Rocket War on Chios
For most of the year, the village of Vrontados on the island of Chios is a sleepy sort of place — at least on first impressions. Secretly, the villagers spend their spare time stockpiling rockets, hand-made from wood and charcoal mixed with gunpowder. They stash their artillery in secret depots hidden in the surrounding mountains. On Easter Saturday, the weaponry is rolled out onto makeshift firing ranges fashioned from poles and planks.
This is the set-up for an annual battle between the churches of Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani, located on opposite sides of the valley. As night falls, the parishioners fire up to 100,000 rockets at each other. The aim of the game is to strike the bell tower of the opposite church. At 11:30 pm, a brief ceasefire allows parishioners to enter their respective churches for mass.
This bizarre Rouketopolemos (Rocket War), has been going on since the late 1800s, when Chios was occupied by Turkey. Since the locals were forbidden to celebrate Easter, the villagers of Vrontados came up with a ruse to celebrate the resurrection, under the cover of a fake war using cannons and fireworks. When the Ottomans prohibited the use of real cannons, the locals resorted to making their own.
Direct hits on each belfry are counted the next day to determine the winner, but inevitably each parish claims victory. They agree to settle the score the following year, so it looks like this pyrotechnic display won’t end any time soon.