Lesbos (Λέσβος) is a prefecture of Greece consisting of a number of islands in the Aegean Sea, and part of the North Aegean periphery subdivision. In modern Greece, the island's name is pronounced and usually transliterated Lesvos and its inhabitants are thus called Lesvonians or Lesviots (rather than "Lesbians").
"Lesbos" or "Lesvos" is also the name of the prefecture's main island, also called Mytilene, and lying just off the coast of Turkey. The second largest island is Lemnos, to the northwest, lying nearer the nothern part of the Greek mainland. Principal towns on the main island are Mytilene (the capital), Kalloni, Mithymna, Plomari, Agiassos, Petra. On the south coast of Lesbos is the pretty coastal town of Plomari, where it is said that the finest ouzo in the world is made to this day in traditional copper stills. At the western tip of the island is the small fishing village of Sigri, close to which is the world's largest petrified forest, estimated to be about twenty million years old.
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.
In Greek mythology, "Lesbos" was also the name of the patron god of the island. Lesbos was son of Lapithes and he married Methymna.
The island has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. It is first mentioned in Hittite records as Lazpa. Other ancient names are: Lassia, Imerti, Aegira, Issa, Mytonis, and Les-Ba. Lesbos was a great center of civilization in the 6th century BC, and was included among the Aeolian Greek settlements;
When the Persian king Cyrus 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’s history of the Peloponnesian War. In 477 BC, Lesvos joined the Delian League, an alliance of Greeks headed by Athens, against the Persians. In 428 BC, Lesbos rose up against the Athenian Empire. However, this revolt was unsuccessful and Lesbos remained in Athenian hands until Lysander of Sparta conquered the island in 405 BC.
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 BC) 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 "magnificent 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 AD 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 word "lesbian" is derived from the island's name, after the poet Sappho of Lesbos, who wrote about love between women. In recent years this has often made Lesbos the destination of cruises and other vacations for lesbians, despite of the disapproval of conservative Lesviot authorities, with some cruise ships being denied permission to dock.
The climate is mild Mediterranean, the mean annual temperature is 18 °C (64°F), and the mean annual rainfall is 750 mm (29 in). Its exceptional sunshine make it one of the sunniest islands in the Aegean. Snow is extremely rare as are temperatures below freezing.
House in Lesbos, Konstantinos Maleas, 30 x 39 cm, private collection
Municipalities and communities
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