door lintels depicting Aghios Georghios and a dragon, a Genoese piece dating back to the Renaissance.
Chios aims to continue to expand with suburbs being erected in the north and south. The centre of the town is still concentrated between the port and castle where the administration, several museums, the main shopping street “Aplotaria”, and the municipal gardens lie. Its traditions and historical significance is worth exploring as it is unique in its own way, especially concerning the Rouketopolemos festival which brightens up nights.
How might symbolising historical events of the past bring a new perspective to their origins?