Lesvos (Greek: Λέσβος - Lésvos; is a prefecture of Greece consisting of the island of Lesvos and the smaller islands of Lemnos and Agios Efstratios. The island of Lesvos is located in the northeastern Aegean Sea. It is the third largest Greek island and the seventh largest in the Mediterranean. It has an area of 630 square miles with 230 miles of coastline. Its population is approximately 108,000 about a third of which live in the capital city, Mytilene, located in the southeastern part of the island. The remaining population is distributed in small towns and villages. The largest towns are Kalloni, Plomari, Ayassos, Eressos, and Molyvos, the ancient Methymna. Mytilene was founded ca 1050 BC by the family Penthilides who arrived from Thessaly in mainland Greece and ruled the city until the popular revolt (590-580 BC) led by Pittacus
The island is mountainous; two peaks Lepetymnos (3,176 feet) and Olympos of similar height dominate its northern and central sections. The island’s volcanic origin is manifested in several hot springs. Two almost land-locked gulfs penetrate the interior so that no part of it is farther than a few miles from the sea. The island is verdant, aptly named the Emerald Island, with a variety of flora that belies its size. Olive trees, eleven million of them, cover 40% of the island together with other fruit trees. Forests of pine and some oak occupy 20%, and the remainder is scrub, grassland and urban. In the western part of the island is the world’s second largest petrified forest of Sequoia trees.
Its economy is essentially agricultural. The cultivation of the olive tree for olive oil is the main source of income for most towns and villages. Tourism in Mytilene, encouraged by its international airport, and the coastal towns of Plomari, Molyvos, and Eressos contribute substantially to the economy of the island. Fishing and the manufacture of soap and ouzo, the Greek national liquor, are the remaining sources of income.
According to myths, Lesvos was the patron god of the island. Macar is reputed to be the first king whose daughters bequeathed their names to some of the present larger towns. Homer refers to the island as “Macaros edos”, the seat of Macar. Hittite records of the Late Bronze Age name the island Lazpas and must have considered its population significant enough to ”borrow their gods”, presumably idols, to intervene in the cure of their king since 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 Greek, whose written form survives in the poems of Sappho and others. Abundant gray pottery ware and the worship of Cybele, the great mother-goddess of Anatolia, suggest the continuity of the population from Neolithic times.
When the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated Croesus (546 BC) all Anatolia including the Ionic Greek cities and the adjacent islands became Persian subjects and remained such until the Persians were defeated by the Greeks at the naval 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 member of the Athenian confederacy its apostasy from which is described in a stirring chapter of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War. In Hellenistic times the island belonged to various Macedonian kingdoms until 79 BC when it passed into Roman hands. During the middle ages it belonged to the Byzantine Empire and in 1355 it was granted to the Genoese Gateluzi for economic and political reasons. The island was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1462 and remained in their possession until 1913 when it became part of modern Greece. The cities of Mytilene and Methymna are bishoprics since the 5th century.
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 BCE) 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 "magmificent and of good taste". Remnants of its medieval history are three impressive castles.
Lesbos is the birthplace of several famous persons. In archaic times, Arion developed the type of poem called dithyramb, the progenitor of tragedy, Terpander invented the seven note musical scale for the lyre, followed by the lyric poet Alcaeus, and the most famous poetess Sappho. 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 the ancient world. 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. In early CE 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 Ottomans. In modern times the poet Odysseus Elytis, descendant of an old family of Lesbos received the Nobel Prize.
The climate is mild Mediterranean, the mean annual temperature is 64 degrees F, and the mean annual rainfall is 29 inches. Its exceptional sunshine make it one of the sunniest islands in the Aegean. Snow is extremely rare as are temperatures below freezing.
Famous persons of the Lesbos prefecture
- Pittacus one of the Seven Sages of Greece
- Philostratus, sophist from Lemnos
- Elias Iliou, politician from Lemnos
- Theofilos Hadjimichail, painter
- Odysseus Elytis, poet (born in Crete) descendant of a Lesbos family
- Georgios Iakovidis, painter
- Lemnos - Myrina
Municipalities and communities
|Municipality||YPES code||Seat||Postal code||Area code|
|Agia Paraskevi||3501||Agia Paraskevi||811 02||22520-3|
|Loutropolis Thermis||3509||Loutropolis Thermis||811 00||22510-7|
|Mytilene||3514||Mytilene||811 00||22510-2 through 7|
|Nea Koutali||3515||Kontia||814 00||22540-5|
|Community||YPES code||Seat||Postal code||Area code|
|Agios Efstratios||3503||Agios Efstratios||815 00||22540-9|