Tag Archives: Chios

CHIOS ROCKET WARS

This celebration contains some of our favourite fireworks; ROCKETS!

The yearly spectacle of rocket wars descends on the Greek island of Chios in the village of Vrontados over the Easter weekend. This amazing event is unlike any other that you will witness in the world it includes over 60,000 rockets that are handmade and fired from residents of two opposing camps into each other’s rival churches in the village.

Chios Rocket War

The churches of Agios Markos & Panagia Erithiani are 400 metres apart on the hills on either side of the village. Preparation begins on the Saturday morning as the rivals set up the meshing on all the windows of the churches to protect them along with setting up the ramps in certain locations from where they shoot the rockets. Some of the rockets are launched as a test to make sure that they are correctly positioned and on target of the bell of the opposite church tower. With the numbers building on both the locals and the visitors throughout the afternoon and early evening the rivals get ready and into place ready for the stroke of 8pm.

Just before the battle commences there is a loud horn sounded, after this a volley of thousands of lights and sound as the rockets are lit and fired in every direction like shooting stars filling the air with bright lights and smoke. The congregants with all the madness going around them amusingly still attend the church for the evening mass which is still an important element of the Rouketopolemos.

The rockets are supposed to cease when one of the church bells are hit but amongst the noise this always is missed or if it is heard they still carry on regardless, the rockets do eventually stop at 12:30am on Easter Sunday. Both of the parishes normally end up claiming victory to themselves and then a casus belli (reasons for waging war) is agreed for the following year.

It is not known exactly why and when this celebration came about, and there are various theories on why the rocket wars started but all we do know is that the tradition has been upheld every year at the same time at Easter since the 19th century. After the event has ceased then becomes the big clear up operation as the area around and in between the churches are littered with the leftovers from the rockets, the white walls of the churches have black scorch marks from them and some rockets still stuck in the meshes covering the windows. The local rivals are quick to take a look over at the opposing side to see where and how many hits their rockets made.

Then its back to preparations for the next years festivities and another round of Rocket Wars !

rocketwar-05

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PASSFIRE – The Adventure Continues

Here at Epic, we have been following the exploits and adventures of brothers Jesse and Jeremy Veverka from the USA, as they criss-cross the globe creating the biggest ‘fireworks’ documentary film ever made.

Their mission is to visit as many countries as possible to document their attitudes and the tradition/religious connotations towards fireworks as possible. The journey started in January 2013 and will continue (funding permitting) until they have visited as many countries as possible for their film and documentary series about pyrotechnics.

In late March, the team left Spain for the sunny shores of Portugal for the next leg of the adventure. Portugal has a long firework history and just love their motor rockets and smaller salutes called ‘bombettes’. The motor rockets are loaded with effects and reach an incredible 200m altitude.

Years ago, the Portuguese, like the ancient Chinese used bamboo type canes and packed them with black powder and chemical stars filled them with effects and then reinforced them with wire resulting in no two of them ever being exactly the same. They also have some unusual and frankly dangerous looking beasties called ‘strong battery’ or BF which unlike a display shell have multiple effects slowly released as they are not under pressure in the loose wrapping resulting in a large but not widespread explosion or spread.

As the second week of April looms large, the Passfire team left Portugal for the beautiful shores of Italy to see their traditional ‘cannister shells’ and ‘ring stars’.

The Italians, of course, are credited with adding the colour and effects to the Art of Pyrotechnics way back in the fourteenth century and of the 60 or so firework specialists around in Europe at the time, the majority of them were Italian descendants.

Around the World, the production of fireworks depends heavily on the burst charge but each country has their own raw material to make it with. Over in China, for example, they use the rice husk (the outer casing on the grain – a bit like wheat bran) in Mexico, they use the cotton seed husk but in Italy, as they are known mainly for grape production for wine, they use cork. It is lightweight, robust and absorbent. They also create star rings rather than individual stars which makes the resultant burst more precise. The rings are then stacked into the tube and the middle packed with burst charge.

Off then to the next destination – Greece. Whilst the Greeks had little influence on the history of fireworks, they have been using them widely in their religious festivals, particularly the Christian history of Greece and its Isles. One of these events is the annual Rouketopolemos or Rocket battle in Chios where two opposing churches fire rockets across the town in an attempt to hit the bell in the tower of the opposite church. All very dramatic and more than a little dangerous and the Veverkas’ certainly had their work cut out filming at the event but they got some great footage and even managed to be interviewed by Greek TV about their visit and film production. Having been a visitor myself to Greece (Zakynthos) in the past at the same time as a similar festival a few years ago, these events whilst dramatic are definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Next stop – Malta

Check out our blog post next month to see what the brothers have been up to on the next leg of the Passfire journey.

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Fireworks For Easter 2014

Easter this year falls on 20th April which is quite late, but by the same token, it will be even closer to Summer-time and as such, should be a really nice weekend. Here in the UK, Easter has always been a fairly quiet and respectful event but over in Greece, they do things a little differently!

Anyone who has been to Greece or any one of its beautiful islands will know that they are huge fans of everything pyro. I recall arriving at my hotel in Zakynthos, on my first trip to Greece and was just changing for a quiet night out when all I could hear was what I originally thought was gunfire (which I was later advised was also commonplace as they shoot them in the air at weddings!), to find that it was, in fact, St Denis’s annual festival which is always accompanied by fireworks (St Denis AKA St Dionysios the patron Saint of the Island).

It comes as no surprise (to me at least) to learn that there is another of the islands with a similar tradition. On the eve of Easter Sunday (Holy Saturday) on the lovely island of Chios, two churches from rival villages Aghios Markos and Panagia Ereithiani celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a very special and unique way – they engage in a ‘rocket war’ known locally as Rouketopolemos. This is not a case of a couple of rockets being fired into the night sky, they launch up to 80,000 of these little rockets in large salvos. The objective of this traditional ‘fight’ is to hit the bell tower of the opposing church which is around 400 metres away.

Historically, it is said that this event has been going on since the days of the Ottoman Empire rule in the mid 16th century when the ‘battle’ actually involved real cannon fire until sense eventually prevailed in the late 19th century when the practice of using live cannons was prohibited.

Today, great care is taken on the days leading up to the event to protect both of the ancient churches and surrounding structures from the possibility of fire damage with boards, metal sheeting and wire mesh. During any let up in the ‘rocket fight’ locals fire their own rockets and small barrages to keep the momentum going. The ‘fight’ goes on into the wee small hours and each of the parishes remains resolute that they are the winner and on to the next year it continues.

I suppose, compared with some of the things we do for Bonfire Night (I will say one thing, Bonfire Societies; need I say more?!) this is quite tame but remains something that I would still love to see first hand and may this tradition continue for many years to come.

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