LESVOS



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Lesvos or Mytilene - Mytilene and the southeast of the island - the Castle of Mytilene

The Castle of Mytilene
Once a separate islet and site of the acropolis of Ancient Mytilene, the low, rocky outcrop is girt today by the re mains of the Castle or*Kastro of Mytilene (open daily 8–3, except Mon). There are two entrances—from the south at a higher level, or from the west by an entrance (the ‘Orta Kapi) 150m north of the New Archaeological Museum; the description below begins at the latter.

History
The impressive quantity of decorative and structural elements from pagan buildings incorporated in the massive enceinte of walls gives an idea of the extent of the destruction of the ancient town on this site when the castle was first built: much material appears also to have been brought here from the ancient theatre and other sites, in order to create the foundations and the lower courses of the castle’s earliest structures, and to construct the main keep in the southeast corner. The first post-Antique fortress here is said to have been erected in the 6th century ad, under the Emperor Justinian: the innermost of the three successive gates on the west side is Byzantine, and it marks the northwestern limit of the Byzantine castle which followed the line of a ridge-like outcrop of rock on the hillside. It did not stretch, as now, down to the shore. The enceinte was strengthened and further fortified to the south and west by the (Genoese) Gattilusi overlords between their coming into possession of the castle in 1355 and a catastrophic earthquake in 1384 which wrought considerable damage to the structure and killed all of the ruling family except for one surviving son, Francesco (II). What was rebuilt was considerably damaged again by the Turkish assault of 1462 by the forces of the Grand Vizier of Mehmet the Conqueror. After this the is land became an Ottoman possession. In 1501, under Sultan Beyazit II, the ‘Lower Castle’, protected by a circular bastion at the northernmost point, was added stretching down to the waterside so as to protect the north harbour. Another outer wall on the south and west sides, with towers for artillery, separated by a dry moat, was later built by the Turks in 1644.
   The interior was densely inhabited in Ottoman times; many of the ruined buildings still visible inside—a mosque, medrese, tekke, fountain, hamam, magazines, prison and barracks etc.—date from the 16th to 19th centuries. A military presence was still kept in the castle, even after the Turkish departure in 1912. Excavations in the upper southern area since 1985 have revealed remains of a thesmophorion (sanctuary of Demeter), including votive figurines, altars and elements of a curious Archaic temple of mixed Doric and Ionic style.

Escutcheons and armorial bearings
Several heraldic features are combined and repeated in marble plaques at many points on the buildings. The Gattilusi came into possession of Lesbos when, in 1354, Francesco Gattilusi married Maria, sister of the Emperor of Byzantium, John V Palaeologus. For this reason the display of coats of arms feature: double-headed eagles (symbol of the Byzantine Empire); the single-headed crowned (Doria family) eagle of Genoa; an angular and seemingly abstract design, which is a composite monogram of the Greek letters spelling the Imperial family name, ‘Palaeologus’; a square field with rows of overlaid shields, creating a ‘fish-scale’ motif (the Gattilusi arms); and four stylised Bs used by the Emperors of Byzantium since the time of Constantine the Great, arranged in cross formation, standing for the business-like assertion: ‘Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλεύσιν’ meaning ‘King of Kings, ruling over Kings’. The sentence seems later to have been adapted to the more modest: ‘Βασιλέυς Βασιλέων Βασιλέα Βοήθει’ ‘King of Kings (the Almighty), help the King (the Emperor).

Around the Orta Kapi and the lower castle
You enter the castle through a succession of three gates of different periods and constructions. The Ottoman ‘Orta Kapi’ (‘Middle Gate’) is part of the Turkish fortifications which were added in 1644. The gate is virtually invisible from the outside, and protected by a circular bastion to the left as you approach; it leads into a passage, and thence through a second (Mediaeval) Gate, built in the late 14th century by Francesco Gattilusio, into an enclosed area between the Ottoman and the original Byzantine/Gattilusi walls, which incorporate many ancient column fragments, triglyphs, and pieces of cornice. From here a third gate of the Byzantine period, with a massive ancient marble block as its lintel, leads into the wide open space of the interior, scattered with ancient spolia on all sides.
   To the right is an Ottoman fountain; to the left, a deep and well-preserved cistern, whose design is both elegant and functional. The original paved road that traverses the enclosed area from SE to NW, had stone channels to either side (more visible in the upper stretches) which brought water down the slope into subsidiary tanks along the way, and finally into this principal cistern. The road follows the line of the eastern, outer wall of the ancient city. Opposite are the remains of a square Ottoman house of the 17th century which possesses its own cistern, wellhead and latrine. To the north, and visible from stairs which give access to the top of the intermediate wall to the left, lies the Lower Castle, added by the Turks in 1501, which extended the fortifications as far as the northern shore and the harbour. It was protected by a circular bastion at its northern extremity and enclosed a large area with a great many houses, a hamam, a fountain, a Turkish oracle-shrine, and the Christian cave-church and sacred spring of the Panaghia Galatousa, all of which can be reached from the road which circles the castle on the seaward side and breaches the lower walls in the north.

The middle and upper castle
The paved path leads uphill to the south from the Byzantine gateway, passing the many-domed block of the Ottoman medrese (theological school) above, and imaret (soup-kitchen) below. The well-preserved and recently consolidated 17th century structure is faced elegantly with the local magenta-coloured stone, contrasting with the wide, pointed arches of its interior courtyard constructed in thin brick-tiles. The building has satisfying proportions and its uniformity is nicely broken by the balconied and higher-domed tower over the prayer-hall in the east corner. The surviving building may be a replacement of the original 16th century medrese on this spot which was founded by the Ottoman Admiral, Khairredin or Hayreddin ‘Barbarossa’, who was a native of Lesbos. Immediately beyond the medrese was the hamam, and to the left of the path is a small domed tekke, or living quarters for dervishes, with its fireplace still intact. The three buildings together formed a complete religious unit.
   Further up and in close proximity to the spiritual buildings are the more rectilinear military buildings: a massively built and roofed gunpowder magazine to the right of the path, and a large 17th century barracks and prison, arranged around a courtyard, to the left, designed by the Ottoman architect, Musa Baba. Steps up to the top of the walls in the southwestern corner provide excellent views of the sharper lines of the final 17th century Ottoman additions—the outermost walls and bastions, designed with emplacements for artillery. Below this area is an extensive undercroft of vaulted subterranean spaces, endowed with a wellhead and sanitary facilities; these were used for protecting and housing the populace during times of siege.
   Visible beside the path which returns towards the keep in the east, stands the massive broken stone sarcophagus, carved with the heraldic ‘fish-scale’ motif of the Gattilusi family and the four Bs of Byzantium (see pp. 33-34). It is known that Francesco (I) Gattilusio built a church of St John the Baptist, in which he was later buried. This lies just to the north and east where there are substantial re mains of superimposed religious buildings: these represent the remnants of a mosque oriented to south, on top of the remains of a church oriented to east. The mihrab niche is still visible; so also are the bases of marble columns for the prayer hall, steps to a gallery, and the semicircular marble steps leading to the loggia in front of the mosque: the area is scattered with marble fragments of both Christian and Islamic origin. The sarcophagus would therefore appear to be the tomb of Francesco Gattilusio, which originally stood in a funerary chapel in the crypt of the church below the mosque.
   The area to the north of these remains was occupied in Antiquity by a 5th century bc thesmophorion, or sanctuary to Demeter and Persephone. The sanctuary will have lain just outside the eastern walls of the ancient city as was common for a place of worship of the deities of the Under world. The excavations (carried out by the Canadian Archaeological Institute in Athens) have been partly covered over again and are not especially revealing as seen today; but the wealth of votive objects which were found on the site can be seen in the Old Archaeological Museum (Room X).
   In the southeast corner is the fortress-keep and residence of the Gattilusi. The forbidding exterior faces are punctuated with their heraldic arms and interspersed with fragmentary Hellenistic and Roman reliefs of military duels, hunting scenes and gladiatorial matches, intended to broadcast the idea of the raw and martial nature of the power embodied here. The ensemble is built—using a lot of material taken from the ancient theatre—around an open courtyard, and is fortified by five towers. It was the roofs and floors of these buildings that must have collapsed in the earthquake of 1384, killing most of Francesco’s family. In this corner of the enceinte is the south entrance of the castle which leads out from the 14th century walls into a fortified space enclosed by the outer 17th century Ottoman walls whose design is altogether grander and more sophisticated. Once again there are frequent coats of arms at strategic points, this time with the addition of elegant Ottoman inscriptions.


Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
The Castle of Mytilene.

 


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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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