Situated on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, the island of Lesvos is the most ‘Greek’ of the Greek islands and provides its visitors with an abundance of Hellenic history and culture in addition to the usual Greek island offerings of idyllic beaches and buzzing coastal resorts.
One of the great cultural centres of the Greek world, Lesvos (pronounced ‘Lesbos’), derives its name from the ancient poet Sappho, who was known for her love of her own sex, and gave us the etymological basis of ‘lesbian’.
Visitors can either fly from a number of European airports or take the ferry from the Turkish harbour of Ayvalik or Pireaus in western Athens, but either way they will end up in Lesvos’ capital Mytilene.
The city, home to 30,000 people, is a cultural as well as an administrative capital. It has a Hellenistic theatre that is said to have housed 10,000 in the days of classical Greece and provides the setting for the Theophilos museum, named after the early 20th century
folk painter who was dedicated to his country’s ancient civilisation.
Some 12 km from the capital, evidence of the Roman occupation of the island is prevalent, in the form of an aqueduct built in the 2nd century AD.
Moving along the coast to the northern tip of the island brings the
historically conscientious traveller to Molivos, ‘the jewel in the crown of the Aegean Sea’ according to its tourist board, where one finds a medieval castle and a host of neoclassical architecture built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The stone-paved, red-roof tiled town filled with overlooking geranium potted balconies also happens to be the island’s best know resort, where tourists can relax on sun-blessed beaches, gazing out onto placid seas, content in the knowledge that the head of Orpheus is said to have been washed ashore after it dismemberment at the hands of the Thracian women many years ago. Only four kilometres away, visitors can bathe in the hot springs of Egtalou, known for their therapeutic qualities, without an ancient limb in sight.
Only a few more kilometres down the dusty road, couched with fields of goats, brings one to Agia Paraskevi, a small village near the beach town of Petra, which is known for its annual bull festival. Nearby the village lie the ruins of an Ionian temple from the 3rd century BC, dedicated to Hera, Dionysus and Zeus.
Greece’s third largest island, behind Crete and Evia, offers a distinct experience for the culturally aware visitor, who is not afraid to go beyond the bounds of the coastal resort, in search of some uniquely Greek magic.