Social life and cultural development of Aivali and Moschonisia
Moschonisia and its opposite Asian-Minor coast, whose major city is Aivali (also known as Kydonies), comprise a geographical area with common economic, social and cultural bonds. The special historical circumstances which took place in the Ottoman Empire, in the second half of the 18 th century, as well as the outbreak of the Greek revolution in 1821, and the later formation of the Greek State, affected the development and played a decisive role in the future of Asia-Minor Greek towns, during that critical period.
Although Aivali and Moschonisia are part of western Asia Minor and their history has been related to other important Greek towns, such as Pergamon and Smyrn a , these two towns have had their own peculiarities. It is estimated that since the end of the 16 th century they had been inhabited by Greek immigrants from Lesvos, Chios, Lemnos, the Cycladic islands, Peloponnese, Epirus and other areas, who, thanks to the autonomy and privileges granted to them by the Ottoman Empire, created a remarkable local culture, preserving the Greek customs, traditions, the language and their religion.
In Aivali and Moschonisia there were no Turks, apart from a few administrative officials. The French M. D. Raffeneil, who visited Aivali before the 1821 disaster, compared it to a "small democracy", as it was governed by a local committee of senior citizens, it had its own legislation, and was under the protection of the Sultan *. Those peculiar circumstances attracted Greeks from other areas that were oppressed by the Ottomans. Aivali also became a refuge for the notorious "contrabatzides" (tobacco smugglers who were also involved in the Greek Resistance), who naturally annoyed the Ottoman government and became a source of ill treatment and misery for the local population.
Aivali was divided into three regions: the Higher (or Upper region), the Middle and the Lower, a division which indicates the social strata of the town, the different professions and political convictions. The Upper region was inhabited by the aristocrats, the wealthy landowners and major traders, all of whom were mainly conservative. Most of the inhabitants of the Lower region were simple laymen, farmers and fishermen, poor people with democratic political beliefs. The middle region was occupied by the middle class, consisting of traders, boat owners, landowners and craftsmen. They shared features with the other groups, and tried to imitate the customs and behaviour of the upper class. In Moschonisia, the division in social classes and political parties was not as clear as in Aivali. However, most of the upper class lived around the Taksiarchis cathedral, and the middle class around the Saint Triada church, in the middle of the town. Poor people were mostly found next to Saint Demetrios church at the east side.
The basis for economic growth in Aivali and Moschonisia was mainly the cultivation of the olive trees. There were many olive presses, soap factories and tanneries. Production covered local needs, and at the same time, supplied Greek and foreign markets with various products. Family businesses were formed, as well as companies with capital holders from the island of Lesvos as associates. Those companies were very profitable and provided the necessary means for the social, spiritual and cultural development of the area. It is worth mentioning that the two hospitals in Aivali, and the schools of Aivali and Moschonisia were mainly funded by private sponsors.
In this period of exceptional development, before the 1821 catastrophe, and later when people returned to their homeland, there was a constant endeavour to promote education and the arts. Clubs and societies played a significant role in the local social and cultural life. Having received the beneficial influence of the Enlightenment, the educational system was organised according to the European models. A striking example is the establishment of the Academy of Aivali in 1800, one of the major Greek schools of those times, with prominent teachers, such as Grigorios Sarafis, Benjamin the Lesvian and Theophilos Kairis, and an important library, which was equipped with rare manuscripts and many publications of Ancient Greek and Latin authors. The Printing House of Tombras was founded, and the magazine "Aeolian Star" as well as the "Keryx" newspaper were published.
Several well-known Greek writers and artists of the 20 th century came from Aivali and Moschonisi, as well.
Photis Kontoglou (painter and writer)
Ilias Venezis (writer)
Panos Valsamakis (ceramist and writer)
George Sakkaris (philologist)
Eustratios Drakos (writer)
Stratis Doukas (writer)
Sitsa Karaiskaki (writer)
There is also evidence that the famous Lesvian painter Theophilos had an origin from Moschonisia.
Most of customs and traditions in Aivali and Moschonisia were similar to those observed in Lesvos. For instance, people practiced the Christmas custom of "koumousia", i.e., the setting of tables loaded with food that were placed in front of the main door of the house to treat passers-by; the "games" were groups of disguised people who roamed the streets at carnival time; the "stone war" was played every Sunday afternoon; the spectacular fights between male camels were an attraction at the fair of St. Anthony. In Moschonisia, the procession of "Virgin Mary ' s lamp" took place on the Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the sacrifice of the cock at the little church of Saint John the Koula was performed by sick Moschonisians seeking therapy. Most customs were closely related to religious worship, and played a dominant role in people's life.
The relations with the local community of Lesvos, on the economic and cultural level, the relations with the Turks and the Greek State, the political choices, religion and close connection to the church determine the character and ideology of people from Aivali and Moschonisia. Reconstructing their way of life and culture is not an easy task, as very few texts have escaped the 1922 catastrophe. As far as later oral and written sources are concerned, they must be approached with caution since they carry the burden of bitter memories of the uprooting from homeland and the painful experience of the refugees. In such cases, memory may operate selectively; it idealizes certain elements of the past, and deliberately conceals others.
* "Kydonies before 1821, according to Mr. M. D. Raffeneil", translated from French by Chariklia Stavraki, published by Damianos, Smyrna 1861, 11 pages.