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Polichnitos - Lesvos - 81 300 - Greece Tel.  +30 22520 41885,  61121,  - Fax.  +30 22520 41885, 61121

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HISTORY

Lesvos is the birthplace of many poets, musicians and artists of the antiquity and modern times, who have derived their inspiration and creativity from the rich environs of the island.

Since it is the third biggest of all Greek islands, it can uniquely provide ample opportunities for exploration and discovery. The archaeological diversity of Lesvos makes it easy to trace its eventful historical past, while experiencing its present, while continuing to retain originality, tradition and culture.

Its mythology and history can fill many books, however in this web site we will only attempt a potted version from the Neolithic period and until resent times. For the uninitiated it will be journey of discovery and a staring point for further exploration.

According to myth, the first inhabitants of the island were the Pelasgians who gave it its initial name "Pelasgia". During the prehistoric era the island was called
" Makaria", "Lassia", "Aeolis". But its current name "Lesvos" comes from Lesvos - the son of the Greek hero Lapithos. Most town, rivers and mountain names have a mythological origin. The great poet Homer makes reference to Lesvos in his epics as a place that was visited by many warriors/heroes of the Trojan War (Vatera - Achilopigado)

Resent archaeological excavations have shown that Lesvos was occupied since the end of the Neolithic Period - Natural History Museum at Vrissa.Until the start of the Bronze Age - 3000 B.C. Lesvos had developed a notable civilisation, which continued over the periods of the Trojan, Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations.

From 1393 to 1184 B.C. the Achaeans who were followed by the Aeolians inhabited the island. The Aeolians assimilated with the Achaeans, the two races sympathetically merging to develop Lesvos into a thriving island.

During the 6th and 7th century B.C. the island truly became a centre of civilisation, flourishing both commercially and culturally. Amongst the many who influenced these trends was Terpandros (700 B.C.) poet and great musician, the father of ancient lyrical poetry, Pittacus (648 B.C.) one of the seven wise sages of Ancient Greece, who governed the island with expertise as a politician and lawmaker, Arion (625 B.C.) a charismatic lyrical poet and musician, and Alkaeos (600 B.C.) another great lyrical poet. The famous poetess Sappho (620 B.C.) expressed passionately her love for life and beauty through lyrical and erotic rimes and won the name of the "tenth muse". (This has been sadly misinterpreted in our times and the name of the island has been purloined to mean something else other than someone who hails from Lesvos/Lesbos).

Other significant personalities of the island are Theophrastus (372 B.C.) philosopher and botanist - known as the father of botany and Theophanes (100 B.C.) a significant historian who accompanied Pompey in his Asia Minor expeditions.

In 334 B.C. the island formed an alliance with Alexander the Great. Sadly after his death, when his empire was shared amongst his three generals. Lesvos found itself under the rule of Ptolemy ruler of Egypt. This lasted until 88 B.C. when the island was taken over by the Romans. Many famous Romans visited the island then, as it was being used as a place of exile for the rich and politically powerful. Many accomplished Lesvians became advisors to the Roman Leaders, thus the island benefited by special dispensations granted by the Romans.

The theatre of Mytilene originally build in the 5th Century B.C. was renovated by the Romans. An aqueduct was build to ensure that sufficient water supplies reached Mytilene. The remains of the aqueduct can still be found in MORIA.

During the Byzantine period the island was also used as a place of exile and thus it benefited from the presence of many worthy people. It is confirmed that Empress Irene the Athenean and emperor Constantine VIII the Monomachos were confined to the island. The symbol of the Byzantine period - two headed eagle symbolising the equal power of church and state- can be seen today in many churches and important buildings.

In 1355 A.C. Lesvos was given to the Genoese aristocrat Francesco Gatelluzi as part of the dowry of his future wife, sister of the Emperor Ioanni Palaeologo E'. This is considered as the beginning of a new era, during which the Lesvians had great support and great interest was shown for their history, culture and the arts. The rule of the Gatelluzi family ceased rather abrupt when the Ottoman Turks overrun Greece and took over the island in 1462.

During the years of the Turkish occupation, the cultural and financial life in the island declines but during the 15th century the Monastery of LIMONOS becomes the centre of the island's intellectual revival. The Lesvians fought to keep their faith, language and national identity. They achieved this through the churches and monasteries keeping secret schools to educate the children in the Greek language and culture.

Very many ancient books were copied for this purpose and they can be seen today in the museum at the Limonos monastery. In the 18th Century significant personalities appear again: Ignatius of Hungary-Wallachia and Benjamin the Lesvian, who is numbered among a group of 18th and 19th century scholars known as the "teachers of the race"

Inadvertently Lesvos became an important centre for the Turkish fleet, due to its strategic location and many battles were fought in the sea around the island. One resistance fighter called Pappanikolis used a small boat with oars, full of dynamite to sabotage the great Turkish frigate called "Moving Mountain" in the bay of Eressos in May 1821. The Turks avenged this by slaughtering the islanders, an act so abhorrent it is still referred to today as "to megalo tsoulousi". The statue of Papanikoli erected on the coast of Eressos looks out to the bay, in remembrance.

Lesvos was free from the Turks in 1912. The Greek fleet took over Mytilene and the Turkish flag was removed after the final battle in Klapados. This flag is now exhibited in the Monastery of Limonas.

In the 19th century the brothers Dimitrios and Georgios Vernardakis, Georgios Aristedis and Christophoros Leilios support Greek education in the island and the revival begins.

Later in the 20th century, Argyris Eftaliotis, Stratis Myrivilis (both novelists), the poet and Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis and many others contributed to the intellectual revival of the island. Certainly this was not limited only to literature and poetry. The folk painter Theophilos Chatzimichalis and the art critic and editor of art books Stratis Eleftheriades - Teriad each make a contribution to art,

To this day cultural life on the island is rich and there are many people and societies that continue to contribute to the ongoing intellectual revival of Lesvos.

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