LESVOS



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Lesvos or Mytilene - history


History
Myrina, Queen of the Amazons, in her conquering campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean, seized Lesbos and ‘founded the city of Mytilene, which was named after her sister who took part in the campaign’, writes Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheke, III. 55), intimating the origins of its conspicuously feminine history. The island’s geographical situation and many harbours always made Lesbos a centre for trade and communication from earliest times. It is only recently that the division between Greece and Turkey has, by severing connections with Asia Minor, frustrated its historic role as an intermediary between the mainland and the Aegean. Prehistoric finds, which indicate occupation from c. 3300 bc until the end of the Mycenaean period, relate closely to those found at ancient Troy. According to Homer, Lesbos, siding with Troy, was invaded by both Achilles and Odysseus. The early inhabitants were probably Pelasgian, but in the 10th century bc the island and the mainland opposite were colonised by Aeolians under the leadership of the Penthelides clan, the last of whom was murdered in 659 bc.
   The island was divided in Antiquity between five competing cities: Mytilene, Methymna, Pyrrha, Antissa, and Eresos. A struggle developed between Methymna and Mytilene for the leadership of the island, and although Mytilene predominated and has remained the capital, a tradition of independent resistance was fostered in the west part of the island, which was to recur at critical moments. Lesbos was governed oligarchically with increasing chaos until the statesman and lawgiver, Pittacus, considered one of the Seven Sages, calmed the island. As supreme ruler or ‘aesymnetes’ (a kind of elected dictator or referee, according to Aristotle, appointed in some of the early city states in times of internal crisis) for ten years from 589 to 579 bc, he ushered in its greatest period of prosperity and cultural importance. A large fleet and wide mercantile interests (especially in Egypt) were combined with a high standard of education and a comparative freedom for women—two traditions still noticeable today. Terpander (of Antissa) the father of Greek music, and Arion (from Methymna), who invented dithyrambic poetry, had already made Lesbos famous in the 7th century, but it was with Alcaeus (of Mytilene) and Sappho (of ? Eresos), both aristocrats and opponents of Pittacus, that the island reached its cultural zenith. The 4th century bc philosopher and scientist, Theophrastus, was also from Eresos on Lesbos.
   The islanders founded colonies in the Hellespont and in around 600 bc challenged Athens for control of her first overseas possession, Sigeum, a settlement close to Troy at the mouth of the Hellespont. In 527 bc Lesbos fell under Persian domination and was not freed until 479 bc when it joined the Athenian League. In 428 bc, soon after the Peloponnesian War started, Mytilene tried to break away with Spartan help, but the plan was betrayed by Methymna to Athens. The Mytileneans were severely punished (Thucydides, III, 36–50). This was the dramatic occasion when a second galley with an official reprieve was sent, after a first had left with the orders of the Athenian council for the wholesale massacre of the male population, and managed miraculously to arrive in time. In 405 bc Lesbos fell to the Spartans and thereafter changed hands frequently, being ruled by Persia, Macedonia, and the Ptolemies, until Mithridates occupied it in 88–79 bc, only to be ousted by the Romans. According to Suetonius, Julius Caesar ‘won his spurs’ during the Roman storming of Mytilene. The city was much favoured by Pompey. St Paul, on his way back to Jerusalem from Greece (c. 58 ad) spent a night at Mytilene before passing by Chios and Samos . By the 5th century ad Lesbos had many fine basilicas, with bishops at both Mytilene and Methymna.
   As a Byzantine dominion, the island was used as a place of exile, notably for the Empress Irene in 809. It suffered Saracen invasions in 821, 881 and 1055, which prompted the inhabitants to leave the coast for the mountains of the interior. In 1085 it fell to Zachas, the Seljuk Turkish emir of Izmir, although Alexius Comnenus retook the island, which then remained under Byzantine control until 1128, after which it passed for a time to the Venetians. In 1204 Lesbos became part of the Latin Empire, but returned in c. 1225 to the dominion of the Byzantine Emperors who were then in exile in Nicaea. At the end of the 13th century it was devastated by Catalan mercenaries; and in 1335 the Latin army of Domenico Cattaneo, the Genoese lord of Phocaea, captured the island but was forced to surrender it again to the Emperor of Byzantium, Andronicus III, the following year. In 1354 it was given to Francesco Gattilusio, a Genoese adventurer, as a dowry when he married Maria, the sister of Emperor John V Palaeologus. The island then enjoyed a century of untroubled prosperity under the Gattilusi dynasty who established an important trading principality in the North Aegean.
   After 12 years of paying a substantial tribute to Sultan Mehmet II, Lesbos fell to the Turks in 1462 and, despite attempts to free it by Orsano Giustiniano in 1464 and by a Frankish-Rhodian fleet in 1501, remained under Turkish domination until 1912. The island enjoyed considerable privileges in the 19th century, in spite of an orchestrated revolt in 1821. The quantity of grand, 19th and early 20th century industrial architecture around the island and large mansions in Mytilene and Plomari is evidence of the is land’s prosperity from olive production, leather tanning and ouzo distilling before the World Wars; and the many Ottoman remains still visible today bear witness to the is landers’ innate tolerance. After 1912, when the island became part of the Greek State, Lesbos received large numbers of refugees from Asia Minor. Between 1941 and 1944 it was occupied by German forces.


Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
History of Lesvos.

 


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Theophrastus
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Lesvos Island, Greece.


By air:
Domestic flights from Athens, four times daily with Olympic Air and two or three times daily with Aegean Airlines, serve Mytilene through out the year.
There are daily Olympic Air connections with Thessaloniki, and 6 days a week with Aegean Airlines, including a twice weekly local, Eastern Aegean route with Olympic, from Thessaloniki to Rhodes , via Lemnos and Chios and (once a week only) Samos . The airport is 5km from the centre of Mytilene.
By boat: The principal route from Piraeus to Mytilene is served by Hellenic Seaways, via Chios, with a daily 12.30 departure from Piraeus, arriving at Mytilene 21.00, and returning to Piraeus again overnight.
GA Ferries run 3 times weekly along the route from/to Chios and Samos to the south, and Lemnos and Kavala to the north.
There is a weekly Saos Ferries service from the port of Sígri (north west Lesbos) on the route be- tween Kavala, Lemnos, Aghios Evstratios (to north), and (to south) Psará and Lavrion (for Athens). Crossings to Turkey (Ayvalık/Dikili) run 4 to 5 times weekly during the summer season (May–early-Oct) only.

Lesvos Travel Guide

beaches

Lesvos Island, Greece.

 

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Lesvos Travel Guide

eating

Lesvos Island, Greece.

The port area of Mytilene has many small (mostly new) tavernas, dedicated to providing interesting, fresh and varied Levantine–Aegean dishes with localredients, good local breads, and offer a pleasant atmosphere.
Two which are particularly to be recommended, are: *Matzourána (30 Komninaki St.), one block in from the east side of the harbour;
and *Machalás (27 Mitrelia St.), two blocks in from the north side of the harbour.
A more "folkloric" setting and some good local dishes are provided by Zoubouli, on the corner of Sarandoporou and Venedakis Streets, behind the north- east corner of the port.
For traditional vegetable and fish mezedes, prepared with care and imagination, nothing can beat the Taverna "Rebetis" on the waterfront, overlooking the north harbour from its southeast corner.
11km north of Mytilene, shortly after Pyrgi Thermis, beside the church of St George, is the Taverna Aghios Giorgios—good for fresh fish, and popular with locals on Sundays especially.
On the road to Polichnítos, below the village of Asomatos and 3km after the junction at Kerameia, is the Taverna "Karini" in the deep shade of plane-trees and vines beside a stream; the food is ordinary, but the setting delightful.
At picturesque Skala Sykaminiás on the north coast, the tavernas in the port have mostly become, through popularity, over-priced or poor in quality; but 1km to the west along the track by the shore from the harbour, is To Kyma, still unspoiled and with good fish dishes.
Taverna "Vapheios", in the village of that name 6km to the east of Molyvos, has good local specialties and sunset views to match.
Right in the heart of Molyvos, the tiny and basic *Obelisteria "Methymna" (further up the street past the Demarcheion) deserves special recommendation for the care with which the owner chooses his excel lent meats and produce, serving the client with the tastiest salads and grilled meats to be found on the island, simply seasoned with fresh herbs, and provided at very modest prices. Space is limited, especially in winter.

Lesvos Travel Guide

further reading

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Longus (2nd century ad), The Pastoral Story of Daphnis & Chloe, an ancient romance novel set on Lesbos (translated in Reardon’s Ancient Greek Novels, 1989).
Richard Brooks, Birding on the Greek Island of Lesvos—revised 2002, is an invaluable guide to the island’s unusually rich birdlife.

Lesvos Travel Guide

lodging

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Notwithstanding the décor which is a little over the top (an endemic problem in the two or three converted man sions which offer accommodation in Mytilene), the hotel Pyrgos of Mytilene (T. 22510 27977, 25069, fax 47319, www.pyrgoshotel.gr. Upper price range.) on the hill to the south of the harbour, is the city’s smartest hotel—welcoming, comfortable, providing a good breakfast with freshly baked items, and open all year round. The road-side rooms can be noisy, however.
An inexpensive alternative is the Hotel Orpheas (T.22510 28523, fax 21930), in a converted mansion mid-way between the two Archaeological Museums.
Not far outside Mytilene (11 km to the north), at Pyrgi Thermis, is the delightful Hotel Votsala- (T. 22510 71231, fax 71179; www.votsalahotel. com. Apr-Oct. Medium price). Welcoming, informal, and pointedly un-touristy and unpretentious, this simple and beautiful hotel on the shore, run by a Mytilenean architect and his wife, is perhaps the most civilised and enjoyable solution on the island.
Molyvos has a wider variety of places to chose from: on the shore below the town, is the Olive Press Hotel (medium price), arranged around the courtyard of a converted olive mill (T. 22530 71205, fax 71646).
In the heart of Molyvos is the delightful and simple Nassos Guesthouse (inexpensive; T. 22530 71432, www.nassosguesthouse.com);
and nearby, for real simplicity in an old Ottoman-style house, Pension Chrisi (T. 22530 72193). Not far away, between Petra and Anaxos, is the Clara Hotel & Bungalows (T. 22530 41532, fax 41535, www.clarahotel.gr); the complex, which has comprehensive facilities and is set in its own gardens, has fine views of Molyvos and Petra, but is a little distance from both and is not on the beach.
In Plomari, the nicest lodgings are provided by the Hotel Leda (T. 22520 32507; open May–Sept only) in a fine traditional mansion with views out to sea: it is in the centre of town, up a flight of steps from the main square.
The only accommodation which is part of one of the thermal spring spas are the rooms offered at Thermes Polichnitou (T. 22520 41201).

Lesvos Travel Guide

museums

Lesvos Island, Greece.

Archaeological Museum

Lesvos Travel Guide

practical info

Lesvos Island, Greece.

811 00 09, 812 00 & 813 00 Lesbos:
area 1630sq km
perimeter 370km
population 108,000
max. altitude 968m.
Port Authority (Mytilene): T. 22510 40827, 47888.
Travel and information: Pan Tours 22510 46595, www.pantours.gr, Dimakis Travel 22510 27865, www.dimakistours.gr

Lesvos Travel Guide

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