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Lesvos or Mytilene - Mytilene and the southeast of the island - Mytilene: the harbours and Ermou Str.


Mytilene: The harbours and Ermou Street

The present lay-out of the city of Mytilene is substantially different from its form in Antiquity. Today ferries arrive in the main harbour, south of the castle, with the city-centre laid out on its west shore. This was formerly the military (or ‘trireme’) harbour of Ancient Mytilene, and was linked by a canal-like channel, referred to simply as the Euripos (the ‘Strait’), which ran north from it for 500m, along the line of today’s Ermou street, to the commercial (or ‘Malleois’) harbour on the north side of the town. This meant that the hill and eastern promontory on which the castle now stands was formerly an island, and was the heart of the ancient city. As the city grew, residential and commercial areas spread over the slopes on the opposite, landward side of the Euripos. By the 5th century bc, the city’s walls extended onto the ‘mainland’ and enclosed an area comparable with those of Athens. Archaeological work has revealed parts of the harbour moles, cemeteries, aqueducts, a theatre, villas of considerable size, and a sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone. The urban area was laid out according to a Hippodamian grid-plan: Vitruvius observed accurately that this left the streets unprotected from the force of the north and south winds. The city was rich and seems to have been splendidly decorated in Hellenistic times; it exported metals, alum, textiles, terracottas, and ‘garum’—a fermented fish paste widely used in cooking for flavouring in lieu of salt.
   The western side of the main harbour today is dominated by the silhouette of the church of Aghios Therapon, whose Classical pediments in rust-coloured local stone are surmounted by idiosyncratically elongated cupolas revetted in pale, lead sheeting. From afar the church has a memorable outline; but from closer to, its mixture of Classical, baroque and Byzantine elements is never quite digested into a satisfactory whole: it was designed in the mid-19th century by Argyris Adalis (who also created the more successful neoclassical High School Building of 1888–90, just to its south), but was only completed in 1935. Facing its west front is a small and interesting Byzantine Museum, containing icons, historical documents and religious material from around the island (open daily June–Sept 10–1, except Sun). Amongst the exhibited icons are a number of surprisingly early examples: a beautiful 14th century Pantocrator (from the church of the Taxiarchis at Kato Tritos (see below, p. 64) on the west side of the gulf of Gera), a 13th century icon of St George, and a finely carved and painted segment of a 16th century wooden iconostasis, figuring the Deesis group (Christ, flanked by his Mother and the Baptist).
   From below the east end of Aghios Therapon, Ermou Street—the principal artery of the city’s old bazaar area—runs north, eventually following the line of the ancient Euripos canal which linked the north and south harbours. As the city spread to the west, this was spanned in Ancient times by marble bridges: these are mentioned in the 2nd century ad poetic novel, The Pastoral Story of Daphnis and Chloe, by the Greek writer, Longus. This curious and somewhat neglected tale—much admired by Goethe—of the awakening of love and sexual awareness between the two orphaned aristocratic children, is set in Mytilene and contains much historical and topographical material on the island. Archaeologists have since found remains of one such bridge towards the channel’s northern end.
   Aghios Therapon, though grand in design, is not the city’s cathedral: this function is performed by the large, late 19th century church half way down Ermou Street on the east side, marked by a stone bell-tower in Gothic style. Formerly the church of Aghios Athanasios, it was later re dedicated in honour of (a latter-day) Aghios Theodoros, who was martyred at the hands of the Turks in 1795 and was chosen as the city’s patron saint. (Relics are preserved inside, to the right). The interior is heavily decorated in early 20th century taste, but a very fine and venerable *icon of St Catherine of Alexandria (to the left on entering) is a rare survival from the church’s predecessor, and probably dates from the 16th century, if not earlier. Outside, and directly behind the cathedral’s east end, excavations have revealed a marble exedra of the Roman period, with well-preserved column bases still in place.
   In the immediate area of the cathedral are four other churches which represent the heart of what remained ‘the Christian area’ during Ottoman occupation. The old est of these was the church of the Aghii Theodori (50m north, and set back down an alleyway to the east of Ermou Street), originally a Byzantine foundation which was rebuilt after a fire in the mid-18th century. Its crescent shaped portico is constructed with monolithic antique columns in Proconnesian marble, which support two fragments of ancient entablature at either end, to north and south. The interior has a painted wooden ceiling and a finely carved 18th century iconostasis.
   To the north of here was the predominantly Moslem quarter, centred on the early 19th century Yeni Cami (New Mosque) on the corner of Ermou and Adramytiou Streets. This fine, porticoed mosque—now gutted and roofless—was the focus of the market area of the town in Ottoman times; opposite its entrance is an arcaded Ottoman building which once housed a medrese. The recently restored Carsi Hamam (‘Market Baths’), 50m to its west on Mavili Street, is contemporaneous and part of the same complex. To the north of the Yeni Cami, excavation and demolition have radically altered the face of the north harbour-side which was once fronted by a picturesque clutter of buildings from the 1920s known locally as the ‘refugees’ market’. Its removal has revealed the partially flooded foundations of ancient buildings of different periods: visible to both sides of the shoreline road, are substantial remains of harbour walls and bastions in Hellenistic isodomic masonry; inland of them are the foundations and columns bases of the long harbour stoa; on top of its foundations in the middle, some late Roman or Byzantine baths have been superimposed, with small areas of the hypocaust system still visible. Further remains of the walls, and of the atrium of a Roman house can be glimpsed in the block just to the east of the ‘Kastro’ taverna, at the northern end of Ermou Street.
   Fifty metres west of the area of the harbour stoa, rise the abandoned and collapsing ruins of the Valide Cami, whose minaret has only in recent years lost its ornate top. The mosque was designed in the early 17th century in honour of the mother (‘valide’) of Sultan Ahmed I. The beautiful shapes of the long, arched lower windows and the oval lights above them, which amply illuminated the single space of the vaulted prayer-hall, make this—in spite of its state of abandonment—a rare and notable example of 17th century Ottoman architecture in the islands. An other mosque, the later Yali Cami (‘Shore Mosque’), is discernible by its blind pointed arcades and dedicatory marble inscription above the front entrance: an agricultural supplies shop (Theodorellis Bros.) now occupies its interior. It stands on the landward side of the shore road, by the junction with Ermou Street, opposite the modern chapel of the Saint Paul, which commemorates the Apostle’s passing through Mytilene in 58 ad (Acts 20, vv. 13– 15). A last curiosity of the Ottoman period can be seen by following the shore-road further north for 500m around the bay as far as the ΔΕΗ— electricity generating plant. Directly opposite it, beside the shore to the right, are the buildings of the Kourtzi Hamam, built as a therapeutic centre in 1883 by one of the island’s richest bankers and industrialists, Panos Kourtzis, on the site of geothermic springs known and used in Roman times. Some of the interior decoration and the twin, domed, steam-rooms (one for men, the other for women)—now dry—are still preserved. One of the fullest views of the castle of Mytilene can be had from here.
   Just south of the Kourtzi Hamam was the northern mole of the ‘commercial harbour’ of Ancient Mytilene, projecting from a slight spur of land before the main sweep of the bay. From this point the walls of the ancient city headed west and south. As with the (longer) eastern harbour mole, which ran 150m northeast into the water from where the north bastion of the Castle now stands, the remains are submerged, but they can still be traced breaking the surface when the water is calm.


Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
Mytilene, the harbours and Ermou Street.

 


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access

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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