East: from Gera to Plomari and on to the Panaghia Kryfti
The first junction on the main east/west road from Mytilene, after 10.5km, is with the road to Plomari which heads south into the rich olive-producing landscape between the eastern slopes of Olympus and the gulf of Gera. The olive plantations in this area are amongst the oldest and most productive on the island, and the area is punctuated with numerous olive mills and processing factories, built on a large scale in the 1930s and now mostly abandoned. These can be seen in nearly all the larger villages and most conspicuously on the shore at Dipi and at Perama, two of the harbours used for shipment.
A kilometre before Dipi, the road crosses a small river draining the surrounding reed-beds: immediately south of the bridge as the road touches the shore are the re mains of an ancient harbour, now mostly submerged. Ruins of ancient houses have also been found in the area of Kato Tritos (branch road to southwest after 3km). Above the village to the south (1.5km by paved track) is the tiny, isolated, 15th century church of the Taxiarchis. Its un-plastered walls, not quite perpendicular and heavily buttressed, blend with the surrounding rocks out of which the church seems to grow. The simple interior, surmounted by a low central cupola, was once covered by wall-paintings of the 16th century. Only damaged patches now remain, but these include a well-preserved Crucifixion scene to the right of the west door and the fine head of the Archangel Gabriel below, wearing a fillet in his hair. The site—probably of a small monastic settlement—has wide views over the Gulf to the north and east.
At 5.8km the road splits, with the eastern branch fol lowing the low line of the shore towards Perama—the modern successor to Ancient Hiera, said by Pliny to have been destroyed by earthquake. Today the harbour is dominated by the empty buildings of several late 19th century tanneries and factories which produced soap as a by-product of olive oil. There is a small passenger ferry (no vehicles) which crosses the narrow entrance of the gulf of Gera to Koundouroudia on its east side. The main western branch of the road now climbs inland to wards Palaiokipos, the first of the group of thriving, al most contiguous villages which spread south along the lower eastern slopes of Olympos overlooking the gulf of Gera, and all of which contain a vibrant mixture of Ottoman and Greek neoclassical architectures. The villages of Mesagros and Skopelos, higher up the mountain, have the greatest interest. Mesagros is set 1km to the southeast of the mediaeval castle of Gera at Palaiokastro. Beside the village’s main north/south street are the ruins of an early 19th century mosque with two minarets (one still well-preserved). In the roofless interior, the ornate plaster decoration of the mihrab is still visible; and inset into the chamfered exterior corners are small white marble plaques inscribed with phrases from the Koran. Along the same street are two Ottoman fountains and, 100m to the south of the mosque, the former Ottoman school-building with fine Koranic inscription in the lunette over the door. The street continues south to contiguous Skopelos, similarly rich in a variety of mansions dating from the period of prosperity between 1890 and 1920. At its centre is a steep shaded plateia with running springs of a soft, sweet water. Above the square is the rebuilt church of Aghios Giorgios (1908) which contains the relics of St Gregory, the 12th century bishop of Assos. Yet further uphill is the church of Aghia Magdalene: from inside the chapel immediately to the south of the main church, steps lead down into a small network of catacombs, carved by hand out of the soft volcanic tuff, and still an active focus of worship today. Catacombs are a phenomenon of the early centuries of Christianity, found as far afield as North Africa and Paris. As cemeteries they were inviolable under Roman law, and as a consequence were often used as places of secret worship in times of difficulty for the Early Christian community.
Beyond the junctions for Skopelos and Mesagros the main road for Plomari climbs through valleys carpeted with olive-trees—too many for the manpower available to harvest them, meaning that only a proportion of the trees are picked and many are left fallow, according to the determinations of the market. At 13.5km a branch road leads southeast to Tarti, one of the island’s most attractive and intimate coves, with a pleasant beach and clear waters, bordered by a couple of tavernas. The main road continues down a wooded gorge to the coast at Aghios Isidoros (25.5km), where the Varvagianni Ouzo Distillery—one of the island’s most famous and respected for the quality of its produce—dominates the shoreline. (Guided visits during working hours from June to the end of September.) At 28km, the road reaches Plomari, which in spite of a slightly drab waterfront relieved only by the dense stand of palm-trees in the main square, is nonetheless a fascinating town with a rich variety of architecture. It is the largest town on Lesbos after Mytilene, substantially a creation of the Ottoman period (with the Turkish name of ‘Bilmar’), with an economy founded on the trade of olive oil and its by-products, and on the production of ouzo. The wealth generated in this commerce is displayed in the grand and often idiosyncratic mansions which line the watercourse of the Sedounda Torrent which runs through the centre of the habitation. Beginning from the large plane tree, surrounded by cafes and eateries, just north of the waterfront, the line of the seasonal torrent passes almost immediately beside one of Lesbos’s most *decorative neoclassical façades (1908) with a highly ornate pediment, colourfully painted niches flanking the entrance, finely moulded pilasters and window-frames, and beautiful wrought-iron balconies. Beyond are an abandoned, olive-press and adjacent buildings in a pleasing mixture of green schist and red trachyte; Ottoman houses with sachnisia and wooden lofts; the recently re stored Poulias soap factory building; balconied archontika; and gardens rich in jasmine, citrus, figs, acacia and palm trees. The great diversity is typical of the centres of the Levantine world at the turn of the last century. From this same period dates the memorable ‘Athanasiadeion’ cafe on the corner of Plateia Beniamin—redolent in its elegant neoclassical design, its interior and its clientele, of an almost faded world which still remarkably survives in Plomari.
Five and a half kilometres west of Plomari along the shore is Melinta, on a pebble beach at the mouth of the Selada ravine. The olive-clad slopes of the valley are punctuated by small agricultural communities: Palaiochora on the west slope, and the more remote and half abandoned Kournela on the opposite slope grouped around its springs and the church of the Prodromos. They are two of the many tiny settlements with examples of interesting vernacular architecture in the area between Megalochori and Plomari. A turning to the west from the road between Melinta and Palaiochora, leads (3km) to the Panaghia Kryfti, in a steep rocky cove of the south coast. At the far side of the inlet, below an overhang in the cliff is a small rectangular pool that fills with thermal waters which rise beneath the cliff at 44Β°C, supplying the small open bath just above the sea at a pleasant blood temperature.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
From Gera to Plomari and on to the Panaghia Kryfti.