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The tower of Skilitsena (a.k.a. “the Black Woman”)

The tower of Skilitsena (a.k.a. “the Black Woman”)

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The orchard featuring the tower of “the Black Woman” is located to the east of Agios Ioannis Voudomatis church in Kambos, in an area called Serba. Before it was stolen, the lintel on the gate would bear the initials “ΜΣ” along with the date: 1811. The list of presumed owners would probably include Manolis Th. Skilitsis (1784-1864) of Orfanos clan, Manolis P. Skilitsis (1760-1843) of Mises or Iatros clan, son of the Hospital’s founder –which somehow explains how the mansion came into Skilitsio Hospital’s possession–, or Mikes Skilitsis of Arambas clan, who was beheaded in Constantinople in 1822. He was outlived by Despina Prassakaki, his ill-fated, “black” widow.

Entrance to the property is through an imposing gate, while the yard features a cistern and a water-wheel. The ruins that can be seen today are remnants of the second construction stage while the visitor’s eye is caught by the remains of various vaults covering the ground floor rooms.

View of the room, part of which was demolished by Chios Municipality in 2010 📷 I. Kostaris

No one knows when Skilitsio Hospital took over the tower and the orchard. Actually, the majority of Chian people ignored even the mere fact of this property belonging to the hospital; they did, however, find out when an article was published in the local newspaper “Alithia”, after Chios Municipality demolished part of it “following complaints filed by local residents about wall debris falling on the street”. Everything was done in a hurry, without the then competent authority –the Third Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, responsible for the pre-1830 monument– being notified so as to oversee the works, without any building schematics being drawn, without any concern being shown to preserve various architectural structures or even fence the area following the demolition. The way the Engineering Services Directorate responded to a document submitted by the Hellenic Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage perfectly encapsulates the issue: «…the increased likelihood of a fatal accident occurring called for not fully abiding by the standard bureaucratic procedure pertaining to the compulsory, in any case, demolition…». As it turns out, when dealing with crumbling heritage buildings, some public agencies would rather knock them down instead of restoring them.

Leonis Kalvokoresis street; the tower as seen from the west before it was torn down by the local authorities 📷 V. Ayannides

A couple of days later, after that story about Chios Hospital owned heritage mansions hit the headlines of Athenian newspapers and even got as far as the Greek Parliament, the hospital administrator claimed that the demolition was never made known to the institution whereas the tower was scheduled for restoration. On September 24, 2010, the medieval ashlars were piled on a truck that drove off before the police arrived.

Part of cubic stonework to the north side of the building 📷 I. Kostaris

Maria Ksida, a renowned architect, sent a letter to the local press in which she dated the tower back to the 15th century, stressing its significance, the unprecedented haste to tear it down as well as the lack of permits by the competent authorities before determining that “demolishing a monument is usually carried out by a victor at the expense of a conquered people as the former aims at eliminating the subdued people’s history”.

See Also

   Skilitsis family  

Skilitsis or Skilitzis family hails from the Byzantine province of the Thracesian Theme. Its first appearances in Constantinople and in Chios date back to the 11th and the 14th centuries respectively. Its members were noted for participating in the Greek Independence War, their humanitarian work as well as their business endeavors.

* Note: In European terms, ground floor (being at ground level) generally refers to the floor which exits directly onto the street; by extension, first floor is the floor which one has to use a staircase to walk up to. Typically, the equivalent terms in American English are first floor and second floor.

Sketch: Vassilis Ayiannides. Photos: Vassilis Ayiannides, Ioannis Kostaris.
Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris.

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