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Lesvos or Mytilene - Mytilene and the southeast of the island - the Archaeological Museums


The Archaeological Museums

The island’s archaeological collections are housed in two separate buildings: the Old Archaeological Museum, in a 1920s mansion on the corner of 8th November and Argyri Eftaliotis Streets (across from the Customs House at the northeastern extremity of the port); and the New Archaeological Museum, 150m further north up 8th November Street, on the eastern side. Both are open daily 8.30–3, except Mon. One admission for both collections.

The *New Archaeological Museum was custom-built in the 1970s to house a collection of fine mosaics from the period of the Roman administration of the city in the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad: it stands in a plot which was once the site of a Hellenistic temple of Aphrodite. The quality and condition of the mosaics give a vivid impression of the sophistication and leisured opulence of Mytilene in Late Antiquity.

Room 1 displays superb *floor-mosaics from a villa referred to as the ‘House of Menander’—after the fine imaginary portrait of Menander, the 4th century bc Athenian writer of comedy, in one of the panels. All the themes of the decorative ensemble are related to theatre, poetry and song, suggesting that the building may possibly have functioned as a meeting-place for actors; the outer border has anenious running design of theatrical masks.
   The figurative panels are complemented by areas of clear, abstract designs, created in principally eight colours—including an unusual turquoise blue, used by the artist for ‘lifting’ neutral tones. The central image is of Orpheus surrounded by a ‘zodiac’ of beautifully rendered animals.
   Room 2 exhibits a floor mosaic from the dining-room of a wealthy residence of the 2nd century ad, complete with its ivy-leaf border fram the central scene of the Arrival of Telephus in Mysia (a kingdom on the main land of Asia Minor, opposite Lesbos); apart from its local connections, the scene was a popular motif in the art of Attalid Pergamum. The design has many attractive details, including an image of two long tailed exotic birds (apparently parakeets) drinking from a vase. There are accompanying wall-murals with repeating patterns. If these seem to lack sophistication in places, it should be recalled that all this work is the ancient equivalent of wall-paper and carpeting in a modern house—the work of accomplished artesans, rather than ‘artists’ by vocation.
    Rooms 3, 4 & 5 follow on successively lower levels and are dedicated to the island’s marble sculpture and relief-work. The small collection includes grave reliefs, portraits, and statuary of Hellenistic and Roman times. A number of the pieces are copies of great originals, illustrating the lasting hold that a small number of well-known images had both on the imagination and the art-market of late Antiquity.
   Room 6 displays the most (technically) sophisticated of the series of 3rd century ad floor mosaics: its centre piece is a personification of the Euripos as a beardless youth whose hair is curiously decorated with lobster legs and claws. The modelling of the face is achieved by the simplest effects, in seven or eight colours of tesserae. The mosaic functioned as the floor of an impluvium in the atrium of a house; the small perforated drain-cover allowed the water to drain into a cistern below.
   The Exhibition Room of the museum houses a rotating display of the moulded terracotta vessels, which were a unique and characteristic production of the city’s workshops in the 1st centuries bc and ad. There is a wide variety of fruit and leaf de signs attractively executed in relief and glazed on the outer surfaces of domestic pots and cups, in such a way as to imitate the more expensive vessels in beaten gold and silver used at aristocratic symposia.

Across the road from the entrance to the New Archaeological Museum is the city’s Old Natural History Muse um (open daily 10–2 except Mon). The main collection has now been moved to a new site at Si­gri in the northwest of the island (see below p. 115-116), for which this building is merely an ‘appetizer’: it now houses a permanent exhibition relating to all aspects of the history and cultivation of olives and the production of olive oil, including a 60,000 year old volcanic fossil from Santorini bearing the clear impression of olive leaves.
   8th November Street is lined with interesting 19th and early 20th century villas; at its southernmost extremity, is the Old Archaeological Museum, housed in the Vournazos mansion which stands in its own small garden. Another particularly fine villa, decorated with terracotta embellishments, stands next door on its east side.

The collection is laid out on two floors of the house. The ground floor has the earliest material: Late Neolithic artefacts from the Aghios Bartholomeos cave on the east side of the Gulf of Gera, including a minute, headless stone figurine. A visual account is exhibited of the excavations at Thermi­ (see p. 55-58), to the north of the city, where five phases of settlement have been identified, running from the 3rd millennium bc through to a destruction by fire in the 12th century bc. The site has given an unusually clear picture of its remarkable urban planning, and of the style and shape of the dwellings built in these periods.
   The upper floor exhibits articles, mostly in terracotta from historic times. In a show case on the landing, are finds from the necropolis of Ancient Pyrrha—a magnificent array of beautifully modelled terracotta figurines of all kinds, including the famous 5th century bc figurines of dancers and female acrobats (no. 26). Many of the objects—such as no. 64, decorated with small, applique flowers—would once have been brightly coloured.
Room VI contains examples of the characteristic incised grey pottery of Lesbos.
   A number of carved altars, capitals, sarcophagi and sections of Roman decorative frieze have been collected together in the garden area; amongst the funerary pieces are some sizeable sculptures of lions from funerary monuments of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. A small annexe at the back of the garden contains the collection’s most important stone pieces: there are two magnificent Aeolic capitals of the 6th century bc from the sanctuary of Ancient Klopedi (see pp.97-98), together with fragments of the temple’s decorative sima in terracotta. They compare interestingly with the contemporaneous Ionic capitals in the museum in Samos : though admirably simple in conception and beautifully carved, the design of the Aeolian examples lacks the tension and plasticity of the Ionic capitals. Arranged around them is an important collection of inscriptions of sacred laws and political agreements from many periods, and a marble throne of the 3rd century bc from the theatre, elaborately carved with sphinxes, tripods, lion’s claws and serpents in relief, known as the ‘throne of Potamon’, from the name inscribed below the seat.

Fifty metres east of the museum building stands Mytilene’s bronze Statue of Liberty, created jointly in 1922 by the sculptor, Grigorios Zevgolis, and the local painter, Giorgios Iakovides: it is a copy loosely based on the original in New York. It occupies the site of the ‘Kastrelli’—a free-standing, forward bastion of the main castle behind, which protected the entrance to the port and which was still standing at the turn of the 20th century. Above the stand of pine-trees behind, rise the walls of the castle, one of the largest and most important in the Aegean.


Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
Mytilene, the Archaeological Museums.

 


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Ancient Pyrrha
Monolith of Petra

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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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