‘Molyvos’ is a Hellenisation of the town’s Turkish name ‘Molova’. For this reason some prefer that the town be called today by its ancient name, ‘Methymna’; but even that, in turn, is a word of pre-Greek, probably Anatolian, origin. The town has an enviable and radiant site. Its lay out is convex, whereas that of Mytilene is concave: this gives these two ancient rivals a quite different feel and appearance. *Molyvos clings to a rocky headland; the façades of its colourful houses fall in tiers down its south facing slope below an all-dominating castle. Its character is infused with Ottoman remains—marble fountains at street corners, and the jostling angles of projecting wooden Ottoman balconies (‘sachnisia’), protected by wide horizontal eaves. Such elements of an Anatolian architecture have survived here in surprising numbers.
In Antiquity Methymna was the second city of Lesbos, birth-place of the late 7th century bc poet Arion and of Hellanicus (c. 480–395 bc)—an important historian, sometimes neglected owing to the overarching fame of his near con temporary, Herodotus. The city was widely renowned for its sweet wine. Its territories extended south in Archaic times to include the sanctuary of Klopedi and latterly the city of Arisbe. Its history is dominated by rivalry with Mytilene— most significantly when it did not back the Mytilenean re volt against Athens in 428 bc. It later broke with Athens in 412 bc after the disastrous Sicilian expedition; but appears again as a member of the Second Athenian Confederacy in the early 4th century bc. In Roman times the preeminence of Mytilene was confirmed, leaving Methymna with secondary status. The town became an important centre under Genoese dominion, and served as the principal Gattilusi stronghold on more than one occasion when other parts of their island were attacked. During the Turkish siege of 1450, Dorino Gattilusio’s consort, Orietta Doria, donned male armour and led the defenders to victory. Molyvos maintained its importance during Ottoman times; as late as 1923, over one third of its population was Moslem.
In the town itself, little remains to be seen of Ancient Methymna, apart from a large open site revealing an ancient cemetery at the southern extremity of the town, which is one of the first things encountered on arrival from the south. In it are a number of late undecorated sarcophagi in situ, and stretches of building-walls in exemplary Lesbian (interlocked polygonal) masonry. The main stone-cobbled thoroughfare of the old town (17th November Street) begins just beyond these excavations and climbs steadily from southeast to northwest: it is a pleasant walk, lined by old wooden-fronted shops and shaded by a procession of mature pergolas of wistaria. The large stone building under which the street passes, shortly before the first junction, is the Valide Mosque, whose truncated minaret is still visible in the north corner: below it and to the left, are two defunct water fountains, one of which (right) is an ancient sarcophagus. Half way up the ascent, the street reaches a junction and continues as ‘Kastrou Street’ in its upper sector; the street to the left at the junction leads down to the port passing the restored stone and timber Ottoman mansion now occupied by the Demarcheion (Town Hall), with the bust of the local writer Argyris Eftaliotis in front. Above the junction, opposite the post office on Kastrou Street, are the old Turkish Baths: though abandoned and dilapi dated, the shallow dome still stands and covers the customary octagonal slab of the bath chamber. On the sea ward (west) side is the church of Aghios Panteleimon, a dignified 19th century building, with a curious entrance threshold improvised from an upturned carved marble lintel from a mosque, inlaid with late 19th century Sicilian faience tiles. A number of ancient column fragments are gathered in the courtyard by its southeast corner. Above and to the east of the church (reached by doubling back up the street almost opposite) is the Kralli Mansion, a fine example of an Ottoman residence with well-preserved early 19th century wall and ceiling paintings in the interior. The building now houses a centre of the Athens School of Fine Arts, and can be visited between 9 and 5pm. Just below the summit of the main street (which is marked by an ancient fluted column immured into the corner of a building at shoulder height) and to the left, is Plateia Andrea Kyriakou, with many handsome mansions in its vicinity.
From the top of the street it is a steep climb back to wards the east, to the entrance of the Gattilusi Castle (open daily, except Mon, 8.30–3). In general, the castle is finely constructed and well-preserved. As seen from the west, it is clear that the walls incorporate large areas of ancient masonry, principally from Hellenistic fortifications on the same site. The projecting western corner of the inner walls (seen rising behind and above the outer curtain wall between the two western circular bastions) incorporates a Hellenistic fortification tower in its lower parts. Elsewhere most of the ancient stone has been re assembled into newer mediaeval walling; and there is a mixture of both mediaeval and modern mortar used to stabilise the structure. The enceinte is entered through a succession of three gates: an outer gate, modified in Otto man times and adorned with a carved marble plaque set into a blind arch, bearing an Osmanli inscription; a second, long tunnel-gate; and a final 14th century main gate, whose posts are composed of massive ancient foundation blocks. The interior is large and accommodates several late mediaeval buildings of secular function, and an area which is currently being excavated. A small number of ancient fragments in white marble lie abandoned inside. The castle’s northeast bastion commands the straits between the Turkish mainland and Lesbos: this was a busy sea-lane in all periods of history for traffic coming south from the Black Sea and the Hellespont.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.