Lesvos is the third biggest island in Greece. It is the emerald island of Northeastern Aegean. Situated only 5 miles away from Asia Minor coastline, between the islands of Chios and Limnos, Lesvos is an island of immense beauty, which will enchant you with its mysterious forests, dramatic coastline, magnificent sunsets and luxuriant vegetation. Lesvos is world renowned for its great diversity of flora and fauna species. The temperate climate, inland rivers and natural hot springs all contribute to maintain the surprisingly lush vegetation. Mountains covered with pine forests and silvery olive groves are interchanged with areas of barren yet dramatic volcanic stone. On this lunar landscape in the Southwest of the island between Sigri and Eressos lies the magnificent Petrified Forest and the Museum of Natural History with innumerable fossil findings of great importance.
Lesvos, as it can be seen through its three thousand year-uninterrupted history, its abundance of poets, musicians, philosophers and lawgivers, was one of the greatest cultural centers of the Greek World. It was the birthplace of the Lyric poets Alcaeos and Sappho, Mithymnean guitarist Arion, Theophrastus, Periander, Mirtilos the historian, Matriketas the astronomer as well as contemporary literary celebrities such as Argiris Eftaliotis, Stratis Mirivillis, Helias Venezis and Theophilos the painter.
This idyllic scenery inspired Loggos in 3rd century B.C. to write his pastoral novel “Daphnis and Chloe” which in turn inspired many other artists and authors through the centuries. One of them was Morris Ravel, the famous French composer who composed a ballet under the same name performed for the first time by the great dancer Nizinski in Paris in 1912. As a holiday destination, Lesvos is HARD to BETTER. It is ideal both for relaxation and quiet work as well as lively nightlife. It is big enough to avoid “island claustrophobia” since there’s constant change of scenery. Finally, being close to Asia Minor it is easy for visitors to organize trips to visit Troy or to explore the coastline of ancient Ionia.
AGIA PARASKEVI: The village of Agia Paraskevi is situated on the Northwest of Lesvos Island in Greece. It was named after the small chapel of Saint Paraskevi that was found in a cave in the area. The village is renowned for the Bull Feast taking place every summer there. It is also home of two unique archaeological sites in Greece: a) Klopedi with the ruins of two temples in Aeolian Style dating from the archaic period (8th-6th c. B.C) and b) Mesa with temples dedicated to Zeus, Hera and Dionysus built in Ionian style. The last one is open to visitors all year round, every day except from Mondays. Furthermore, in Agia Paraskevi you can find the Museum of Lesvos Olive Oil Industry at the old Municipal Olive Press where you can witness the development of the Olive-Oil production from the old fashioned manual way to its complete automation.
AGIASOS: Agiasos is a traditional settlement of 2,650 people, situated 28Klm from Mytilene, at the foot of Mount Olympus at an altitude of 500m. It is surrounded by lush vegetation, pine forests, chestnut, walnut and olive groves. According to the local legends the village was built around the hermitage of monk Agathon in 802 A.D when he arrived from Jerusalem bringing with him the Icon of Mother Virgin (Saint Sion) and other sacred objects. The Icon was painted by Saint Lucas the Evangelist and is believed to have healing powers. The first church-monastery was built in 1170. The cultural association “Anagnostirio” was founded in 1894, during the Turkish occupation and it still exists today owning an extensive library, a folk art museum and a theatre company with a great repertoire. People of Agiasos are mainly farmers and their sources of income are fruit gathering, olive-oil production, pottery, woodwork and weaving. Special occasions are the celebration of Chestnut gathering in October and Cherry gathering in July, the Religious Pilgrimage every year on August 15th in honour of Mother Virgin as well as the Carnival in February or March with hilarious burlesques about current political matters performed in the local dialect.
GERA: The Municipality of Gera is situated at the Southeastern side of the Island of Lesvos in Greece. It spreads in an area of 86,350 sq. Klm. and has a population of 6,985. The seat of the Municipality is the village of Pappados with 1,510 people. Other settlements are Skopelos where you can see the Church of Archangels, Palaiokipos, Mesagros with its old mosque and Perama. You can swim at the beaches of Evriaki, Chalatses, Pirgos and Avlonas.
ERESOS: The Municipality of Eresos is situated at the western end of the Island of Lesvos. It is the largest Municipality on the island extending at an area of 290,947 sq.Klm with a population of 5,530. The seat of the Municipality is the enchanting village of Eresos. In antiquity it used to be a developed area according to archaeological findings. At Xokastro you can visit the ancient city, at “Minavra” the temple of goddess Athena and at “Vigla” a pre-Hellenic gate. A lot of important findings are exhibited at the archaeological museum. Skala Eresos is the haven of Eresos. It has a long sandy beach, many restaurants and cafes for tasty meals, swimming and relaxation. The rest of the settlements of the Municipality are Sigri, Andissa, Messotopos with its haven Tavari, a nice little place for ouzo and a swim and picturesque Vatousa.
SIGRI: Sigri should definitely be your next stop. Apart from its Byzantine Castle, its traditional fish taverns and a nice sandy beach, Sigri is world renowned for its Petrified Forest and the Museum of Natural History. Although fossils can be found all over the world, fossil findings in Sigri are of great importance because of the large number of petrified trees their variety in size and details in form. Something similar has been discovered in Arizona, U.S.A., but is much smaller in size and not as important.
ANTISSA: Antissa is second after Eresos with 900 citizens. It is worth visiting the ruins of Ancient Antissa and the monastery of Ipsilo, where apart from its wonderful panoramic view you can admire the exhibition of important religious relics and the sacerdotal vestments of Gregory V, the Patriarch of Constantinople. Gavathas, Lampsarna and Campos are wonderful sandy beaches in the area.
EVERGETOULAS: The Municipality of Evergetoulas lies on the Eastern inner side of the Island of Lesvos, Greece on the Gulf of Gera extending at an area of 88,866 sq.Klms with 3,336 people. The seat of the Municipality is Sycounda with 346 citizens. Other important settlements are Ippios, KatoTritos, Keramia and Asomatos.
KALLONI: The Municipality of Kalloni is situated at the Centre of Lesvos Island. It is the second Municipality in size extending at an area of 241,946 sq.Klm with a population of 8,194 inhabitants. The seat of the municipality is Kalloni, 40 Klm from Mitylene with 1,732 citizens. Sights worth seeing are Limonos Monastery with its Folk art Museum and a Library owning a lot of rare editions dating from the Byzantine Times and the Turkish occupation as well as the Women’s Monastery of Mirsiniotissa. In the area there are a lot of ruins of ancient dwellings, tombs and castles. Kalloni is also renowned for a special delicacy, its salty sardines. “Papalina” sardines are caught at the Gulf of Kalloni and get prepared with a special recipe. Other settlements of the Municipality are Agra with the production of delicious cheese, Parakila with its orange groves, Dafia, Filia, Skalochori, Anemotia and Kerami.
LOUTROPOLI THERMIS: Loutropoli Thermis is situated at the center of the Eastern Coastline of Lesvos. It spreads at an area of 79,468 sq.Klm and has a population of 3,809 people, The seat of the Municipality is Thermi with 912 inhabitants. Thermi was named after the hot springs of the area. Sights worth seeing are Saint Raphael’s monastery and the Chapel of Panagia Faneromeni with frescos painted by Theophilus. Other settlements are Pigi, Komi, Mistegna and Nehes Kydonies.
MANDAMADOS: The Municipality of Mandamados lies at the North Eastern side of Lesvos Island. It covers an area of 122,435 sq.Klm and has 3,210 inhabitants. The seat of the Municipality is Mandamados with 1,156 citizens. It was named after the cows and oxes (mandades) that are bread in the area. Mandamados is renowned its delicious dairy products (cheese, yogurt etc.) that you can purchase at the shop of the Dairy Cooperative and its wonderful ceramics made by local potters. A site worth your attention is the “Archangels Monastery”. Archangel Michael is considered to be the protector of the Island of Lesvos and in the Monastery you will find his Icon, a unique piece of art. According to a legend Saracens attacked the monastery and slaughtered all the monks except from a young boy who managed to hide. They were about to burn the place down when a tall man in shining armor appeared and scared them away. The young boy, who witnessed all these, made a sculpture of the man’s face and armour using clay made of the slaughtered monks’ blood and earth. This is the only relief Icon worshiped in the Greek Orthodox Church and is believed to have immense healing powers. Other settlements of the Municipality are Kapi with its great music tradition, Pelopi named after King Pelopes, Klio named after Cleo the muse of History and Rhetoric. Nice beaches to swim are Agios Stephanos, Pedi and Tsonia.
MYTILENE: Mytilene is the capital city of the Island of Lesvos with a population of 27,247 according to the latest census in 2001. Arable land, forests and mountains surround the city. Monuments scattered around are proofs of its glorious history. The most important monument is its Castle at the area of Epano Skala. It was built by Justinean, the Byzantine Emperor. Inside it there are remains of the Gatelouzi dwellings. Gatelousi were a Genoese family who got Lesvos as dowry after Francisco Gatelouzo got married to Maria Palaeologos the sister of Emperor Ioannis Palaiologos. Other important monuments are the ancient theatre, the Roman villa with mosaics depicting scenes from Menandros’ comedies, the Roman house, Geni mosque and the Roman aqueduct at Moria, a nearby settlement of the municipality. There are a lot of beautiful mansions built in neoclassic style showing the wealth and prosperity of the local bourgeoisie in the 19th century. The church of Saint Theodore and the Cathedral are very interesting sights to see because of their magnificent architecture. You should also visit the Archaeological museum, the Byzantine, the Terriade museum of Modern Arts hosting Theophilus and Matis paintings and the Folk Arts Museum. Mytilene’s Market is varied having lots of clothes shops, general stores, cafes, bars and restaurants where you can have a pleasant time.
PETRA: The Municipality of Petra lies 55Klm from Mitylene. The seat of the Municipality is Petra named after the magnificent forty-metre rock rising in the middle of a plain. At the top of the rock you can see the Church of Mother Virgin. It is a tree-aisled basilica with a narthex. In order to reach it you’ll have to climb 114 steps carved in the rock. At the center of the village under an old plane tree there is Saint Nicolas, a single aisled basilica with three layers of frescos the oldest of which dates from the 16th century. It is a preserved monument. Another place of interest is Vareltzidena’s Mansion built at the second half of 18th century and decorated with beautiful frescos and woodcarvings. At the foot of the rock there is Saint George’s church with its religious museum. Tsichrada, Ambelia and Anaxos are beautiful sandy beaches at the coastline between Petra and its settlement Skoutaros. Nearby the settlement of Lafionas, on the road to Mitylene, there is Klapados, a deserted village, where Greeks fought the last liberating battles against the Turks in 1912. A few kilometers further up there is Stipsi with its Olive oil Cooperative that produces the renowned Stipsi Olive-Oil. The settlement of Ipsilometopo lies 2 Klm away from Stipsi. There you should visit Aslanis Spring with its crystal waters and perennial plane trees.
PLOMARI: The Municipality of Plomari is situated on the South side of the Island of Lesvos and spreads at an area of 122,452 sq. Klm. The seat of the Municipality is Plomari, the second largest city of Lesvos in population. Apart from the natural beauty surrounding the city, Plomari is worth visiting because of its many ouzo distilleries, olive presses and traditional soap factories, Folk art and religious museum. An enchanting sight worth visiting is the little chapel of Panagia Krifi hidden in a cave, which you can reach only by boat. Other traditional settlements of the Municipality are Megalocori, Akrasi, Plagia and Palaiochori all traditionally built surrounded by lush vegetation of immense beauty. You can swim at the wonderful beaches of Ammoudeli, Agios Isidoros, Melinda and Drota.
POLICHNITOS: The Municipality of Polichnitos lies on the South side of the Island of Lesvos on the Gulf of Kalloni. It has an area of 172,629 sq.Klm with a population of 5,288 people. The seat of the Municipality is Polichnitos. The name Polichnitos comes from the words Pola Ichni (many traces) meaning the many little villages gathered in the area since antiquity and which were forced to move further inland in the Byzantine period because of the Saracen Pirates. Sights worth seeing are the Folk Art Museum as well as the Museum of Natural History which is rich in fossils from the flora and fauna of the area since prehistoric times. The rest of the settlements of the Municipality are Vrissa, Vassilica, Lisvori with its Hot Springs and Aniseed production-the main ingredient in ouzo making, Skala Polichnitos, Stavros, Nifida and Vatera which are nice sandy beaches to go swimming. Finally, naturalists and bird watchers should pay a visit at Almyropotamos and the Salty Lakes of the Gulf of Kalloni because they’re important natural habitats of astonishing beauty.
History – Culture
Eastern Aegean has always been one of the cradles of human civilization. Homo Erectus and Neanderthals (Homo Sapiens Neaderthalensis) were the first to settle on the coast and islands of this area so blessed with lush vegetation. By the end of the Neolithic Era (2000BC) eastern Mediterranean was more populated than other areas of the world. People living in this area had common features and were called “Mesogioi”. They were the indigenous population of the area.
W.Lamb excavating the area of Thermi discovered 5 settlements built the one on top of the other dating between 3200 and 2400 BC. They’re thought to be contemporaries with Troja I and II. Only the most recent settlement shows traces of fortification. The next millennium is considered a dark period for Lesvos because there are no archaeological findings or literary reports referring to that time. Excavations however are on a very early stage and nobody knows what future findings will reveal. The next change on Lesvos comes with the appearance of the Mycenaeans in 1400BC. It is the time of the Homeric Trojan War. Although we have evidence of their arrival on Lesvos, there are no traces of permanent settlement on the island. According to the myth the first settlers were the Argives and their leader Xanthos followed by the Achaeans from Olenos with King Makaras. Despite the settlers’ influences, indigenous people managed to retain their culture and tradition.
Around 800 BC Aeolian Greeks arrived creating settlements both on the island and the coast of Asia Minor naming the area Aeolia. According to the myth the first Aeolian king of the island was Lesvos the son Lapithes, king of Thessali, and grandson of Aeolus. Lesvos married Mithymna, one of the 5 daughters of king Makaras who descended from the Achaeans. The island, previously called Aethiopi, Issa, Makaria, Mitonis, Pelasghia, Himerty, and Lasia, was now named after its new king Lesvos. The new King in order to please his father in law named the most important cities of the island after Makaras’ children, Mithymna, Mitylene, Issa, Andissa, Arisvi and Eresos. It was a peaceful settling and the island became known as Aeolian Land. The new dialect called Aeolian was a mixture of Thessaly and Ionian dialects.
Towards the end of the archaic period Lesvos became very powerful because of its navy. During the 6th century B.C she signed a treaty with the Persian King Croesus and for sometime was on the side of the Persians against the rest of Greece. Later on the Persian king Cyrus made them sign a treaty according to which they agreed to pay him taxes and send troops to his military campaigns. By the end of that century Persians assigned Exander from Cos as commander of Lesvos. In 499BC people of Lesvos revolted and killed him. In 494BC after the sea battle of Ladi where Persians won, Istiaeos disembarked on the island and destroyed many cities. Persians were finally defeated at the Michali sea battle and Lesvos joined the first Athenian Alignment in 477BC from which it left in 428BC and aligned Lacedaemonians. A year later Athens conquered Lesvos, punished the people severely and distributed the land to Athenians. People of Lesvos tried to become independent in 412BC but without success.
In 334 BC Lesvos surrendered to Alexander the Great while in 264BC was ruled by the Ptolemies and in the beginning of the 2nd century AD was conquered by the Romans. Despite being part of the Byzantine Empire, Lesvos was attacked many times by the Slavs in 821AD, the Saracens in 881 and 1055 AD, the Venicians in 1128AD and the Catalan Pirates in the 13th century AD. Francs conquered Lesvos in 1204 and gave it to Baldwin the First. In 1224 it was conquered by the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Vatatzis the Third and in 1260 was once more part of the Byzantine Empire. This is the time the first Genoese came to Lesvos with an agreement that gave them special rights. In 1355 the island was given as dowry to Francisco Gatelouzo after his wedding to the Byzantine emperor’s sister Maria Palaeologos. The rule of Gatelouzi came to a stop gradually by the Turks who conquered Lesvos in 1462. The island was liberated in 1912.