The Mytilene Fortress

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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.

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