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Lesbos has a predominantly bucolic character, uncommon for an Aegean island. The central valleys and slopes carpeted as far as the eye can see with olive trees, the unusually tranquil waters of its two sea-gulfs that flood the heart of the island like large lakes, the self-sufficiency of its stately villages, and the relative beneficence of its mountain peaks, all contribute to give the island a feel of domesticity, spaciousness and calm. There is little on the surface that is menacing or precarious: fresh water, wildlife, produce and shade are all abundant. And the architecture of the solid stone houses is reassuring. That the most famous person of the island’s long history should be a woman—Sappho, the first, and perhaps the great est, female poet of Western literature—is appropriate to the island’s notably feminine personality. In Sappho and her contemporaries, Alcaeus, Arion and Terpander—all from Lesbos—the island can justly consider itself to be the cradle of Ancient Greek lyric poetry and music. It is a tradition that has not died; in the last century the writers Stratis Myrivilis and Argyris Eftaliotis, and the Nobel laureate poet Odysseas Elytis, were all born, or came from families, on Lesbos.
Beneath the civilised poise of her verse was Byron’s ‘burning Sappho’. In similar fashion, not far below the urbane surface of Lesbos, and not far back in time, is a turbulent volcanic history; the more dramatic landscape of the west of the island, including its interesting petrified forest of giant tree-trunks near Sigri, is shaped and scarred by volcanic action, and throughout the island the profusion of geothermic springs (some of them, amongst the hottest in Europe) is testimony to a continuing volcanic activity. The hot waters of Lesbos, whether in settings historic or bizarre or intimate, are one of the island’s greatest and most unusual attractions.
For its size and wealth in Antiquity, Lesbos has proportionately less to show in archaeological terms than its neighbours—Thasos , Samothrace and Lemnos to the north, or Chios and Samos to the south. The beautiful Hellenistic mosaic floors, exhibited in the New Archaeological Museum, are for the visitor perhaps its most vivid relic. But from the Middle Ages on, the island’s heritage is rich: the grandly conceived Gattilusi castles, in Mytilene and Molyvos, in particular; a number of Byzantine rural churches; important monasteries of different periods; many Ottoman buildings, religious, military and domestic; some interesting 19th century industrial architecture from the island’s large olive-oil production; and—most conspicuous and widespread of all—the beauty and rich diversity of its villages. All have quite different architectural personalities; but all are examples of rural settlements, in which the building materials of the houses, the paved and cobbled streets, and the stone walls are at one in texture, spirit and colour with the landscape and vegetation which surround and interpenetrate their spaces, representing a historic harmony in the Greek landscape between man and nature—irreplaceable and fast disappearing.
There is no corner of the island that lacks interest. Its landscape is constantly varying, offering habitats as diverse as wetland reed-beds and rocky steppes, with an accompanying diversity of bird-life and flora. Lesbos is among the best-adapted and organised for walking of all the islands and, although its size means that it takes time to explore, this remains the ideal way to become acquainted with its beauty and spaciousness.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
Lesvos General Information.