“Craggy Híos”, as Homer aptly described his putative birthplace, has a turbulent history and a strong identity. This large island has always been prosperous: in medieval times through the export of mastic resin – a trade controlled by Genoese overlords between 1346 and 1566 – and later by the Ottomans, who dubbed the place Sakız Adası (“Resin Island”). Since union with Greece in 1912, several shipping dynasties have emerged here, continuing to generate wealth, and someone in almost every family still spends time in the merchant navy.
Unfortunately, the island has suffered more than its share of catastrophes since the 1800s. The Ottomans perpetrated their most infamous, if not their worst, anti-revolutionary atrocity here in March 1822, massacring 30,000 Hiots and enslaving or exiling even more. In 1881, much of Híos was destroyed by a violent earthquake, and throughout the 1980s the island’s natural beauty was compromised by devastating forest fires, compounding the effect of generations of tree-felling by boat-builders.
Until the late 1980s, the more powerful ship-owning dynasts, local government and the military authorities discouraged tourism and even now it is concentrated mostly in the capital or the nearby beach resorts of Karfás and Ayía Ermióni. Despite this, various foreigners have discovered a Híos beyond its rather daunting port capital: fascinating villages, important Byzantine monuments and a respectable, if remote, complement of beaches. English is widely spoken courtesy of numerous returned Greek-Americans and Greek-Canadians.