Petra

Six kilometres south of Molyvos, the unexpected volcanic *monolith of Petra, rising 46m almost vertically into the air behind the bland shoreline of the bay, gives the impression of a grounded meteorite. It is in fact a ‘volcanic neck’—a cylindrically shaped rock formation that re mains when magma solidifies in the vent of a volcano and is subsequently left exposed by the erosion of surround material; it is of the same origin as the famous rock ‘stacks’ in Arizona, such as Shiprock and the funnels of Monument Valley. These are the peculiarities of (geologically) ‘recent’ volcanic landscapes, such as that of Northern Lesbos; there is another similar rock, also crowned by a church, at nearby Stipsi, 7km east of here. The present church on the rock at Petra, the Panaghia Glykophilousa, dates from the mid 19th century; but the cultic significance of the summit is considerably more ancient. Access to the church is by over one hundred rock-cut steps on the north side. On the front and corners of the projecting porch at the summit, are naif, carved stone heads, similar in style and of comparable date to those on the doorway of the kafeneion in Vasilika (see p. 73). The tight complex of the church and its surrounding buildings occupy all of the limited space on top of the rock; the bird’s-eye view they afford of the village from above, beautifully reveals the tight-knit pattern of houses in both stone and wood, lining streets often ‘roofed’ with pergolas. The striking dissonance between the roofs covered with original patinated tiles, and those made with modern tiles which do not ‘weather’, can also be seen.
   At the foot of the rock to the north is the *church of Aghios Nikolaos, a single-aisled 16th century ‘basilica’ of great simplicity, built in unadorned stone but memorably decorated inside with a cycle of Late Byzantine paintings of different periods in a relatively good state of preservation. The fine, and virtually complete, procession of Saints on the walls embraces the nave where the congregation stands: it includes the female saints on the west wall to either side of the door, and begins (southeast) with one of the finest panels, in which SS Peter and Paul together support an image of the Holy Church, beside a venerable St Andrew who gives his blessing. The narrative panels above are artistically less distinguished, though clear and highly decorative.
   In the heart of the old quarter of Petra southwest of the rock, a fine example of a 19th century Ottoman merchant’s mansion, the Archontiko Vareltzi­daina, has survived and is now restored and open to the public (open daily May–Sept 8–7, Oct–Apr 8–3; closed Mon). The exterior appearance is restrained, with a simple entrance at street level into a plain stone wall; above, closed wooden balconies, or sachnisia, project beneath the wide horizontal wooden eaves typical of Turkish domestic architecture, and whose origins lie far back in the wide flaps of nomad tents. The interior on the upper level is bright and airy, laid out with the open design customary in an oriental home, in which rooms are not planned strictly according to function as in the West, but are interchangeable and furnished with movable elements, such as rugs, cushions, braziers and lamps, in which most of the decorative attention is concentrated. There are well-preserved painted panels of marine scenes, views of ships, and coastal topographies in the woodwork and the ceiling frames. The majority of such mansions of this kind in Greek territory, especially in the eastern Aegean islands, were destroyed after 1923; it is a rare fortune that this one has survived so well.
   The small uninhabited islets (Aghios Giorgos Petras, Myrmiri­ngi, Mikronisi etc.) in the Bay of Petra are refuges for breeding and migrating sea-birds, with substantial colonies of shag, cormorant and Audouin’s gull.

Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
Monolith of Petra.


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