- Accommodation & Hotels
- Things to see
- Things to do
- Stay safe
Lesbos (Λέσβος) , or Lesvos, is the northest of the East Aegean Islands of Greece, projecting out of the Asia Minor mainland.
It is a birthplace of numerous poets and writers since the Greek antiquity till the recent years; the island of Lesbos is still inspiring, through this cultural heritage and its natural beauties of landscape contrasts, an easygoing lifestyle, expressed by its people as a familiarity towards all its visitors.
Even though they inaccurately say it is due to the erotic element in some poems by the famous Sappho, instead of Lesbos (Λέσβος) it is popular to refer to the island by the name of its capital town of Mytilene (Μυτιλήνη). Spellings of Lesvos and Mitilini are widespread transliterations, reflecting the actual Greek pronunciation.
Of all the islands of Greece, Lesbos is only preceded in area by Crete (South) and Evvia (Centre). However, in terms of administration, the prefecture of Lesvos comprises three major islands, Lesbos, Lemnos at the northwest, and the tiny Agios Efstratios, located in the middle between the first two islands.
Geographically, Lesbos includes two seawater gulfs, with narrow openings both to the south, that elongate the coastline and shaping the island characteristically like a fig tree or plane tree leaf, as described by the native nobelist poet Odysseas Elytis. The landscape is different in the various regions; most striking is the contrast of the far west region, rocky with low vegetation, to the east and central parts, where olive and pine tree forests dominate. Its elevation reaches almost 1000 metres at both points: the north at mount Lepetymnos and the south at mount Olympos, a name identical to the original Olympus in Thessaly.
Lesvos is quite well known for the great number of its local, traditional products. As mentioned before, Lesvos is very famous for Ouzo, as it is considered one of the places it originates from. Also, Lesvos is quite famous for its pottery. Agiasos and Mandamados are the two villages that have the biggest tradition in ceramic art. Many ceramists live and work in these villages. Some of the ceramists there are Antonia Gavve( and Demetrios Hadjigiannis. Except for ceramics, woodcraft is also very developed in Lesvos.
Greek is most common but many people, especially younger ones, know English as a second Language. Most signs are bilingual or even only English, but usually spelling follows a transliteration of how some place is pronounced in Modern Greek, so a little hard to recognize.
One meaning of the word lesbian derives from the poems of Sappho, who was born in Lesbos and who wrote with powerful emotional content directed toward other women. Due to this association, Lesbos and especially the town of Eresos, her birthplace, are visited frequently by lesbian tourists. In 2008, a group of Lesbos islanders lost a court case against the LGBT community of Greece. The Lesbos islander group had requested a legal injunction to ban groups from using the word "lesbian" in their names, which the petitioners claim violated their human rights as it is "insulting" and disgraces them around the world.
Lesbos lies in the far east of the Aegean sea, facing the Turkish coast (Gulf of Edremit) from the north and east; at the narrowest point, the strait is about 5.5 km (3.4 mi) wide. The shape of the island is roughly triangular, but it is deeply intruded by the gulfs of Kalloni, with an entry on the southern coast, and of Gera, in the southeast.
The island is forested and mountainous with two large peaks, Mt. Lepetymnos at 968 m (3,176 ft) and Mt. Olympus at 967 m (3,173 ft), dominating its northern and central sections. The island's volcanic origin is manifested in several hot springs and the two gulfs.
Lesbos is verdant, aptly named Emerald Island, with a greater variety of flora than expected for the island's size. Eleven million olive trees cover 40% of the island together with other fruit trees. Forests of mediterranean pines, chestnut trees and some oaks occupy 20%, and the remainder is scrub, grassland or urban.
The island has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate (Csa in the Koeppen climate classification). The mean annual temperature is 18 °C (64 °F), and the mean annual rainfall is 750 mm (30 in). Its exceptional sunshine makes it one of the sunniest islands in the Aegean Sea. Snow and very low temperatures are rare.
The entire territory of Lesbos is "Lesvos Geopark" which is a member of the European Geoparks Network (2000-) and Global Geoparks Network (2004-) on account of its outstanding geological heritage, educational programs and projects, and promotion of geotourism.
This geopark was enlarged from former "Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark". Lesbos contains one of the few known petrified forests called Petrified forest of Lesbos and it has been declared a Protected Natural Monument. Fossilised plants have been found in many localities on the western part of the island. The fossilised forest was formed during the Late Oligocene to Lower–Middle Miocene, by the intense volcanic activity in the area. Neogene volcanic rocks dominate the central and western part of the island, comprising andesites, dacites and rhyolites, ignimbrite, pyroclastics, tuffs, and volcanic ash. The products of the volcanic activity covered the vegetation of the area and the fossilization process took place during favourable conditions. The fossilized plants are silicified remnants of a sub-tropical forest that existed on the north-west part of the island 20–15 million years ago.
The economy of Lesbos is essentially agricultural in nature, with olive oil being the main source of income. Tourism in Mytilene, encouraged by its international airport and the coastal towns of Petra, Plomari, Molyvos and Eresos, contribute substantially to the economy of the island. Fishing and the manufacture of soap and ouzo, the Greek national liqueur, are the remaining sources of income.
Transportation - Get In
The island is served by Odysseas Elytis (Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) airport, named after the 20th century poet, and located in the far South-East of the island, around 8 km South of Mytilene. Flights run regularly to/from Athens, Thessaloniki, Chios, Lemnos and Crete. Internationally, the island is a popular holiday destination so is served by regular charter flights.
The island is also connected with the mainland and other islands by ship. Many major companies offer routes between Lesbos and Athens.
The main shipping company is NEL Lines. Third class tickets (No bed) is about 42 Euros return from Athens. First class with a bed and TV cost 120 Euros. I suggest not travelling third class as the bathrooms are disgusting! The trip is 11–13 hours depending on which ship you board. There are four, Agios Rafael is the slowest and Mitilini is the fastes taking 11 hours. It is a tiresome journey, so it would be better to try book on ships that depart late in the afternoon and travel by night, arriving at their destination a couple of hours after dawn. You won't miss any scenery, since the ship crosses the Aegean Sea and for hours you would only be viewing endless water.
Since 2005, Hellenic Seaways connects Mitilini with Piraeus (Athens' port) with a faster ship, Nisos Mikonos. With a stop at Chios, the trip lasts about 8–9 hours.
Turyol, a leading sea transportation company in Turkey, has services between Ayvalık and Mytilini, one way adult ticket price is 20 Euros, return trip tickets are 30 euros, mentioned prices are valid till 30 April 2013. For vehicle transportation prices, see turyol.com
Jale Tur maintains a year-round ferry service between Mytilene and Ayvalık, Turkey, a city opposite Mytilene on the Aegean coast. During high season there are boats every day; outside season a few times a week (weather permitting). The crossing takes about 90 minutes. The ferry does take cars, but is fairly small. Advance reservation is recommended. Contact: Jale Tur, Atatürk Caddesi, Güzide Apt. No:5, Ayvalık, Turkey / Tzeims Aristarchou Street 1 (around the corner from Kountouriotou), Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece (both in Ayvalık and in Mytilene directly opposite the entrance/exit of the immigration/customs building on the waterfront), , , fax: , , e-mail: [email protected]. € 40 p.p. one way, € 50 return trip; compact car € 70. During high season several other companies also maintain ferry services between Mytilene and Ayvalık. This ferry is mostly used by locals to go the Bazar in Ayvalik.
Also year round ferry service to Dikili, Turkey, slightly closer then Ayvalik, 13€ one way.
Transportation - Get Around
Local buses run on the island to the bigger villages on the island. You can buy tickets in the bus. The major bus stop and information station is located at Mitilini.
Taxis are cheap and the taxi drivers are obliged to use the meter. Taxis based in Mitilini are yellow. Taxis not based in Mitilini are grey-coloured. Taxis can be used for local transportation, transfers and excursions, but also for emergencies.
A good way to see the island is to rent a car. A local, good quality and affordable car rental place, Auto Moto, can be found at the airport, and many more car rental places at and around Kountouriotou Street at Mitilini's harbour front. Recommended if you are a confident driver! The locals drive pretty fast, but usually obey the traffic rules. The roads are generally quite good, and even the mountain roads not too challenging.
The island offers nice hiking routes between the villages. The hiking maps are available in tourist offices.
Towns and villages
Mytilene - (Μυτιλήνη) The capital of Lesvos at the east end. A busy town as it concentrates the hospital, the university, the port, the airport, the court, the prefecture and other administrative headquarters.
Agiasos, the picturesque village while ascending onto Olympos.
Eressos is a small dale town at southwest paving the way to the sandy beach, or Skala Eressou, thus being mostly a summer resort. Notably, its fame as the birthplace of Sappho attracts some lesbian (homosexual) couples, but they consist a part of the whole number of Eressos' visitors, as it is a place too beautiful to become isolated.
Kalloni is the second-in-size town, located in the center of the island, at the north of the greater of the two gulfs (thus called "Gulf of Kalloni").
Mandamados, at the northeast, for the ceramic art tradition and the locally produced dairy products, as well as its monastery.
Mesotopos is a village at the southwest which keeps alive traditions and is famous for the "koudounatoi" men who wear sheep-bells in a springtime fest called "apokria" (Carnival).
Molivos, the ancient Methymna (spelled also as Mithimna), the most important destination for a visitor, because of its attractions: the Gattilusi Castle and the whole preserved traditional architecture. It is one of the two lungs of tourism in Lesbos, the other one being Eressos.
Plomari at the south coast in the middle of the two gulfs' openings, is the homeland of Ouzo, the well-known Greek alcoholic beverage.
- Petra and the beach at Anaxos, almost unavoidable if you visit Molivos. The beach is facing to the north but it is crowded even when affected by the prevailing north winds. The church of Mary on a 27-metre steep volcanic hill dominates the village.
- Pirgi Thermis (Πύργοι Θερμής, lit. Towers at Therme), a few kilometres north of Mytilene, for the all-day bar restaurants and the beach. The name is similar with Pyrgi (Πυργί), another village near Mytilene. A prehistoric settlement has been excavated at the area.
- Skala Sykamnias, between Molivos and Mandamados, renowned for its fish tavernae and the landscape. Greeks know the place because of the chapel of Panagia Gorgona (transl. Mermaid Madonna) that became famous after the popular story of the Greek writer Stratis Myrivilis in his book.
- Sigri, the village at the west end of the island, hosting the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest. The Petrified Forest area is located between Sigri and Erissos.
- Vatera one of the longest beaches in Greece, at the south coast.
Accommodation & Hotels
People of Lesbos have admired culture since the ancient times, and throughout the centuries many poets, writers, philologists, painters emerged.
Two of the famous ancient classics were the poet Sappho (whose erotic poems gave rise to the word lesbian), born in Eressos and the lyric poet Alcaeus of Mytilene, an older contemporary. A glimpse of the ancient life in Lesbos is exhibited in the new Archeological Museum of Mytilene building. Bypassing some notable people before the 19th century, the naïve painter Theofilos would depict not only the lifestyle of his time, but also the ancient myths survived in the tradition; Teriade, an art critic, preserved Theofilos' work among his collection of Picasso and Matisse in his own gallery, the Teriade Museum in Varia, a suburb of Mytilene on the way south to the airport. Both museums are worth visiting.
The town of Mytilene shows architectural variety. The recent expansion to the southwest suburbs are mostly simple modern buildings; on the south way to the airport one can find a neighbourhood of old mansions, called Sourada, extended to the airport road, impossible not to be noticed; the north part called Epano Skala (meaning upper port) is the oldest, hosting one of the largest castles of the archipelago and some villas; a careful eye can notice some temples for the Muslim population that used to live in the Ottoman times. The heart of the town is the market street, Ermou street, just behind the quai. While walking on this busy street, pay a visit to the baroque-style temple of Agios Therapon, a "trademark" site of Mytilene. This variety in styles is not bounded only in Mytilene; one can notice small mansions and villas (serving as public buildings usually) scattered in the villages of the whole island.
According to Classical Greek mythology, Lesbos was the patron god of the island. Macar was reputedly the first king whose many daughters bequeathed their names to some of the present larger towns. In Classical myth his sister, Canace, was killed to have him made king. The place names with female origins are likely to be much earlier settlements named after local goddesses, who were replaced by gods. Homer refers to the island as "Macaros edos", the seat of Macar. Hittite records from the Late Bronze Age name the island Lazpa and must have considered its population significant enough to allow the Hittites to "borrow their gods" (presumably idols) to cure their king when the local gods were not forthcoming. It is believed that emigrants from mainland Greece, mainly from Thessaly, entered the island in the Late Bronze Age and bequeathed it with the Aeolic dialect of the Greek language, whose written form survives in the poems of Sappho, amongst others.
The abundant grey pottery ware found on the island and the worship of Cybele, the great mother-goddess of Anatolia, suggest the cultural continuity of the population from Neolithic times. When the Persian king Cyrus defeated Croesus (546 BC) the Ionic Greek cities of Anatolia and the adjacent islands became Persian subjects and remained such until the Persians were defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis (480 BC). The island was governed by an oligarchy in archaic times, followed by quasi-democracy in classical times. For a short period it was a member of the Athenian confederacy, its apostasy from which is recounted by Thucydides in the Mytilenian Debate, in Book III of his History of the Peloponnesian War. In Hellenistic times, the island belonged to various Successor kingdoms until 79 BC when it passed into Roman hands.
During the Middle Ages it belonged to the Byzantine Empire. In 802, the Byzantine Empress Irene was exiled to Lesbos after her deposition, and died there. The island served as a gathering base for the fleet of the rebel Thomas the Slav in the early 820s.
In the 10th century, it was part of the theme of the Aegean Sea, while in the late 11th century it formed a dioikesis under a kourator in Mytilene. In the 1090s, the island was briefly occupied by the Turkish emir Tzachas, but he was unable to capture Methymna, which resisted throughout. In the 12th century, the island became a frequent target for plundering raids by the Republic of Venice.
After the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) the island passed to the Latin Empire, but was reconquered by the Empire of Nicaea sometime after 1224. In 1354, it was granted as a fief to the Genoese Francesco I Gattilusio, whose family ruled Lesbos until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1462. It remained under Turkish rule, named Midilli in Turkish, until 1912 when it was taken by Greek forces during the First Balkan War.
The cities of Mytilene and Methymna have been bishoprics since the 5th century. By the early 10th century, Mytilene had been raised to the status of a metropolitan see. Methymna achieved the same by the 12th century.
The oldest artifacts found on the island may date to the late Paleolithic period. Important archaeological sites on the island are the Neolithic cave of Kagiani, probably a refuge for shepherds, the Neolithic settlement of Chalakies, and the extensive habitation of Thermi (3000–1000 BC). The largest habitation is found in Lisvori (2800–1900 BC) part of which is submerged in shallow coastal waters. There are also several archaic, classical Greek and Roman remains. Vitruvius called the ancient city of Mytilene "magnificent and of good taste". Remnants of its medieval history are three impressive castles.
Lesbos is the birthplace of several famous people. In archaic times, Arion developed the type of poem called dithyramb, the progenitor of tragedy, and Terpander invented the seven note musical scale for the lyre. Two of the nine lyric poets in the Ancient Greek canon, Alcaeus and Sappho, were from Lesbos. Phanias wrote history. The seminal artistic creativity of those times brings to mind the myth of Orpheus to whom Apollo gave a lyre and the Muses taught to play and sing. When Orpheus incurred the wrath of the god Dionysus he was dismembered by the Maenads and of his body parts his head and his lyre found their way to Lesbos where they have "remained" ever since. Pittacus was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. In classical times Hellanicus advanced historiography, Theophrastus, the father of botany, succeeded Aristotle as the head of the Lyceum. Aristotle and Epicurus lived there for some time, and it is there that Aristotle began systematic zoological investigations. In later times lived Theophanes, the historian of Pompey's campaigns, Longus wrote the famous novel Daphnis and Chloe, and much later the historian Doukas wrote the history of the early Ottoman Turks. In modern times the poet Odysseus Elytis, descendant of an old family of Lesbos received the Nobel Prize.
Things to see
- The big beach of Vatera at the south part of the island.
- The medieval (Genovese) castle at Mytilene.
- The picturesque village of Agiasos, situated on the north-east slope of Mount Olympos.
- Pyrgi Thermis.
- The small picturesque fisherman's village of Skala Sykamineas at the north side of the island.
- Molyvos, a traditional, touristic village with a medieval fort on the top of a hill overlooking the area.
- The petrified forest on the Western part of the island.
- The Geological Museum in Sigri, one of the best museums in Greece.
Things to do
- See the small village of Pyrgi Thermis on the east side of the island. Very friendly people, Small beach, war ruins near the beach. And also foreign university students during the whole of summer. There is also a 4-star hotel, Lesvos Inn, on the sandy beach close to the thermal baths of Pyrgi, that offers rooms from 50-100 Euros a night and excellent service. The hotel offers Internet access and spa facilities. They speak English.
- Visit the thermal baths at Eftalou beach on the north side of the island, about 5 km from Molyvos. You can cool off from the hot water by going in the sea, and go back and forth as often as you want.
- Molyvos Visit Molivos (or Molyvos) a protected settlement, crowned by a fortress. Molyvos has the privilege to be a place - the village leads to Aegean Sea - that combines a very long and rich history among the centuries, with natural beauty.
The island offers a variety of seafood with reasonable prices.
Also the sweets of the island and the local spirit "Ouzo" are quite an experience.
Coffee is the most available drink on the island, even more than water. Prices start from 1-5 Euros
Alcohol is sold at every Coffee shop in every village or bars in the capital Mitilini near the wharf where the ferry will drop you off. Almost all Major hotels serve Alcohol as well.Price : 3-12 Euros.
Lesbos is famous for its Ouzo.
Stay safe / healthy
Never take photos of Military compounds/bases.
The Greeks are quite friendly and traveling around would be very safe.
Lesvos is one of several Greek islands struggling with the arrival of thousands of refugees from nearby Turkey. In September 2015 the capital of Lesbos was hosting 17,000 refugees alone.