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LESVOS, shaped like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle, is the third largest island in Greece, after Crete and Evia.

Known as the island of Sappho, it is less than a kilometer from the coast of Turkey. The island, often referred to by its ancient name of Mytilini by Greeks, is about 12-15 hours away from Piraeus by ferry. Lesvos, with approximately 90 thousand residents, is part of the northern Aegean archipelago and is world renowned for both its ouzo and raki. While much of the island's pre-historic (Stone Age) and Early Hellenic (Bronze Age) history is shrouded in mystery, it is known that in the 10th century BC Lesvos was colonized by the Aeolian peoples from Thessaly. The capital city and main port of Mytilini (sometimes seen as Mytilene) was founded sometime before 3000 BC. The island figured prominently in Homer's Iliad (which see) because of its alliance with Troy, and it was raided and sacked by Odysseus and Achilles. For centuries, control of the island oscillated back and forth between the powers of Asia Minor, namely the Phoenicians, and the Dorians in the west. In the late classical period Lesvos was experiencing something of an "enlightenment" under the rule of Pittakos, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Circa 527 BC, Lesvos came under the control of the Persian empire, which in turn, in 490 BC and then again in 480 BC, was defeated by the tentative alliance of Greek city-states, led by perennial rivals Athens and Sparta. Lesvos became a member of the Athens Alliance, a federation of some 200 city-states dominated by Athens. At the time, Lesvos consisted mainly of two small fiefdoms, Mytilini and Mithymna.

During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta the two city-states took opposing sides, each hoping to come out of their respective alliances with complete control of the island. The island became part of the Roman and then the Byzantine Empires until Byzantine Emperor John Paleologos gifted Lesvos, along with Chios, in 1354 AD, to the Genoese. The Genoese controlled the island until Mehmet the Conqueror seized it in 1462, and it became part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912. Lesvos was united with modern Greece in 1947. Through the centuries, the island acquired a reputation as a center of art and culture. Lesvos' most famous child, Sappho, considered by many to be the first feminist as well as one of the best lyrical poet of all time, was born here in the 7th century BC. The long tradition of arts and letters has also included Arion, who invented the dithyramb, a very popular type of triumphant ode, Terpander, the father of Greek music, Longus, the 3rd century BC-author of Daphnes and Chloe, and, in modern times, the 1980 Literature Nobel Prize winning poet Odysseas Elytis. Modern Lesvos finds its main port and capital of Mytilini a chaotic, commercial and busy city almost to the point of indifference towards the tourist. Mytilini's population of over 30 thousand and the fact that it is the center of regional commerce make it a city where most needs of those passing through can be met. The restored hillside village of Molyvos (ancient Mithymna), with its restored fortress and fine examples of Ottoman architecture, offers a more relaxed, peaceful and enchanting interlude for the sublime tourist. Also not to be missed are the impressive Limonas Monastery, founded by the abbot Ignatios and built in 1527, with its arcades, frescos and small zoo-like menagerie; and the 12th century Ypsilou Monastery, which is home to just 4 monks. Another must see is the Petrified Forest, the largest in Europe, which was created as a result of a volcanic eruption some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ash covering a stand of sequoia trees, causing their transformation into stone.

Today the holiday traveler will find most anything he or she desires in a Greek island vacation on Lesvos, a fertile island that is home to almost 14 million olive trees. Whether it is sun and fun activities of the beaches and sea, the solemn exploration of ancient ruins and medieval monasteries, villages and castles, or the exploration of the Petrified Forest and nearby volcano, Lesvos has it all.

 

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