The Greeks like to celebrate Easter with fireworks, but the townsfolk of Vrontados on the Greek island of Chios aren’t satisfied with simple fireworks. So on the midnight before Easter Sunday, supporters of two rival church congregations – Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani, gather near their respective churches located on two different hilltops about 400 meters away, and fire tens of thousands of home-made rockets across the valley towards each other. The objective is to hit the bell tower of the church of the other side. Direct hits on each belfry are counted and the parish with the most hits is determined the winner.
This local traditional event known as Rouketopolemos, literally Rocket-War, goes back at least to the Ottoman era. It is said that wars were originally fought with actual cannons until the Ottoman Empire banned that practice around 1889. Since then wooden rockets loaded with an explosive mixture containing gunpowder have been used.
It is still a dangerous practice and the church buildings, as well as the nearby ones, have to be extensively boarded up with metal sheets and mesh to minimize damage. Chipped plaster and minor injuries surrounding fireworks are common, and occasionally stray rocket would cause small brush fires. The battle scars received during the night are still visible the next morning. Thousands of burned-out rockets lie in great heaps in the church yards, and stuck in the protective wire meshing. Understandably, not everyone is keen on participating. Many locals regularly express their dismay at the explosive nature of the custom, but Rouketopolemos happens to draw a lot of tourists and is a source of significant revenue for the area.
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