In Greek mythology Lesvos was the beloved
isle of the Muses. It is thus hardly surprising that the
Arts and Letters were cultivated here to a remarkable
degree. Outstanding among the island's intellectual figures
are the lyric poet Alkaios and the greatest poetess in
ancient Greece, Sappho. Pittakos, one of the seven sages
of antiquity, the poets Terpander, Arion and Lesches,
the historian Hellanikos, the philosopher and botanist
Theophrastos and the writer of epigrams Krinagoras all
hailed from Lesvos.
At the western end of Lesvos, on an arid slope of Ordimnos
near the village of Sigri, is the extraordinary petrified
forest. Some 20 million years ago a tropical forest with
tower trees thrived here. These were buried under tons
of lava and tephra ejected in the eruption of a volcano.
The now stone trunks of the prehistoric sequoias have
wonderful colours and the bark and roots are clearly visible.
The petrified forest of Lesvos is of immense geological
and historical value and is the only region in Greece
(one of 17 regions worldwide) which has been designated
as a "Geopark" by UNESCO.
After suffering plunder
and bondage for hundred years, Lesvos emerged once again from
cultural obscurity in the early 20th century. In literature in
particular, the inter-war years were so creative that the term
"Lesbian spring" was coined. Among the island's most
important men of letters in recent times are the leading Greek
novelists Stratis Myrivilis, Ilias Venezis and Argyris Eftaliotis,
the writers Nikos Athanasiadis and Asimakis Panselinos, and the
premier laureate of modern Greek poetry, Odysseus Elytis, who
was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1978.
The mountain-sides on Lesvos are mantled with olive trees but
gere and there are extensive pine woods, through which dirt tracjs
lead to lovely mountain villages. The best known and closest to
Mytilini are on the slopes of Olymbos, around picturesque Agasos,
with the classic route from Agasos to Megalochori and the wonderful
eastern by-roads from Sanatorio to Karyona an d Aghia Paraskevi
Karagatsiou. There are also scenic routes through the pine woods
north of Megali Limni and towards the river Vouvaris, while a
dirt track of rare beauty begins 2 km before Ambeliko and ends
In addition to the famous olive oil, the visitor to Lesvos will
find lots of other select eatables. The sardines caught in the
bay of Kalloni, after which they are named, are delicious both
fresh and salted. The bay is also a source of many kind of tasty
fisk and superb scallops. The renowned ouzo of Lesvos is made
in distilleries, large and small, throughout the island, while
the development of stock-raising ensures prime dairy products,
including the well-known cheese ladotyri of Mytilini.
The great economic prosperity of Lesvos during the 18th century
is reflected most strikingly in the bourgeois mansions of Mytilini,
residences of affluent merchants and wealthy landowners. These
impressive buildings, designed by architects of note, are richly
decorated with Neoclassical features imbued with nobility and
luxury, and stand in spacious verdant grounds. Today most of them
are kept in good condition and are without doubt the architectural
hallmark of Mytilini.
On the southern slopes of the mountainous massif of Olympos, during
the last two centuries a flourishing economy based on the cultivation
of olive-trees has left its signs in the vicinity around Plomari.
One can still see traces of this flurishment by following the
old footpaths (currently restored and sign-posted by the Municipality
of Plomari) which take you through a picturesque landscape and
lead to abandoned villages, old oil-presses and country churches
with panoramic views.
From antiquity to the
present day, Lesvos is synonymous with excellent quality olive
oil. The island is literally covered by o huge olive grove, with
over 11 million trees. For years the aromatic virgin oil of Lesvos
was its principal resource. Production on a large scale led to
the creation of many olive presses, packaging plants, warehouses,
soap factories, shops and agents, bringing wealth and well-being
to the island.
In 1355 Lesbow was presented as a dowry to the Genoese prince
Francesco Gattilusi and in the ensung years acquired considerable
economic and military power. This heyday lasted until 1462, when
Sultan Mohamed II captured the island from the Genoese masters.
Lesvos was plunged into centuries of darkness under Ottoman domination,
until it was liberated by the Greek navy, in 1912.
Theophilos Hajimichail, one of the most significant Greek naive
painters, was born at Varia in 1868. Theophilos, nicknamed Tsolias
because he wore the foustanella (traditional kilt still worn by
soldiers in the Greek Presidential Guard - tsoliades) or a costume
like the uniform of Alexander the Great, was self-taught. He painted
in houses and shops, on cheap materials, scenes from Greek life
and history, with disarming simplicity, sensitivity and sincerity.
The value of his work was publicised internationally by the Mytilenian
art critic Stratis Eleftheriadis or Teriade, who created the Theophilos
Museum in Varia.
Lesvos is the third largest
island in Greece and has literally countless beaches to suit all
tastes. The best-known are the long stretches of sand at Vatera,
Varia, Aghios Isidoros, Skala Eresou, Molyvos, Petra, Thermi and
Anaxos, which are very popular with summer holidaymakers. The
more adventurous visitors, who are prepared to negotiate unmetalled
roads, will discover a host of idyllic little coves with quiet
fishermen's huts or a solitary chapel. Such hidden jewels are
the five beaches around Tarti, Drota and Melinda further west;
Tavari, Podaras, Makara and Chrousos near Eresos, Lapsarna, BaloutsosKoutamatsa,
Tsonia, Langada and Ferogia in the north part of the island.
Lesvos was famed in antiquity for its many medicinal springs which
burble all over the island. There was a renowned ancient spa at
Thermi, where the goddess Artemis Thermia was worhshipped. The
warm therapeutic baths were very popular during the Ottoman period
as well, and although there is less interest in them today, people
can still enjoy the invigorating properties of the waters in the
spas at Thermi, Gera, Polichnito and Eftalou.
The first king in the island's history was Makaras who, by marrying
his daughter Methymna to the Thessalian prince Lesvos, secured
the name that the island bears to this day. Lesvos flourished
during the 7th century BC and citizens from Mytilini colonized
the neighbouring coastal zone of Asia Minor, which was called
the "Aigialos ton Mytilinaion", that is the "Mytilenians
shore". When the Mytilenians seceded from the Athenian League
the Athenians invaded the island in 428 BC and slayed 1000 inhabitants,
to avenge the rebels.