LESVOS (LESBOS) ISLAND
HISTORY: The rich archaeological findings on Lesvos (or
Lesbos) show that the island was inhabited from early antiquity due
to its fertile hinterland and its advantageous geographical
The first organized communities developed about four
thousand years ago and soon enough trading began with Asia Minor,
other islands of the Aegean Sea and the wider Greek area. The nature
and position of the island often made it a target for the powers of
those times, but also contributed to the development of a
particularly distinguished civilization marked by Sappho, Arion,
Pittacus, Alcaeus, Terpandrus, Theophrastus, Theophanes and numerous
other poets, writers and philosophers.
Alexander the Great liberated the island from the Persians
only for it to later fall under the domination of the Romans.
Under the Byzantine Empire, the island became a place of exile for
officials who had fallen out of the Court's favour. In 1462 Lesvos
was conquered by the Turks.
For many centuries, the economy of Lesvos has had close
connections with the coast of Asia Minor, which due to the small
distance between the two, allow thw mainland to act as hinterland,
with Smyrni as the "metropolis".
From the mid-19th century until the first decades of the 20th, the
island experienced prosperity based on the cultivation of olive
After the almost total catastrophe in 1850 dye to
extremely severe weather conditions, the revival of cultivation both
in terms of the variaties cultivated and the area of land under
cultivation marked the beginning of a new period. Manufacturing
units and industries were established to process olive products and
byproducts, while commercial networks were set up to transfer the
local produce to the Balkans, Europe, Asia Minor, and Northern and
The methods of standardization and processing used competed with
those of the world market.
Lesvos became a gateway to the East, with Western
standards, a fact which left its mark on the island's culture.
Buildings, churches, and luxurious residences were erected combining
cultural elements from both East and West. The island became
international and actively participated in the social, economic and
cultural development of the times.
At the end of the 19th century, considerable wealth was accumulated
on the island as commerce developed. A Commercial Club was
established and in the 1915 the Commercial Association of Mytilene
was set up. In 1919, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of
Mytilene was established.
Between 1912, the date of liberation, and the catastrophe
of 1922, the island's economy gradually turned away from Asia Minor
and towards Greece and its capital. In 1922 the stream of refugees
dramatically changed the social and economic life of the island and
a gradual shrinkage of the industrial production was observed as the
huge market for local produce declined. At the same time, the
arrival of refugees provided cheap manpower thus new cultivation
developed and older ones improved.
THE ISLAND TODAY: Since 1960, an effort to break
dependence on the cultivation of olive trees has started because
unstable production has led to failing populations. Instead, the
focus has turned to tourism and the immediate need to develop
infrastructure - hotels, roads and transport set against a
background of modernization, something which became more evident
after Greece's accession to the EC.
Nowadays, the prefecture revolves around the processing of
agricultural produce, mainly olive oil, cheese, ouzo (which is
particularly profitable), wine, salted preserves as well as tourism.
In recent years, great emphasis has been placed on the production of
olive oil and wine using organic cultivation methods.
Mytilene is the capital of the island and has a population
of 30,000 people. This is about one third of the total
population of the island. It is built amphitheatrically around its
well preserved Byzantine Castle. Not very far from there, on the
north-east side of town, one can find the Hellenistic Theatre with
its superb acoustics and capacity of 10,000 people. Further in the
suburb of Varia one can visit the Theophilos Museum.
Twelve kilometers from Mytilene, near the town of
one can visit the Roman Aqueduct that was built in the second
Going further up north by the east coast, thru a series of beautiful
little villages one will arrive in the town of Mantamados, famous
for its cheeses and the fine pottery. The next stop will be Skala
Sikaminias, one of the most charming fishing villages one would ever
And then, at the northest point of the island one will
find the picturesque village of Mithymna (also known as
Molivos), with its mediaeval castle and the traditional
architecture. Molivos is also the islands best known resort.
The association with Arts is appropriate enough, for it was here in
Mithymna that the head of Orpheus is said to have been washed ashore
after his dismemberment of the Thracian women. Another mythical
citizen of Mithymna was the lyric poet and musician Arion. It has
been said that he has been saved by the music-loving dolphin.
Only a short distance of 5 Km SW of Molivos the village of
Petra can be found. Petra has one of the best sandy beaches of the
Again further south the village of Agia Paraskevi is situated. This
village has a lot of old mansions and is known for the Bull Festival
that has been celebrated since more than two hundred years. Near the
village lay ruins of an ancient temple of Napaios Apollo and the
ruins of an Ionian temple dated from the 3rd century BC. This temple
was dedicated to Zeus, Hera and Dionysos.
In the island's center, not far from Agia
the modern town Kalloni. It is famous for its sardines which are
caught in the nearby bay called the Gulf of Kalloni. On this gulf
one will also find the popular summer resort Skala Kalloni with its
beautiful sandy beaches.
Kalloni is also famous for its plain that creates an unique refuges
for birds such as ravines and myrtles.
The oleanders, ferns, pines, form the hydrobiotop of
Parakoila, Skala Kallonis and the salt pans of the gulf. The area is
filled with waters and their thickets of canes consist of a great
number of birds, animals and lepidopteran such as foxes, winks,
squirrels, hedgehogs, martens, turtles, martins, wild pigeons,
thrushes, pelicans, hens-fowls, blackbirds, storks, herons, crickets
and nightingales that brighten mornings and evenings with music.
Also near the center of the island another well known town
is Agiassos. This town is famous for its pottery. Going further
south again we reach the towns of Plomari and Vatera which have the
one of most superb beaches of the island, 10 Km long.
At the western tip of Lesvos, Sigri is a pretty fishing
village with a nice little beach and a castle that goes back to the
18th century. Not far from there lies the Petrified Forest, dating
back fifteen million years.
Finally, not far from Sigri, one will find the town of Eressos.
Eressos has been the birth place of Sappho and Theoprastos. Its
port, Skala Eressos, is a famous resort with a magnificent beach.
Lesvos, as it can be seen from its classical history, its
abundance of poets, musicians, philosophers and lawgivers, was
one of the great cultural centers of the Greek world. It was second
perhaps only to Athens, in its influence if not in its power.
As a place for a holiday, for a rest or for quiet work, Lesvos is
HARD to BETTER. It is big enough to permit that change of scene so
necessary if one is to avoid "island claustrophobia". It
has a further advantage that it is easy from here to organize a trip
to visit Troy or to explore the coastline of ancient Ionia.