Monday, April 2, 2012

Found Art—The Scraped Walls of Pirgi, Chios

I often write about art painted on exterior walls—for instance the Murals of the Mission District, San Francisco and the Wynwood Walls in Miami.  I’ve even written about the artistic graffiti of Oaxaca, Mexico.
 But the only place you will find art scraped into the walls, instead of painted on, is in the town of Pirgi on the Greek island of Chios, where every building is a  crazy quilt of  geometric designs, even the churches and banks.
 This kind of decoration is called  ksista (“scraped” in Greek) or, in Italian,  scrafitti  It is believed to have originated in Genoa and spread to Chios when the island was under Genovese rule—from 1346-1566-- but it’s still done today.
 The Ksista designs on the wall vary from geometric to figurative.  It’s is done by covering walls in a mixture of sand, asbestos and cement. Then, when it dries, another coat of white plaster is spread on top.  Finally the designs are drawn on top and with forks, the top layer is scratched away to reveal the darker colors underneath.  On balconies and walls, strings of drying tomatoes add a zap of red.
                                                 I like that the cat in the lower left is black and white like the walls
Pirgi is a fortified village, designed to foil and confuse pirates.  Only on Chios will you find the mastic tree, which produces a resin that has made the people rich since the 14th century. Mastic is a gun-like sap that seeps out of the tree.  TheTurkish sultans and their harems  loved it as  chewing gun and candy and for medicinal purposes. Today Mastic is more popular than ever for  cosmetics, perfumes and cooking.
                                             Every Greek house has a pot of Basil--for good luck as well as cooking.

The citizens of Pirgi, with their uniquely scraped walls and their famous mastic trees have one more unique claim to fame.  They believe that Christopher Columbus came not from Genoa but from a Ksista-decorated house in Pirgi, and some historians believe them.
                                          Old and young men in Pirgi just chillin' under the strings of tomatoes.

Here is wall art inside a very ancient church in Pirgi.  The winged figure over the window represents the Holy Spirit.


Joanna DeVoe said...

Ooooooh... Aaaaaaah... it's gorgeous! This I'd love to see in person :O)

Unknown said...

It's a fantastic town to walk through and eventually make it to the House of Columbus (the supposed ancestral home of Columbus). I've heard that since the island was under Genovese control, it makes sense that Columbus may have been on the island. Further, the island was once a powerful and important in naval terms and the military trained there.
Lastly, the angel in the wall painting is actually a six-winged seraphim. In Greek, an exapterygo. Besides the six wings, the words beside it are 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord', which is an abbreviated form of the never-ending prayer.

by Joan Gage said...

Thank you, Matthew, for letting me know about the seraphim. It's a wonderful image.