Chios Mountain and Livestock Feast is a three day festival that usually takes place in July or early August and all over the squares and streets of Pityos.  It includes a diverse range of activities for people of all ages (concerts, visual art exhibitions, traditional dances, storytelling, shadow theatre and more) along with the local products and arts and crafts exhibition. The Feast aims to revive old customs related to culture and everyday life of the area, to develop strong bonding between the visitors and this part of the island as well as an awareness for its treasures, in an entertaining and authentic way.  Furthermore it offers a great opportunity to livestock breeders and small local producers to exhibit and make their products available to the public without any mediator.

Τhe goal of this great summer celebration, over the course of the years, has been to introduce new visitors to Pityos and the wider area and to increase awareness about the hidden secrets of the mountain, its myths and legends and its productive and prolific contribution to contemporary life. Still, the main important goal is to bring new life to northern Chios in general, in order to protect this part of the island from further desertification.

Chios Mountain and Livestock Feast is organized by Pityos Cultural Association “Makelos”, in collaboration with the Chios Shepherds’ Association “Saint Mamas” and the “Pityos – Proorismos” (Pityos – Destination) Social Cooperative Enterprise”.

The Shepherd Tradition of Pityos

The fundamental element that shaped the character of the village is its pastoral life. Pityos historically and traditionally, at least since the early 18th century, was the largest pastoral community in Chios, reaching in the mid-20th century up to 15 to 18 thousand goats and sheep. That is why it still has the largest administrative area of any other community on the island, due to its extensive communal pastures, covering 51,000 acres! Consequently, Pityos has the greatest distance from its nearest neighbour in the whole of Chios. Therefore, Pityos was never just a “passage” to go somewhere else. It was always either a “destination” or a “starting point.”

The village was renowned for its large milk and cheese production, and the art of cheesemaking developed there more than anywhere else on Chios. The Pityaná cheeses were famous for their salty and strong flavour, as the shepherds made them on the mountains. To preserve their cheeses until they could go down to sell them in cities and villages, they used to prepare them with a lot of salt for better preservation.

Describing the pastoral character of the village, one of its younger researchers, Chios author Yiannis Makridakis, writes:

Pityos is a village with a strong shepherd tradition. Solitary and isolated, it created completely its own ways of life and unique traditions, which it keeps well-preserved until today. […] Its inhabitants were mostly shepherds, and the life of the village was adapted to the life of the herds. The village had ninety shepherd families in the mid-20th century, which had a total of about thirteen thousand goats. More people lived then on the mountain slopes than inside the houses, and life was very hard.

In the summer, the shepherds of Pityos grazed their ‘fields’ in the surrounding mountains, where almost all the families of the village lived. There was their life and their daily routine. Men, women, and children had the pen as their home, and in the village, only the few who were not involved in shepherding and the elderly remained. […]

A typical shepherd’s day started before dawn. The shepherd took his goats and went for grazing. In the morning, around nine, he brought them back to the pen, milked them, ate his food, and then took them back to graze, leaving his wife in charge of cheesemaking. Around four in the afternoon, the shepherd and the flock returned to the pen, the second milking and the second cheesemaking took place. Meanwhile, ‘the chambasides,’ ‘the prates,’ that is, the merchants, came with their mules and bought the products. However, there were not a few times when the shepherd left the care of the animals to his older children, loaded his mule with cheeses, and headed for the markets of Chios, Lagadas, or Kardamyla.

Late at night, when the work was done, the shepherd couple came down to the village to see their house and babies, whom the grandmother took care of, slept a few hours, and around three or four in the morning, they set off again for the mountains, and the same cycle of the day began.” (Υiannis Makridakis, Pityos: About the Shepherd Tradition and Other Traditions, pub. Cultural Association of Pityos, Chios 2021, pages 11-17)

And when winter came, during the “wintering” period, after Saint Dimitrios’ feast, and after the olive harvest, the shepherds, along with the children capable of working and their “helpers,” gathered their flocks and led them on a two or three-day journey from the mountainous areas of the village to the south, the plains around Pyrgi, Mesta, the Olympoi, Lithi, to the so-called “headlands,” as they called them. During their journey, they stopped to spend the night, rest, and negotiate in the villages of central Chios, such as Ai Giorgis Sykousis, Karyes, Tholopotami, and Avgonima.

When they reached the southern areas, they made rental agreements ( called “pakto̱mata” in the local dialect) for the communal grazing lands and took care to keep their animals away from the valuable mastic cultivations. However, success was not always guaranteed. There were numerous incidents where the goats entered the fields of mastic producers and caused damage. The relationships between the farmers and the semi-nomadic shepherds were not always easy and harmonious. Yet, many times, the shepherds of Pityos, to avoid penalties, made sure to offer treats to overseers or community advisors or establish close relationships with them. In the South Chios villages, they say about the people of Pityos that “they have no friends beyond the mountains but have godparents and best men everywhere.

During the winter months in the south, they stayed for months until spring in makeshift stone huts, which they covered with rush mats and soil over which they spread goat-hair blankets woven by their wives on the loom. There, they slept, cooked, and took care of their children. Afterward, on Holy Saturday, at the end of March, it was time to return to Pityos. Then, the children went back to school, and the churches, cafes, and squares of the village were once again filled with people.

The harsh and mountainous life of the people of Pityos shaped a character of individuals with rugged but sincere traits, seasoned and hospitable. Although most could not learn to read and write as they were forced to attend school inadequately, they gained a different kind of experiential education in nature.

This is what we aspire to document, preserve, and pass on to modern visitors.

Here, I was born on the mountains. My husband was a shepherd. We had goats….goats…., and we went to the hut; we made small huts on the mountains and placed a bundle of branches in front of them for a door, for a bag; we also had a cradle, and we had the children. That was our life, on the mountains, close to the goats. That was our life, our living, our living. In Mastic Villages. There, where there is no snow. It’s all a port. In Pyrgi, in Mesta, in Olympi, it’s… they have ports. And the mountains there are not like ours, naked, the mountains [of ours], naked. And the snow falls. And it kills the goats, and they die. You see, there is no branch to stand. It’s just a rush and a stone; our mountains. Down there, they have romania. Have you been down there sometimes in those mountains? Did you see romania? Did you see bushes, shrubs, blackberries, mulberries, kountroudies, rocky places, and the mountains are all full of romania, and the goats go in the branches and eat everything.” Kyra Vasiliki Katsarou, 100 years old (Makridakis, pages 43-44)

From the once rich pastoral tradition of Pityos, in our days, despite the turn from the traditional livestock farming to newer activities, 3-4 small herds of goats and sheep survive in the wider area, heirs and continuators of a long-standing tradition.

The visitor to the village will have the opportunity to see them on the slopes above the village, hear the bells of the goats and the voices of the shepherds, and taste the products of their toil.