West: from Kerameiato Polichnitos & Vaterato Polichnitos & Vatera
Asomatos & Aghiasos
The main road to Polichnios (south from the junction 13km west of Mytilene) is at first immersed in olive groves once again. After 1km a sign to the right for ‘Mylelia’, indicates a track which leads north through the groves to a functioning water mill—a good (and not over-restored) example of several in this valley that profited from the seasonal waters descending from the southern slopes of Mount Olympos. As the main road begins to climb after 3.5km, to the right, under ancient plane-trees fed by spring waters, is the attractive taverna at Karini—haunt of the painter Theophilos (see above pp. 42–6): a tree in which the painter is said to have dwelt can be seen. The village is dominated by the buildings, walled courtyard and chimney of a disused olive factory. It was on this lucrative industry of olive-oil production that the two beautiful *villages of Asomatos and Aghiasos (4km and 7.5km by road respectively to the south of here) grew rich; they manifested their wealth in the simple but substantial stone houses that line their precipitous streets. A reclusive self-sufficiency has historically characterised these two centres and means that even today they have preserved (Aghiasos, in particular) traditions of song, dialect, mu sic, ceremony and panegyria of their own. The feast of the Virgin (15 August) in Aghiasos is justly one of the most famous in the Aegean. At To Stavri, a simple ouzeri-cum eatery (whose walls are a treasure-house of objects, graffiti and pictures) at the northern end of the village, local music and song can sometimes spontaneously begin late in the evening and last well into the night. Both villages have unusual churches, with broad, luminous naves to accommodate their large communities. At Asomatos the wooden ceiling of the church is finely painted in late Ottoman style. At Aghiasos the original foundation of the Panaghia Brephocratousa (‘Protectress of infants’) goes back to 1170, though today’s structure was rebuilt after a fire in the 19th century. The treasure of the original monastic foundation was the darkened ancient icon of the Virgin, reputedly brought to the island in the early 9th century by Agathon of Ephesus, when it was already of considerable antiquity. Opposite the porticoed entrance, a conglomeration of water-stoups and fountain spouts cluster in the corner of the courtyard, composed of carved stonework of many different periods. The surrounding monastic buildings are contiguous with the labyrinth of the village’s paved spaces and streets, shaded always by dense pergolas of wistaria and vine. Every open space becomes an outdoor salotto. Even the main streets are canopied with climbing plants. The feel is that of a village in the mountains of Epirus: it is easy here to forget that you are on an Aegean island.
Though readily accessible by road and by bus, the two villages are also linked by a network of stone kalderimi: it is by walking along these that it is possible to appreciate the unhurried and loving care with which the olive has been cultivated on Lesbos—the immaculate walling between each successive terrace and around the root complexes of individual trees on the steeper slopes; the laboriously constructed stone paving of the mule-tracks that wind sinuously around the cavities in the hills; and, above all, the age and density of olive-trees, which are planted here closer together than they would be in Italy or Spain. In spring these groves are carpeted with blue lupins, may weed (dog fennel), peacock and crown anemones, barbary nut iris (sisyrinchium), and a variety of orchids—such as Orchis picta, with dense clusters of rounded and striated petals of a deep pink-purple on a straight, fleshy stem.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
Asomatos & Aghiasos.