Rouketopolemos – The Greek Rocket War
Greek Easter is known affectionately for many of its uniquely elaborate and historic traditions, whether they are eggs dyed blood red or a lamb roasting on your front lawn. But why stop at eggs and lamb? At many Greek Orthodox Churches, following the midnight Anastasi Service, fireworks are frequently set off along with the ringing of church bells to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection.
[Рουκετοπόλεμος] in Greek and it takes place between two rival churches: Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani. The churches sit opposite one another on opposing sides of a valley. The two sides fire tens of thousands of homemade rockets across the valley at the other church. The object is to hit the bell tower of the opposing church.
While this war is being waged, the midnight liturgy is still performed inside each church amid all of the action. The origin of the tradition is not specifically known, though several local legends tell the story. Some say that under the Ottoman Turkish occupation in the 19th Century, the island’s sailors would fire cannons into the air to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Fearing the locals would use the cannons to revolt the Turks took them away, and the locals replaced them with their homemade rockets. Another version says the locals fired the rockets at each other’s churches to create a diversion of sorts to keep the Turks away, allowing the faithful to attend the Easter services. The locals work to make the thousands of rockets throughout the year until they are ready to whiz through the air and ready them for the battle.
The church buildings as well as many of the surrounding buildings of the village are wrapped in wire mesh caging and protected by being boarded up with metal sheets to minimize the collateral damage that accompanies this yearly spectacle. In addition to a lot of chipped plaster, as well as the usual injuries surrounding fireworks, stray rockets that miss the church cause small brush fires—which the fire department must quickly extinguish. Each side claims victory from hitting the other church’s bell tower, but they agree to settle it next year continuing the tradition another year.
With countless traditions surrounding the celebration of Greek Easter, the historic Rocket War of Vrontados on the Aegean island of Chios surely ranks as one of the most unique to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and is quite the spectacle to behold.
This post was written by Greek Boston