Situated in western Lesvos, in a coastal village that is renowned for its proximity to the Lesvos Petrified Forest and several other attractions besides, the Castle of Sigri is one the few remaining vestiges of the Ottoman Occupation of Lesvos and Sigri’s own role as a maritime and commercial center in the years of the Ottoman rule of the island.
Erected in order to protect Sigri from the ever-present threat of pirate attack and to regulate the traffic of both goods and vessels in the village harbor, the Castle of Sigri was central to the area’s development as an exporter of acorns, a major product of western Lesvos in the 18th-19th centuries AD, to European countries such as Italy and the United Kingdom.
The village of Sigri owed much of its significance as a site of commercial and maritime development to its geographical location and harbor, which was able to accommodate a large number of vessels and, protected as it still is by the isles of Sedousa and Nisiopi, arose as an ideal spot in which to establish exportation links with other areas in Europe. While archaeological excavations and research have not yet occurred in the area of Sigri, it is known that, up until 1922, when the Lausanne Treaty ordered the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece, Sigri was inhabited almost entirely by Ottomans.
The Castle of Sigri was constructed in 1757 by Suleiman Pasha, who is also considered responsible for the erection of Sigri’s Ottoman mosque, bathhouse, school and large aqueduct structures. Of these, the mosque remains in good condition and has been in use as an Orthodox Christian church. The Ottoman bathhouse of Sigri may still be seen in the village, yet little effort has been made to preserve it.
In 1777, the Castle of Sigri would have been employed to accommodate the firing squad of the Ottoman army. It is claimed that, in 1789, an army of 100 guarded the Castle, which at the time was equipped with some 200 canon.
Sigri Castle provided the original nucleus around which the initial settlement of Sigri could be developed. In fact, the first residents of Sigri had previously been imprisoned within the Castle (whose structure encompasses a number of cells) and selected to inhabit the area once they had been released. As the Ottoman Administration of the area discouraged inhabitation by Greeks, the village was virtually completely inhabited by Ottomans.
In 1889, a devastating earthquake caused sections of the Castle’s surrounding walls to collapse. The first Greek inhabitants of Sigri settled into the region in the early 20th century AD and, in 1912, the Castle ceased operations as an Ottoman barracks. In 1915, it was employed as a refueling ground of the Entente.
The Castle of Sigri remains in reasonably good condition. It is defined by its small scale and square shape and the original ‘katkhystra’ (an opening from which scalding oil was poured on aspiring tress-passers) may still be observed over the central gate.
An Arabic arch of red and white stone adorns the main gate to the Castle, where an inscription informs visitors that - as translated by Roy Lawrence in his book on Sigri - “We” (the Ottomans) “built a secure castle by order of King Osman (III), Sultan. May God increase its sovereignty and grant him peace in the empire. Servant of Suleiman Pasha, Admiral of the Great Seas, 1180 (Egira) 1766-1767.”
Even as more effort could have been made in preserving this integral part of the history of Sigri, it is worth coming to the Castle to admire one of the remaining vestiges of the Ottoman Occupation of the island and take in the views of the village from the elevated spot. Though nowhere as splendid as it might have been in its days as a watchtower and barracks, Sigri Castle is one piece of historical evidence of the area’s former glory as a maritime center and a location in which the Ottomans left their indelible architectural mark.