The Ancient Theatre of Mytilene
The celebrated Ancient Theatre is situated on the northern hill of the city in a pine-wooded area opposite the fortress, near the old refugee quarter. It was built in Hellenistic times and restored by the Romans. What we see today is the final building phase, which dates from late-Roman times. Excavations carried out in the 1950s unearthed the circular orchestra and the horseshoe-shaped concave seating area, which has been calculated to have held 10,000 spectators. The orchestra is a full circle, with a diameter of approximately 24.20 meters. It is separated from the entirely ruined seating area by a wall, which was tiled in marble, and the skene, which is divided into three corridors. A gutter was constructed in the center to drain away rainwater. On the west side of the orchestra are two rooms hollowed out in the rock-face of the seating area.
When the Roman general Pompey the Great visited Mytilene in 62 BC, he was so enthused by the theatre that he ordered its plan copied, and a few years later, built one identical to it in Rome.
The theatre’s acoustics are considered on a par with those of Epidaurus.
The Roman Aqueduct at Moria
Near the village of Lampou Myloi are the remains of the Aqueduct, a work of superior technical mastery that was built in the 3rd century BC. The Aqueduct ran from Agiassos to Mytilene. Its arcade, stone blocks, piers, abaci and arches that comprised it were made from grey Lesbian marble. In its entirety it resembled the propylaia of a classical temple or palace. It began at the foot of Mt Olympos at Tsingos and traversed 26 kilometers, supplying water to Mytilene by a succession of underground ceramic culverts, channels carved in the cliff-face, and arches. The incline running the entire distance was designed in such a way that the water flowed in unhindered abundance. It was channeled from the Mytilene cistern to the city’s fountains, spas and estates.
Sections of the Aquaduct (17 arches, 170 meters long) are visible near the village of Moria. The fish tavernas here are especially favored by the locals. Octopus hang in the sun, little boats sway in the picturesque harbor lined with interesting stone factory buildings, and honeysuckle and jasmine perfume the well-tended gardens. This is one of the island’s most scenic harbors, with many tavernas and cafés right on the embankment.
The Mytilene Fortress
The invitation to a journey back in time inevitably means an exploration of the island’s past through the ruins of the castle and its fortifications. These eloquent monuments tell of the role the fortress has played in the life and protection of the city from the Byzantine era to the present day. The Mytilene fortress stands on a small hill, the highest point on the peninsula, between the city’s northern and southern ports. It was the largest and strongest of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean. In ancient and Byzantine times, this peninsula was an island, separated from the rest of Lesvos by the Strait of Euripos. The Euripos was located approximately where Ermou Street is today and connected the northern and southern harbors. Silt and human intervention eventually eliminated the strait, transforming the islet into a peninsula. The original nucleus of the fortress, designed in Byzantine times, is believed to have been built on top of the ancient acropolis. The first significant alterations to the fortress were made by Francisco Gateluzzo in 1373 during the period when the Gateluzzi family occupied and rebuilt the island (1355-1462). Other changes and additions followed, the most important of which was made in 1677 by the Ottomans, who were responsible for the lower north section of the fortifications. For construction material, they used many blocks from older buildings, particularly the ancient theatre of Mytilene, which was by then in decline. After the liberation from the Turks in 1912, the fortress was used as a barracks. The wanton use of the fortress after 1912 as a source of building material to construct refugee housing gradually brought about its ruin.
Today you can distinguish the following sections of the fortress:
• The Acropolis (Upper Castle), on the southern and highest section of the hill.
• The Main Precinct (Middle Castle), the largest section, built by the Genovese Gateluzzi family.
• The Lower Precinct (Lower Castle), in the northwestern section, whose construction dates from the Turkish occupation.
The most important monuments to see in the fortress are: the central western tower, known as the Queen’s Tower, with a dedication plaque bearing Gateluzzi coat of arms (the eagle and the four Bs of the Palaeologi emperors of Byzantium); the Kulé Mosque; the Orta Kapu (Ottoman gate); a Gunpowder Storeroom; a Tekes (Islamic Monastery); an Ottoman Seminary; a Bathhouse; the Fountain; and the Cistern.
The interior of the fortress is being excavated by the Canadian Archeological Institute, which has unearthed buildings from the Archaic and Classical periods as well as remains dating from medieval times. The Middle Fortress contains a number of buildings from the Ottoman period, including the Medreses, the hamam, the hospital and prison, a cesmes, and an unusual type of Cistern.
In 2000, reconstruction began on the Orta Kapú (west-central gate) and the Cistern, and restoration is currently underway on the monument’s interior.
In recent years, a space was created inside the fortress to host summer cultural events.
This is the birthplace of Terpandros, the founder of ancient Greek music. His fame is directly associated with the mythical Orpheus, whom it’s said Terpandros inherited the divine lyre that Apollo had bestowed on the former. When the Maenads tore Orpheus to bits, they threw his head along with the lyre into the sea off the coast of northern Lesbos, near Antissa, at a place now known as Orphikia. Terpandros recovered the lyre and gave the head an honorable burial, founding on the grave a sanctuary of Orphic worship. Descending towards Gavathas, you’ll encounter the famous 16th century Perivoli Monastery nestled amid dense oak and plane trees.
There are important archeological sites in Apothika (between Parakoila and Agra), where there is a 6-meter-tall ancient fortification wall, built in the “Lesbian style” of construction, and in Makara, which took its name from Makareas, the first settler of ancient Lesbos.
The Temple of the Mesa
The archeological sites at Agia Paraskevi are especially important, since ancient Lesbians worshipped many gods in large sanctuaries in the kambos, fragments of which have been found. The temple of Mesa, dedicated to Zeus, Dionysus and Hera, was the center of ancient Lesbian worship and communication. In the early 4th century BC, it was the seat of the League of Lesbian cities. The site contains many architectural fragments from the temple. In early Christian times, a funerary basilica was built on top of the temple, which was later supplanted by a post-Byzantine church. An enormous quantity of relics, ruins, altars and remains still exist in the area, testifying to the religious life of the Lesbian people who came here to worship at the great temple of Pyrra. Legend also has it that the Apostle Paul came here in 52 AD to preach Christianity to the inhabitants of the island.
The Sanctuary of Lesvos
At Klopedi, five kilometers outside of town, is the archeological site and ruins of an Archaic and Classical-period temple, which some say is the temple of Apollo Napaeos. Column capitals consisting of two large volutes and a palmette filling the space between them supporting the epistyle were found here. Scholars call this type of capital Aeolic. This name is justified not only because of the geographical area in which the largest number of the most typical examples were found, but also because of their shape.