Lonely Planet Writer

Chios island calls truce in traditional Greek Easter ‘rocket war’ celebration

The residents of Vrontados village on the island of Chios have decided to call a truce in this weekend’s Orthodox Easter celebrations. Breaking  the 200-year-old Rocket War tradition will come as a relief for some locals, despite the annual spectacle’s popularity among tourists.  

Windmills, Chios Island, Greece.
Windmills, Chios Island, Greece. Image by nejdetduzen/Getty

According to Greek Reporter, the decision was made after some villagers had appealed to the police threatening lawsuits if the rockets are launched again this weekend. The villagers, who’ve had enough of fiery rockets blasting through the night sky each year, didn’t accept the assurances of local authorities that their homes would be secured from damage.

The Rocket War (called Rouketopolemos in Greek) in Vrontados village traditionally engages passionate supporters of two rival parish churches, Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani (St Mark and Virgin Mary Erethianis), located on opposite hillsides about 400m apart from each other. On the eve of Easter Sunday, between 60,000 and 80,000 rockets are fired between the two camps with a single aim – to hit the bell tower of the rival church. Incredibly, all this happens during Easter Mass, meaning each church is full of villagers attending the holy liturgy. There’s never an official winner, but the supporters of each camp are proud of each direct hit against the rival church.

This Easter tradition, believed to date back to Ottoman times, at first involved real cannons. When the use of cannons was prohibited in the late 19th century, the churches resorted to using homemade rockets. Villagers spend the whole year making them and sometimes even get hurt in the process. The ‘rockets’ are actually wooden sticks loaded with a gunpowder mixture and launched from special platforms.

The Greek Orthodox Church (along with other Orthodox churches such as Russian) celebrates Easter later than in most other countries, because its dates each year are calculated according to the Julian calendar, while the Catholic church uses the Gregorian calendar.