The Lesbos region (currently the regional unit of Lesvos) consists of the islands of Lesbos, Lemnos and Agios Efstratios.
Lesbos at a glance
Lesbos, also known as Mytilini, is the largest island in the prefecture and is the third largest island in the country after Crete and Euboea, and is one of the largest in the Mediterranean. It is lying in the northeastern Aegean Sea across the coast of Asia Minor. It is located in the northeastern Aegean Sea, quite close to the coasts of Turkey and opposite Ayvalık. The terrain is mountainous and semi-mountainous, mainly in the inland, while lowlands meet on the coast.
The island is famous for its olives and the famous olive oil, ouzo, figs, cheeses, chestnuts and others. Although volcanic, Lesbos has rich vegetation. Apart from the millions of olive trees, there are rich pine forests, but also oak and chestnut forests. The many streams that flow through it have created important wetlands in the estuary, especially in the two largest bays on the island (Kalloni and Geras).
Lovely Villages of Lesbos
The capital is Mytilene, which is also the capital of the prefecture as well as the headquarters of the region. It is located on the southeast of the island, 6 km from the airport. It is the city that welcomes the thousands of visitors to the island every year. It has all the public services and banks and is perfectly organized in the tourist sector, as it enables the traveler to choose among dozens of accommodation, catering and entertainment. Other popular settlements are Plomari, about 40 km away from Mytilene, known for its ouzo and traditional local delicacies and the beautiful Eressos. Also, the settlement of Molyvos, a traditional tourist destination, Polichnitos, 43 km east of the capital, with the famous hot springs, Kalloni, Petra village, the traditional settlement of Agiasos, the picturesque Mantamados, etc.
Geography of Lesbos island
The highest mountain in Lesvos is Lepetimos (968 m), Lemnos the Watchtower (470 m) and Agios Efstratios (Agios Efstratios) (298 m) Plains: The main plains of Lesvos are the Gulf of Gera and Kalloni Bay. Lemnos is a whole plain. Falls: From all over the prefecture, only Lesvos has rivers. The most important are: Tinheia, Kalamiaris, Evergetoulas, Kavouropotamos, Tsouknias, Tsichilandas, Voulgaris and Kechrada. Lakes: There is a small lake in Limnos, the Great Lake, which has salty waters and was formerly a lagoon. Coasts: Lesvos is one of the most diverse islands in Greece. Its physiognomy is characterized by two deep bays: Geras and Kalloni. Lemnos is shaped like an uneven quadrangle, which penetrates two bays in the middle, the bay of Moudros and the bay of Pournia, dividing it in two, leaving a narrow strip of land. Agios Efstratios has a triangular shape, with the peaks of Trypiti, Roumbos and Agia Apostoli. Climate: The climate of the prefecture is temperate, with mild winter and cool summer.
Some of the most beautiful beaches on the island are : Bigla, Neapoli, Varia, Kratigo, Thermi, Skala Mistegon, Xambelia, Melinta, Skala Eressou, Sigri, Gavathas, Amoudeli, Agios Isidoros, Vatera, Petra, Skala Sikaminias, Nifida, Agios Ermogenis, Skala Polihnitou, Aspropotamos, Molyvos, Drota, Skala Kallonis and Palaiokastro.
Windsurfing, sailing, basket, volley, tennis, football and more.
In Mitilini you can find pubs, bars, discos and cinemas. Discos and bars can also be found in Skala Eresou, Skala Kallonis, Plomari, Sigri and Skala Polihnitou.
Mytilene has an International Airport and a main port. It has transport links (by air and sea) with Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Volos, Kavala, Alexandroupolis and the islands of Limnos, Chios Samos, Ikaria, Kos, Rhodes, Crete etc.
From Athens there are many flights daily (duration : 45 min.). For more information contact Olympic Airways in Athens, tel. (01) 9666666.
From Thessaloniki there are also flights to the island. For more information contact Olympic Airways in Thessaloniki tel. (031) 260.121-9.
From Piraeus to Mitilini there is one ferry a day (distance : 188 nautical miles, duration : 15 hours). For more information contact the Coastguard of Piraeus tel. (01) 451.1311-19.
Useful Telephones :
Automatic dialing code : 0251
For the local connections of Lesvos contact the Coastguard of Mitilini : 28827
Port Authorities : 22776
Airport : 61279
A tour of the island
Mytilini (the capital)
Surrounded by seven green hills rooted in the heart of the Aegean, Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, one of the oldest cities in Greece, spreads over from the 3rd millennium BC.
Today’s Mytilene, with about 30,000 inhabitants, is built on the ruins of the ancient city of the same name, which gave birth to great intellectual personalities, such as Pittakos, one of the seven wisemen of antiquity and the greatest lyric poets of all time, Sappho (700- 600 BC) and Alcaeus (640-560 BC). The tradition continues to our day with the poet Nobelist, Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996).
Mytilini is also the capital of Prefecture of Lesbos (the islands of Lesvos, Limnos and Aghios Efstratios). The city has two harbors. The southern one for the large ships and the coastal communications and the one in the north for the smaller vessels. Along the quay are many modern buildings and hotels (which provide all modern comforts).
The city of Mytiline has a very interesting Archeological Museum which houses findings of all eras. Most important findings are copper, marble and clay idols; one of them belonging to the prehistoric ages. It also includes remarkable finds, e.g. the “Lion of Gera”, the marble throne of Potamonos and a “Statue of a Woman”, of the Classical period.
Further Mytilene has a museum of “Popular Lesvos Art” and a Library with many thousands of classified volumes and some rare books and old manuscripts.
The most important churches are the cathedral St. Athanasios (16th or 17th century) with a Gothic style steeple, the St. Therapon church (there is an interesting Byzantine Museum, in the courtyard of the church), St. Symeon church and several others.
It is worth visiting the prominent castle which was built by the Genoese on an older Byzantine one (6th century). In the northwestern hill of the city there are ruins of a Hellenistic theater (300-100 BC) with an excellent architectural construction.
Mytilini is a beautiful town, especially when viewed from the sea coming in on a boat. There is an architectural mixture of old and new elements with streets surrounded by trees. The town is decorated with several parks. The commercial center is alive with banks, shops of all sorts and travel agents. The “Town Theater” was built in 1952 and seats 756 persons and is basically used for cinema, showings, cultural events, congresses, seminars etc. In town one can find a wide variety of hotels, rooms to rent and the ability to sign up for tours to other areas of the island.
The city is adorned with beautiful churches from which the Metropolis (17th century) with the Gothic-style bell tower and the imposing ‘Agios Therapos (1880) stand out. The Monastery of Saint Raphael is located only 12 km from the city on an olive-tree area of Karyon Thermi. Mytilene is the seat of the Ministry of the Aegean and the University of the Aegean.
A walk in the picturesque neighborhoods, the waterfront and the traditional market, from the Ancient Harbor of Epano Skala to Kioski and Surada, gives the visitor the opportunity to see the warm hospitality of the residents and to admire the beautiful listed mansions of various architectural styles .
Near Mytilini one can swim at Tzamakia – an organized beach – and visit Varia (3,5km), the village where the painter Theophilos was born. The “Theophilos Museum” in honor of the great Greek naive painter is located there. It contains 5 rooms with 86 of his works of art. It is open daily.
Not far away is the museum of Elefteriadis-Teriant which contains rare publications and reproductions of Picasso and other outstanding painters of the 20th century.
At Agia Marina (5 km), you can find the homonymous church which has a very impressive iconostatis. Continuing on the coastal road you’ll reach Neapoli with its beautiful beach. Here you can find tavernas, pubs, rooms for rent and hotels. Just beyond the airport is Kratigo, with a sparkling beach, heavy vegetation and many villas. The coastal road continues towards the scenic villages of Haramida, Aghios Ermogenis and Loutra. Not far is Skala Louton with its many fish tavernas.
West of Mytilini you’ll find the villages of Alifanta, Kentro and Pyrgi.
Near the village of Moria (6 km NW from Mytilini), it is worthwhile to visit the Roman aqueduct. The village has a lot of vegetation, old settlements and the beautiful church of Agios Vasilios. Afalonas is a village 7km from Mytilini. Panayiouda (6km), a seaside village with clear water, hotels and tavernas. Also Pamfilla (7km), with the impressive church of Aghia Varvara.
To the north one meets Pyrgi Thermis, full of old traditional houses. It is a village which once had 150 small castles. An excellent architectural gem is the church of Panagia Trouloti which was built in the 14th century. Then we reach Loutra Thermis (12km), a well-known spa ever since antiquity. The spa has 49,9 degrees Celcius and 0,8 radiation. Local excavations have brought to light ruins of five cities consecutively built on the same site. Kato Thermi (or Paralia Thermis) is near the sea and has many tavernas, restaurants and places for accommodation. Above the village is the monastery of Agios Rafael.
Pigi (19km), is a village surrounded by olive groves and is known for its festival. Mistegna (16km), is known for its crystal clear beach and entertainment facilities. Skala Valtzikiou (24km), has an outstanding beach and many tavernas. Progressing north (36 km) the road leads to Mantamados village with its ruins of a medieval castle. The village is also known for its miraculous church of Taxiarhi, built in 1700. There was a monastery in the past where the Saracens massacred all the monks except one, who with his own blood painted the miraculous icon. Local craftsmen make the famous “koumaria” – earthenware jugs keeping water cool. Klio (42km), has the church of Agia Triada with a beautifully carved iconostasis. there is a fine sandy beach at nearby called Tsonia.
Sikaminia (46km) is on the northern side of the Lepetimnos mountain. It is the home-town of Stratis Mirivilis (famous Greek writer) and nearby is the small church of Panagia Gorgona. It is a marvelous tourist area where one can find plenty of rooms for rent, as well as a number of tavernas and the picturesque small port of Skala Sycaminia (49km). Pelopi (47km), is a small village with cool spring water and plenty of vegetation. It is become known of late because it is where US politician Michael Doukakis’ relatives reside. Stipsi (53km), is a small farming village and at nearby Kastelli there are the ruins of a medieval castle.
Keramia (15km), is known for the church of Aghios Georgios which is built at the site of a ruined castle. Ippios (17km), contains ruins of the Byzantine period. Asomatos (22km), hosts the Taxiarchis church with some fine frescoes.
An asphalt road to the NW of Mytilini leads to Agiasos (27km), a village built in an area of abundant vegetation on the slopes of mount Olympus (height 967 m) and which with its old traditional houses, its stone-paved streets and its squares, strongly appeals to the visitor. It is considered one of the most scenic areas of the island.
In the village one should visit the Museum of Popular Art, the Church Museum and will find many shops and interesting cafes. Finely-worked ceramics of Agiasos are famous for their originality and art. Folk traditions revive here in the festivities of Profitis Elias and the Madonna (15th of August – the brightest folk feast in the area), also in the carnival known as “Vallia”. Lambrou Mili (18km), is a small village with an ancient Roman aqueduct.
Bay of Geras and Plomari area
The road leading from Mytilini to Plomari passes through the Bay of Gera and its picturesque villages on the coast. It is four miles in length and 2,5 miles wide. Here we see Therma Geras (8km), with ancient ruins, probably of a temple of goddess Hera. The spas of Therma have a temperature of 39,7 degrees Celsius and owned by the municipality. At the broader point of the bay lies the monastery of St. Hermogenes – this is an unforgettably beautiful place. Paleokipos (23km), has a number of houses with beautiful gardens and an impressive church of Agios Ermolaos, with its wooden, hand-carved iconostasis. On the western side of the bay we see the picturesque village of Skopelos (26km), with its monastery of St. Magdalene; early Christians on the island found refuge in its catacombs. Northwest of Mesagros (25km), built in 1500, are ruins from the Byzantine period.
We pass by the roundpebbled beach of Agios Isidoros and reach Plomari (42km), a beautiful town famous for its ouzo, with a picturesque harbor. It is the second largest town of the island after Mytilini. The old harbor (which is active) has an impressive church of Agios Nikolaos. In the town there is a museum of Popular Art. Nice beaches located close to Plomari are Melinta and Ammoudeli. There are hotels, hostels, restaurants, tavernas, bars, pubs and discos. Plomari is a starting point for excursions with small boats to other areas of the island.
Akrasi (58km), hosts one of the best beaches of the island called Drota. At Ambeliko (63km), at a height of 400m, is a beautiful church of Agios Nikolaos. The village was founded in 1565.
Lisvori (43km), where the traces of a settlement from 2000 BC were found. You can also see the remains of a Byzantine mine as well. There is also a spa, called Agios Ioannis, with a water temperature of 69 degrees Celsius and radiation 2.5.
Moving west to the small town of Polychnitos (45km), the visitor will be acquainted with its spas. It is a cosmopolitan town with commercial and tourist activity, beautiful beaches and lots of places for entertainment. At Halakies archaeologists found the oldest settlement of the island. The spa of Polychnitos is also well-known and has water temperatures of 76.1 and 87.6 degrees Celsius with a radiation of 1.6 to 6 units.
Vrisa (50km), is a traditional village. As we move to the south, admist the dense greenery, we reach the vast sandy beach of Vatera (55km) stretching 8km long and 30-40m wide. Here the visitor will find hotels, restaurants, tavernas, bars, cafes etc.
Aghia Paraskevi (40km) has some archeological sites of interest in the Klopedi area. At the Mesa Mera area, the remains of a 3rd century BC temple were found, at Halinados an ancient pre-Christian building was discovered, while in the agricultural area of Achladeri there were the ruins of ancient Pirras of 231 BC destroyed by an earthquake.
The island’s central road, from Mytilini to the NW, leads to the bay of Kalloni (41km), full of beautiful beaches. North of the gulf lies in the homonymous village. If one stays here for a meal or a glass of ouzo, it is worthwhile to try the local sardines. There are two impressive churches, Zoodochos Pigi and Agios Ioannis. In the area ancient, Byzantine and medieval foundations have been discovered. There are rooms for rent, hotels, restaurants, bars and excursion options to other areas of the island. At Skala Kallonis there is a beautiful beach with hotels, tavernas, etc.
From here, a side-road of 5km leads to the Limonos Monastery, decorated with wonderful frescoes. The monastery has an ethnographic museum (many works of religious art, icons, ceramics, etc.), a library endowed with rare manuscripts (about 3000 old), and a hostel. It was built in 1527 by the Metropolitan Bishop of Mithimna, Ignatio Agaliano. It is one of the most outstanding monasteries, not only in Lesbos but all of Greece. Mirsiniotissas Convent, built in 1523, is 1.5km from Kalloni. Here is a tomb of Agaliano. Men are forbidden to enter the convent.
Anemotia (55km), is known for its fine grapes and two interesting churches, Agios Georgios and Metamorfosi tou Sotira. Skalochori (58km), is a farming village with traces of an ancient settlement in the Tsamur harbor area. At the Ovriokastro Cape the is the remains of ancient Antissa. Perivolis Monastery was built between 1600 and 1650 and includes outstanding frescoes of that period.
Antissa (77km), is located on the slopes of a mountain. Ancient Antissa was built 12km from the current village, towards the sea and was one of the first settlements of the island. Here we find the ruins of Pelasgian walls and medieval age fortifications and the monastery of St. Ioannis Theologos Ypsilos (81km). It was founded in 800 AD by Agios Ioannis of Sigrianis and it is built on the summit of Mt. Osdimnos. There is a museum in the monastery with a rich collection of ecclesiastical items. At Vigla there is a castle built by the Genovese.
At Sigri (94km), the visitor is led to an amazing and breathtaking view of the Petrified Forest, which is one of the best in Europe. It was formed after a volcanic eruption of Mt. Ordimnos. Thousands of visitors are attracted every year here. Experts place the petrified wood as being half a million years old and perhaps as much as 20 million years old. The height of the petrified trunks reaches 6,5m and they still preserve their roots and their branches. You can also visit the Turkish castle, which was completed in 1757 and the church of Agia Triada. Here you will enjoy the quiet and peaceful landscape. There are plenty of rooms for rent, restaurants and tavernas where you can find always fresh fish.
Eressos (89km), is a village with impressive churches such as Panagias, Agia Irini, and Agios Konstantinos. It was the birthplace and home city of Sappho (612 BC) the poetess; excavations here have brought to light important archaeological findings: the ruins of the ancient city of Eressos, the ruins of a Byzantine castle. At the museum of the area you can see an archaeologically interesting collection of Greek-Roman and old Christian objects. At a distance of 4 km lies the Scala Eressou with its beautiful sandy and sparkling beach extending 4km and with a width of 70m. Many consider this beach as one of the best in Greece. There are hotels, rooms for rent, restaurants, tavernas, pubs, discos etc.
Pitharios Monastery is located 4km from Eressos and was founded in the 17th century.
Petra (55km), is a small scenic village with ideal fishing opportunities and plenty of small boats available for hire. The beautiful beach extends 4km in length. In this village the first women’s agrotourist cooperative was founded, with help from the Secretariat for Sex Equality. Here women members of the cooperative put up visitors in their own homes, offering them the opportunity to participate in family life and agricultural work. In Petra it is worthwhile to visit a private collection of Theophilos’s works, as well as the monastery of Panagia Glykofilousa, built on a rock with 114 steps. It was built in 1609. Another interesting church is Agios Georgios which was built in 1880 on the ruins of a Byzantine edifice.
History Of Lesbos
Homer says that Lesbos was the kingdom of Makaras. Makaras had 5 daughters, Mitilini, Mithimna, Issa, Antissa and Arisvi and 4 sons, Ereso, Kirdolao, Neandro and Lefkippo. Some of the greatest cities of ancient Lesbos were named after Makaras’s daughters and Ereso.
In the prehistoric times the island was known by a number of names such as Lasia, Imerti, Pelasgia, Makaria and Aeolis. During the Ottoman rule, the Turks called it Altin Antasi, in other words the Golden Island. Today’s name of Lesbos, according to one version, came from a Phoenician word esvou meaning seven, while another version says that the island got its name from the word lespis which means precious gem. Historian Diodoros of Sicily said that Lesbos got its name from Lesvo, son of the Thessalian king Lapithou who married the daughter of Makaras, Mithimna.
Life on Lesbos, as revealed by excavations by archaeologists in the Thermis area, has been traced to 3000 BC and the civilization is similar to that in Troy and Mycenae. The first inhabitants of Lesbos were the Pelasgians from Argos or Thessaly. They were succeeded by others, namely the Makares (around 1826 BC) who were joined by the Pelasgians lead by Lesbos. The Pelasgian walls, which can be found at Perados, Kerania, Arisbe and Tsinia are the evidence of the presence of Pelasgians on the island.
The island was abandoned during the destruction of Defkaliona around 1680 BC. In 1507 BC, it was once again inhabited by Xantho and his followers. Between 1393-1184 BC it was inhabited by the Achaians while in 1290 BC Eteoklis helped gain independence for the island.
Lesbos took part in the Trojan War on the side of the Trojans and their leader Pileo. Sixty years after the downfall of the Trojans, Aeolians inhabited the island and king Penthilidis led the island to prosperity and to the gaining of the entire western part of Asia Minor. He governed the island until he was assassinated by Megaklis. In the classic age Lesbos was a major sea power which prevailed in the Aegean for 60 years. Its ships reached Carthage and the Black Sea. The island had a large population and letters and arts were thriving. Lesbians had established colonies on the opposite coasts of Asia Minor.
The island was taken over by the Persians in 527 BC and joined the battle against Egypt (527 BC), Darios against Skythes (513 BC) and the Ionian Revolution (499 BC) when Lesbos gained its independence. That was the era of the historian Ellanikos. In the 494 BC Persians again took over the island and the islanders had to joint Xerxes in his battle against the Greeks (480 BC) and then joined the Greeks in their naval victory in Mykali (479 BC), gaining once again their freedom.
Lesbos took part in the Attica League until 428 BC at which time all towns of the island, except Mythimna, were controlled by the league. That’s when a long war between Athens and Lesbos occurred, the islanders being supported by Sparta. The war lasted until 406 BC, when the island became the property of Athens.
In 387 BC the island becomes self-governing while in 375 BC it took part in the Second Attica League. By 334 BC the Macedonians make their appearance and Lesbos becomes part of Macedonia and follows its destiny.
The Romans destroyed the island in 168 BC, but by 88 BC the island is back on its feet enjoying economic and cultural prosperity.
During the Byzantine era, the island suffered from invasions from the Saracens, Turks and Enetons. In 1204 AD the Franks gave the island to Valdouino I.
Lesbos witnessed many other difficult times until 1354 when Francisco Gatelouzos of Geneva, son-in-law of the great Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Paleologos, took over the island as part of a dowry. He kept led the island through calm waters until the Ottoman Turks took over the island on October 14, 1462.
Lesbos was freed once again in 1912 and it was given over to Greece in 1923. The Germans took over in 1941 during World War II and three years later independence finally came to Lesbos.