Lesvos Island, Greece.
Lesvos Travel Guide
Around Kalloni and Aghia Paraskevi
The Palaeochristian basilica of Chalinados, the stone bridge at Kremasti and Ancient Klopedi
The large settlements of Kalloni and Aghia Paraskevi occupy an alluvial delta formed by the confluence of a number of streams and seasonal torrents which debouch into the almost landlocked gulf of Kalloni. At the shore, the water is shallow enough to have permitted the creation and exploitation of salt pans; further inland, the terrain is cultivated and used for stock raising. This has given rise to the prosperity of these settlements, expressed in their sometimes unexpectedly grand architecture. The varied wet-land habitats—unusual in the Aegean Islands—make this area of primary interest for bird-watching; there are also a number of scattered ancient, Palaeochristian and mediaeval sites.
The heart of the bird-watching area revolves around Skala Kallonis on the shore, beginning with its small fresh-water pool, where avocet and Black-winged stilt regularly breed. Both west into the marshy area of the Potamia valley—which is of interest also for its terrapins and tree frogs—and east into the saltpans, are different habitats frequented by a variety of uncommon waders, waterfowl, plovers, curlews and larks, and by migrants of all kinds, especially in the spring. The open woodland and scrub towards the interior is also rich in warblers, passerines and shrikes: the delicately rust-coloured Cretzschmar’s bunting, and the rare, paler, Cinereous bunting, both breed on the island in this area and in the west of the island, around Eresos and Sigri.
To the east, Kalloni is contiguous with modern Arisvi: the remains of Ancient Arisbe, from which it takes its name, lie around a knob-like hill to the north, reached by taking the track along the west bank of the Tsiknia River (directly before the bridge). The hill overlooks the river, the salt flats, the gulf of Kalloni, and the ample fertile land around. The remains visible today on the acropolis are of the walls of the Genoese castle, which encircled the flat summit with regular bastions. Although there is much rubble and an immense quantity of sherds, none of it gives any clear evidence of an ancient presence. Nonetheless, along the flat shoulder to the east of the knoll, the rectangular outlines of foundations, composed of large and irregular blocks, can be traced both on the ground and when seen from the hill above. There is also evidence of quarrying in the rocks on the west side of the hill. Arisbe appears already to have become a subject city of Methymna by the time of Herodotus (Histories, I. 151).
The branch road to Aghia Paraskevi (4km northeast of the main Mytilene/Molyvos road) passes a small wild life sanctuary for injured birds and animals, which is maintained by donations. The village itself is one of the busiest agricultural centres on the island; its handsome streets of stone houses are home to a daily open-air market. The many stone mansions, and the particularly impressive neoclassical school building, are witness to the prosperity and civic pride of the town in the 1920s. On the street corner opposite the town hall and just south of the school building is the de-commissioned Ottoman hamam. The town is famous (as is also Mandamados) for its celebrations of the feast of Aghios Charalambos (10 February). These involve the ritual slaughter of a young bull, communal feasting, parades and horse-racing— practices whose origins go back to well before the time of Charalambos.
The most evocative excursion to be made from Aghia Paraskevi is to the remains of the Early Christian basilica at Chalinados, in a landscape of rocky bluffs and olive groves 5.5km to the east of the town. (Follow north through Aghia Paraskevi as if for Napi, past the school to right and the post office to left; bear right uphill at central junction, and follow this street straight without turning off until it becomes unsurfaced. Shortly before the basilica, the road dips through a ravine. The remains are on the right after 5.5km shaded by a number of venerable pines.) The silent and compel ling setting is perhaps the monument’s greatest attraction. Two lines of carved capitals defining the nave show that the interior was once modestly decorated: the colour of the stone of the capitals differs slightly from that of the magenta-coloured trachyte columns on which they have been re-erected. The building has the apsed, three-aisle plan typical of a 6th century church; the threshold and posts of the stone templon are still visible. The church must once have served a now-vanished local community in the area; today it is carpeted with asphodel and is home to a nesting family of Black-eared wheatears.
A little less than a kilometre north of Aghia Paraskevi on the road to Napi, a conspicuous track branches off to the northwest. On the right after 3km, is the beautifully preserved mediaeval bridge at Kremasti, which stands at the crossing-point of the Tsiknia river on the ancient road from Mytilene to Methymna, via the sanctuary at Mesa. The ancient blocks incorporated in its lower parts are not necessarily an indication that there was a bridge here in Antiquity; they will probably have been brought from the sanctuary at Klopedi, and re-used here so as to avoid quarrying and cutting new stone. The graceful superstructure is of the 15th century, constructed under the Genoese dominion of the Gattilusi. Its single semicircular span is 8.5m in width, necessitating the comparable height of its arch. The compactly paved carriageway has no balustrade to either side so as to permit the easier pas sage of hayricks and vehicles whose loads protruded beyond their axles.
From the bridge the road continues northwest into a valley and branches left, back along the opposite side of the valley at a higher level through dense pines, towards the monastery of the Taxiarchis—a late 18th century foundation, now home to a single hermit. A kilometre beyond (to the left), in a deeply rural setting, is the sanctuary of Ancient Klopedi. The bases of two late 6th century bc temples dedicated to Apollo Napaios and possibly to Artemis can be seen aligned parallel to one another on a SE/NW orientation: the upper temple has been cleared, revealing the careful cutting of the ancient blocks of its stylobate, which still retain their lifting knobs at certain points; the lower temple is still partially covered by the hillside. The boldly carved early Aeolic column capitals now in the Archaeology Museum in Mytilene come from here; several more examples are visible under an improvised roof at the lowest point of the site.
From Klopedi, it is possible to rejoin the main Molyvos to Kalloni road which lies 1km to the west: 5km south of this junction, the main road descends steeply towards Kalloni. As it flattens out after the descent, a poorly signed turning to the right (west) leads (1km) to the convent of the Panaghia Myrsiniotissa, the first of two closely related and important monasteries which were re-founded by St Ignatios Agallianus, the 16th century archbishop of Methymna. The inner court of the convent, entered through three successive gateways—the last of which is surmounted by a massive and curiously carved lintel block—is a veritable hortus conclusus of flowering trees and plants. The catholicon, which contains the tomb of the founder, St Ignatios, in the sanctuary, was rebuilt after a fire in 1915; some of the outer buildings, however, date from when the convent was re-established in 1523 on the site of an earlier Byzantine monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin.
To its west, accessible either by track from Myrsiniotissa (2.5km) or by the road from Kalloni to Philia, lies the imposing block of the monastery of the Archangel Michael, known as the monastery of ‘Leimonos’, established three years later by St Ignatios in 1526 with the intention from the outset of constituting the principle centre of learning on the island. Leimonos is conceived on a grand scale, and is endowed with one of the most important religious libraries and manuscript collections in the Aegean out side that on Patmos; there is also a large collection of Late Byzantine icons.
The monastery and its lands occupy a wide plateau out of sight from the sea. It has several dependencies and has always been a working community with an active agricultural production: the buildings include an olive press, and impressive storerooms with half-interred pithoi for storing the oil produced. Destruction wrought by accidental fires means that the catholicon was mostly reconstructed in the last decade of the 18th century, and many of the surrounding monastery buildings added a century later. The catholicon is built over a small spring of healing water in its southeast corner; the low wide roof covers arcaded porches along both the north and south sides, and a deep narthex and exonarthex to the west. The *interior is a remarkably beautiful whole in its decoration, contrasting vividly with the austere exterior of the monastery. The paintings were executed in 1800 by a certain Nikephoros from Mount Athos, in a Byzantine style which is heavily accented with Western influence. A small portion of the original 16th painting still remains in the lower area of the apse. The interior is dominated and embellished by the magnificent late -18th century iconostasis of Chiot crafts manship, and by the beautiful wooden ceiling. Along the north side of the courtyard the cell of St Ignatios and other rooms may be visited.
The museum (open daily 8–6), laid out in three rooms along the west side of the monastery complex, has a notable collection of icons and manuscripts.
In Room I are conserved parts of the original 16th century templon of the monastery, and an unusual 18th century ‘spiritual map’ or topography of the Holy Land, painted on linen.
Room II contains the core of the monastery’s remarkable manuscript collection: two *10th century kontakia (long, strophaic hymns) on sewn scrolls of parchment, and a *9th century lectionary inuncial script, with illuminations. There are also a several imperial firmans of the 18th century and later, establishing or restating the privileges of the monastery and headed with the Sultan’s tugra.
Room III exhibits many fine liturgical embroideries, vestments and objects. In the case against the back wall is a 16th century icon of St Eustace of particular beauty. Above, is a late 17th century carved and gilded *wooden epistyle with exquisitely painted figures of Christ, the Virgin and Baptist.
Ignatios laid down in his original Order for the two monasteries he founded that men should be forbidden to enter the convent of the Myrsiniotissa, and women the monastery of Leimonos: the first prohibition has been relaxed, and the second remains by tradition but is applied only to the monastery’s catholicon itself.
Above Leimonos the road climbs steeply, passing the hill of ‘Tyrannida’ to the right, crowned by a memorial to the last military stand of the Turkish presence on Lesbos in 1912, before descending into the plain of Philia (10km from Kalloni), an isolated village of attractively built houses. Both Philia and its neighbouring village Skalochori (6km further west) have decommissioned mosques with surviving minarets.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
The Palaeochristian basilica of Chalinados, the stone bridge at Kremasti and Ancient Klopedi.