Greece’s Chaotic Rocket War Easter Celebration

The Chios island in Greece has an unusual way of celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Two orthodox churches sitting 400 meters away on opposite hills indulge quite literally in a “rocket war”. Vrontados, a small coastal town situated in the eastern part of Chios island in Greece, partake in a slightly different approach to festivities during Easter. 

People of Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani churches fire thousands of firecrackers at the rival church, a tradition they’ve been following for hundreds of years. Locally called ‘Rouketopolemos’, meaning “rocket war”, attracts scores of tourists who participate in this chaotic celebration.

The town hasn’t experienced an explosion-less Easter for over a hundred years, back when Greece was under the Ottoman empire. Originally, the parishioners of Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani churches used real cannons until 1889. Seeing the tumultuous nature and potential hazard of firing cannons, the Ottomans put an end to the ‘cannon’ tradition. Then commenced the production of homemade rockets by the residents of Vrontados to continue the ‘bloodless war’.


The Calm Before the Storm

As stimulating as it sounds, preparations for Rouketopolemos start at least 3-4 months before Easter. 

Image acquired from the Greek Herald.

In conversation with the Greek Herald, a resident said, “the preparation starts after Christmas, and it takes 3-4 months to get ready.” Around 200 people from both parishes are divided into 40 groups. Each group deals with specific tasks to oversee the moulds, the materials, and the binding of the rockets. The makeshift explosive gunpowder, made from coal, sulfur, and nitro, is filled in paper cylinders. Once packed, the rockets are set up on wooden bases, ready to be launched.

Following the midnight Easter prayer service, locals and tourists launch these rockets in a frenzy! The goal is to hit the rival church’s bell tower and not cause anyone harm. The Churches and nearby buildings are protected with metal sheets and mesh during the festivities. Despite it being a century-old tradition, there is no clear distinction to declare a winner. Hits on the church’s bell tower are counted the next day. However, each parish claims itself to be the winner. The disagreement over this is taken out on Rouketopolemos in the following year, making the war perpetual.


Rouketopolemos, Now

In the early days, each church shot 80,000 rockets, firing 5000 rockets every 15 minutes. As time progressed, the involvement of the locals to celebrate Rouketopolemos declined. The town now barely fires 3,000 rockets from each parish. 

Image acquired from the Greek Herald.

The dwindled merriment is in response to many lawsuits filed by citizens of the town. “There have been many problems and complaints from residents, and we have ended up in courts numerous times,” said a Vrontados local. Habitants complain of extreme noise and damage to their property due to the rocket war. In 2016, Rouketopolemos was cancelled following a lawsuit. 

“After the judicial developments and the noise of the last days against the background of the rocket war, a meeting of the “rocket launchers” took place yesterday in Vrontados. The decision was made not to throw rockets this year,” read a statement issued by parishes regarding the complaint.

Coronavirus also set back the festivities last year. They shifted their firing venue to an unoccupied territory and not in the churches, owing to the coronavirus measures.

This article is part of TFword’s Where In The World Series, find the previous article from the series below!

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Feature Image Via CNN.


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