Commonalities across borders: Observations from Chios (Greece) and Siena (Italy)

Commonalities across borders: Observations from Chios (Greece) and Siena (Italy)

Looking at some surprising similarities between two regions in completly different countries

From my recent travel to Tuscany, I found that in Europe, there are cities and regions which have many common features. How beautiful and interesting it would be if the inhabitants of these regions would get to know each other and discover how many things they have in common. This might help in bringing together not only these people, but also their whole cities and perhaps even their nations.

This idea came to my mind in Tuscany, when I browsed through the streets of Siena and the beautiful village of San Gimignano. Three days in beautiful Tuscany were enough to make me realize that this region is so similar to the southern regions of Greece like Chios.

Let’s take everything from the beginning, starting with the history of both places.


Both Siena and Chios had a glorious past and rich people. But in both of these areas this period ended with a big disaster. In Siena, there was a plague which decimated the city’s residents. This large epidemic wiped out 70,000 of the 100,000 residents. This resulted in the weakening of Sienna and the fall under the dominion of Florence.

A similar tragedy happened in Chios. During the Turkish occupation, the island went through a long and productive commercial boom. The disaster came when Anthony Bournias (a mercenary of Napoleon) went to Samos with two hundred men and asked Lycurgus Logothetis (a Greek political and military leader) to participate in the revolution of Chios. There was a quarrel between Bournia and Logothetis on who will head the revolution, leading to its ultimate failure. Despite the failure of the revolt, Turkey sent 7,000 troops to the island. Then began the great massacre of Chios. At that time the population was between 120,000 to 180,000 inhabitants (depending on whether you trust Greece or Turkish estimates). After the massacre only 1,000 to 2,000 residents remained on the island, and 20,000 had escaped to the surrounding islands. After these disasters came a constant decline for both Siena and Chios.


Let us continue with the common features of these two cities in the architectural and urban sector. The old city of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also considered the best preserved medieval town in Europe. In this respect Siena is similar to the region of Mastichochoria of Chios. Within Mastichochoria lies the town Mesta, the best preserved (and inhabited)  medieval settlement of the island (and perhaps of the Aegean Sea). The narrow backstreets of Mesta are very similar to those of Siena. Both cities also contained a castle which is evident from the combined houses that convert these two cities as forts. Chios also features a medieval monastery called Nea Moni, which has also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


As for tradition, this was the first time I meet another city where parishes rival in traditional customs. Every New Year’s eve, Chios holds the traditional ship model competition where each parish prepares its own boat. After having completed the contest in the main square of the city, where the parish with the best boat takes the prize, the parishes roam the city singing rearranged carols.  Easter also has the famous “Rouketopolemos ” which literally means “rocket war”. Two parishes, Panagia Erythiani and San Marcos, prepare homemade rockets throughout the whole year, and then on the evening of the Resurrection try to target the rival parish’s church bell. This custom dates back to the Ottoman period.


Both Tuscany and Chios are rich and famous areas for the fruits of their land. Tuscany produces wonderful wine, while Chios is famous for its mastic, citrus, jasmine and, in ancient times, it was also famous for its wine.


Siena has a basketball team with remarkable success both in Italy and in the European championship. Similarly, Chios has a successful tradition in waterpolo.

And all these common traits can be found in two cities that have 50,000 residents…

Source: George Chatzelenis,