Mytilene – The Capital City of Lesvos Island

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  1. Mytilene: Introducing the Mesmerizing Capital City of Lesvos
  2. General Information
  3. Moving Around Mytilene City
  4. Major Attractions of Mytilene:
       4.1  The Ancient Castle of Mytilene
       4.2  The Ancient Theatre of Mytilene
       4.3  The Archaeological Museum of Mytilene
  5. Art Exhibition Spaces
  6. Religious Sightseeing & Tourism
       6.1  Saint Therapon: Landmark of the City
       6.2  The Ecclesiastical Museum of Mytilene
  7. Ottoman Monuments
  8. Architecture
  9. Accommodation, Dinning and Leisure Activities:
       9.1  Shopping in Mytilene
       9.2  Nearby Beaches
       9.3  Cafes and Tavernas of Mytilene
       9.4  Accommodation
       9.5  Travel Arrangements, Coach Links and Car Hire
       9.6  Sea Links to Turkey
  10. Nearby Attractions

Mytilene: Introducing the Mesmerizing Capital City of Lesvos

Approach the capital of Lesvos, Mytilene, by night and you may just suffer a sudden, indefinable crush for the landscape extending before you. The quay water a mirror for the illuminated city, the dome of Saint Therapon dominating the coast, the breeze from the sea setting the stage for what might become the journey of a lifetime - Mytilene will lull your senses with its many sights and sounds, your first encounter with the city a herald of your experience of the capital of Lesvos island.

It would be impossible to pay the capital of Lesvos a visit and not fall for the architecture, the sights and the vibrant atmosphere pervading this unique location in the Aegean. If you come to Lesvos looking to be amazed at the range of places to visit and sights to explore, the city will grant you a brilliant welcome to the island. The beating heart of Lesvos, the coastline of Mytilene offers an impressive first glimpse of the city’s indisputable majesty.

Take a glance at any souvenir stall on Lesvos and you will see many a postcard bearing the image of the great city’s coast, its picture-perfect appearance a firm favorite with any professional or aspiring photographer. This first glimpse of what Mytilene holds in store for the visitor sets the precedent for one’s stay in the Lesvos capital: its combination of the old and the new, the ancient and the modern, the lively and the serene, defines the visitor’s experience of Mytilene.

General Information

Mytilene has a population of 27.247 (2001 survey). Mytilenians are a welcoming people, renowned for their love of their hometown, their cultural awareness and their enjoyment of life in their coastal city. Born and bred Mytilenians, European ex-pats, students of the University of the Aegean, people on a day visit from the Lesvos provinces, school children and tourists flock to the city, their chatter audible in the cafes along the coast, the city’s maze of alleys and the main ‘agora’ (shopping area) on Ermou Street.

To those who arrive on the early morning ferry, Mytilene may at first appear surprisingly quiet. Within the hour, the city will have sprung into action, the streets busy with traffic, the shops drawing their shutters open, the doors of the cafes becoming unlocked to receive the hundreds of people freshly arrived on the ferry or the early morning coach. Start your day by visiting one of the cafes along the coast, plan your sightseeing and gaze at the city as it gradually leaps into life. You will have the chance to take in the view of the fishing caïques and yachts that anchor along the coast, lose track of time gazing at the shimmering water and peep at the traffic of locals out on their errands in this lively location in the Aegean.

Its coach links to the Lesvos provinces make it an ideal starting point for an exploration of the entire island. Mytilene, however, holds much in store for its visitors, its wealth of sightseeing, leisure, accommodation and entertainment options a guarantee that, while here, not a dull moment will pass.

Moving Around Mytilene City

Whether you choose to discover its wealth of neoclassical mansions, visit a traditional taverna or take a break in one of its ultramodern cafes and nightclubs, whether you decide to go sightseeing, stop at its several museums or have a shopping spree in Ermou Street, you are bound to have an experience of what makes Mytilene so memorable to the thousands of tourists who come here each year. The great Lesvos capital is a city of contrasts, a metropolis that uniquely combines the old and the new in a setting as multifaceted as it is exciting.

A successful contender against Methymna over the leadership of Lesvos (7th Century BC), the hometown of Lyrical poets Sappho and Alkaios and of Pittacos (one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity) and the host of Aristotle, Theophrastus and later Saint Paul, Mytilene was once a territory conquered by the Romans, the Venetians and the Ottomans. All of its conquerors have left their indelible mark on the monuments of the city. Whether you stare at the splendor of the temple of Saint Therapon or wander within the walls of its ancient Castle, you are certain to recognize the lasting imprint of the Romans, the Venetians and the Ottomans upon the city.

A tour of its archaeological and religious sights, galleries and museum spaces will grant you an understanding of Mytilene’s long, at times tempestuous past, and give you the chance to roam around a city so inviting of prolonged exploration. The Castle of Mytilene, its Ancient Theatre, the Theophilos Museum and Municipal Gallery, the Gheni Djami and the Neoclassical mansions in the Sourada district, the city’s churches with Saint Therapon the crowning jewel of the Aegean capital: all will immerse you in the history and culture of one of the most prominent island cities in the entirety of Greece. A map, a sunhat, tanning lotion and a comfortable pair of shoes are all you need to make the most of its sights. But be warned: there are many picturesque alleys, beautiful buildings, tiny shops and charming tavernas or cafes that will tempt you to roam away from your carefully planned route and savor their atmosphere and authenticity.

Major Attractions of Mytilene:

The Ancient Castle of Mytilene

Mytilene extends from the shore to the mountains and hills way beyond, its Castle crowning the amphitheatrical city and, discernible on the approach to the harbor, introduces visitors to the city’s age and significance as one of the greatest locations in the Aegean.

Established in the beginning of the 10th century BC, Mytilene is regarded as one of the eldest cities in Greece. From the time of its establishment and until the early Byzantine era, it was confined to an islet topped by a castle (the site of the contemporary hill of ‘Kastri’). Evripos - a straight some 700 meters in length and 30 meters deep - separated the islet from the Lesvos coast and ran the length of the Ermou Street of today. It joined the port of Pano (‘Upper’) Skala with the Southern city port and facilitated the traffic of vessels, which sailed from the one port to the next irrespective of the direction of the wind. Over the years, earth and silt accumulated into the straight and, in order to protect the Castle, Evripos was finally filled in.

So inextricably was the Castle linked to life in the city that Mytilene bore the name of ‘Kastro’ (castle) up until the early 20th century AD. The Castle itself was a highly fortified, extremely effective structure intended to ward off the possibility of attack to the population within its walls. Built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the Castle was altered by Francesco Gateluzzi in 1373 AD and by Sultan Bayezid II and Bekir Pasha in the years of the Ottoman occupation of Lesvos. Additions to the original structure included new walls, two round towers with cannon, the fortifications in the lower north section, the barracks and polygonal tower and a gunpowder vault.

Following the island’s liberation in 1912, the Castle became a source of materials with which to build refugee housing - which inevitably led to its gradual deterioration. The Castle was inhabited until a little after the Second World War. It still remains in good condition and - covering an area of approximately 60 acres - it is one of the largest castles in the Mediterranean. A visit here is advisable whether you are keen to explore this important Mytilenian monument or take in the wonderful scenery extending from the Castle to the sea and city below. Opening hours are between 08:00 am and 15:00, Monday to Sunday, and there is a 2 euro entrance fee.

The Ancient Theatre of Mytilene

Discovered in 1928, the Ancient Theatre of Mytilene has been deemed equal in importance and scale to that of Epidavros in mainland Greece. Its construction dates back to the early Hellenistic period. One of the largest theatres of antiquity, it had a capacity of 15.000. It is still renowned for its amazing acoustics.

The Ancient Theatre of Mytilene is claimed to have inspired the Roman General Pompeios to order that a nearly-identical theatre be erected in Rome, and therefore to have served as an inspiration for the famous Theatre of Pompeii (55 BC). The Theatre was reconstructed during the island’s cultural bloom in the late Roman era. The post-Roman structure is situated on the wooded hill of Agia Kyriaki. Visitors to the site will be able to admire the circular orchestra and stage, together with two dressing rooms carved into the rock. The orchestra and rooms were restored in the year 1968. Opening times are between 08:00 am and 15:00 pm. Please note that the site of the Ancient Theatre is closed on Mondays.

The Archaeological Museum of Mytilene

Mytilene holds significant attraction to lovers of archaeology and ancient myth. One of the five greatest cities on ancient Pelasgia (an early name for Lesvos), the city is said to have been named after the daughter of the mythical King Makaros. Effort is currently underway to shed light on the city of the Pre-historic, Roman and Byzantine eras, and an array of paleoanthropological and archaeological finds have come to light in the city and its vicinity.

Lovers of archaeology should pay a visit to the Old Building of the Archaeological Museum of Mytilene, where a range of archaeological finds such as ceramics, mosaics and coins are on display. The exhibition includes a range of items dating between the final Neolithic period to the late Roman era, objects from the 10th century BC to the 4th century AD and Copper Age items such as clay pots and metal, stone or bone implements, figurines and weapons. In the exterior of the Museum, one may admire numerous of Aeolian columns and several sections of Hellenistic and Roman buildings.

The New Building of the Museum is home to an exhibition of items relating to daily life on Lesvos between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD. A range of sculptures are on display, together with a selection of mosaics.

Opening times are between 08.00 am and 15.00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Full tickets are priced at 3 euros (2 euros concessions available) and give you access to both the Old and the New Building of the Archaeological Museum. However, please note that the Old Building will be closed from 13/08/14 until further notice, due to renovation work on the premises.

Art Exhibition Spaces

Mytilene has a long-standing tradition in literature and the arts, the most recent manifestation of its rich aesthetic tradition the stunning explosion of street art adorning the streets of the city. Sappho Square, the neighborhoods of Ladadika, the streets of Ermou and Tyrteou showcase an array of beautifully detailed, witty, or merely cheerful graffiti, providing an interesting contrast to the Neoclassical landscape.

If you are a fan of art in the more traditional sense, Mytilene is one of the best places to discover the art of Theophilos, the Neo-Hellenic painter from the district of Varia, whose work fetches astronomical prices. In operation since the year 1965, the Theophilos Museum is an ideal place to become acquainted with the artist’s aura. The museum was established by the renowned art-critic and publisher Stratis Elefteriadis (Teriade) and showcases 86 paintings by the great Lesvian artist.

The Elefteriadis/Teriade Museum of Modern Art is housed within the same building. Within its total of 20 rooms are showcased the 29 books by the renowned publisher and critic, complete with illustrations by Picasso, Leger and Matisse among other major 20th century artists. Opening times are between 8.30 am and 15.00 pm on winter weekdays. In the summer season, the museum can be visited on Tuesday through to Sunday, between 8.30 am and 15.00 pm. There is an entrance fee of 2 euros (1 euro concessions).

The Municipal Gallery (‘Pinakothiki’) of Mytilene is housed in the old Khalim Bei mansion, a prime example of the architecture in the Pano Skala district. It is home to 110 works donated by the art-critic George Simmos-Petris and his sister Ellie and includes numerous books, sketches and paintings by prominent Greek artists such as Tsarouchis, Gounaropoulos, Moralis, Fasianos and Botsoglou and by European painters such as Picasso and Matisse. The Municipal Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, between 10.00 am and 16.00 pm. Entrance is free.

Religious Sightseeing & Tourism

Lesvos has a huge religious tradition and attracts large numbers of pilgrims who come to the island to pay their respects to the churches of Panagia Vrephokratousa (Agiasos), Taxiarches (Mandamados) and Agios Therapon (Mytilene). The Orthodox Metropolis of Lesvos is itself located in Mytilene.

According to historical evidence, Christianity did not reach Lesvos until the early Byzantine era: the majority of early Christian temples date from the middle of the 5th century AD, when an organized system of belief is claimed to have become established. The religious monuments of Lesvos provided a center around which the entire life of a community would have evolved. The oldest Monasteries to be established on Lesvos date between the years of 717 and 840 AD, however monastic life on the island received its plight in the course of the Ottoman occupation of Lesvos in 1462 and following a series of occurrences of natural destruction and the repeated raids of monastery grounds by the pirates roaming the Aegean and targeting the treasures of those monasteries easily discernible from the sea.

The monasteries of Lesvos began being restored in the 16th century AD, when village life began to revolve around a central site of religious worship. In the Byzantine era and in the course of the Ottoman occupation of Lesvos, the role of the Mytilenian Metropolis had already become crucial. Historical records show that the institution of a ‘Metropolitis’ (Archbishop) had been in effect since 325 AD.

Mytilene is a major site of spirituality and includes a range of important Christian monuments. The Metropolitan temple of Agios Athanasios (early 16th-17th century AD) is located on Ermou Street and contains the holy remains of Saint Theodore of Byzantium and of other Orthodox Patriarchs and Archbishops. The temple boasts an iconostasis of carved wood which many consider a beautiful sample of post-Byzantine religious art, and murals by the Lesvian painter Vasilios Kessaklis. The imposing basilica combines numerous neo-gothic elements and is 30 meters tall.

‘Fragoklissia’ is also situated in Ermou. Dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the Catholic church has recently become host to the remains of Saint Valentine. Having undergone restoration over a two-year period, the church is both a significant historical monument and an example of the diversity of religious life on the island.

Saint Therapon: Landmark of the City

To Mytilenians, the church of Saint Therapon is the crowning jewel of their city. Designed by the architect Argyrios Adalis, the contemporary church was inaugurated in 1935. It replaced a pre-existing church dedicated to the same Saint (which occupied the contemporary site of the Ecclesiastical Byzantine Museum, right opposite the Saint Therapon of the present day).

While Saint Therapon is a major pole of attraction to Mytilene, few of its visitors are aware that the church was constructed on the site of two important State buildings, the Mytilenian ‘Asklipeio’ (hospital) and a ‘Ksenodocheio’ that served the city poor. In operation since the year 1692, the Asklipeio included 42 beds and a Pathology, an Obstetrics, an Ophthalmology and a Surgery unit. Next to the Hospital stood the Ksenodocheio, a State-run hostel providing accommodation and food for the underprivileged, the elderly and the city’s orphans.

The original Saint Therapon was a small, badly-built church that would have stood facing the Hospital and Hostel. It has been claimed that the church could have been built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo or even of the School of Poetry of the Lyrical Poet Sappho - a wealth of ancient architectural pieces were discovered and had been evidently removed from a pre-existing structure and incorporated into the church.

The Saint Therapon of today is a magnificent building defined by its immense, spectacular dome and the variety of architectural styles its design and exterior exhibit. The church, which took no less than 80 years to build, was envisaged by the Archbishop Kallinikos and designed by the Lesvian architect Argyrios Adalis (in part responsible for the building of Academia and Zappeon in the center of Athens), who oversaw its construction.

The church of Saint Therapon was built using marble from the Sarmosak quarries of Asia Minor and decorated with the stone carvings of Nikolaos Kessanlis, a painter and sculptor whose skill resulted in transforming the church’s impressive, mainly Neogothic exterior into an object of beauty. To add to the majestic exterior, the main dome of Saint Therapon was covered in zinc.

In the interior of the church, the iconostasis fashioned out of elaborately carved wood is a work of Dimitrios Kovalas. The church is home to the remains of Lesvian Archbishop Ignatius, whose marble sarcophagus lies in the main temple, and to an icon of Saint Therapon that dates from the year 1651.

The Ecclesiastical Museum of Mytilene

The Ecclesiastical Byzantine Museum of Mytilene is situated right opposite Saint Therapon and contains an amazing exhibition of ecclesiastic items such as books, vestments, wood carvings, liturgical objects and portable religious icons. The eldest icon to be seen in the Museum has been dated back to the 13th century AD. If you are interested in religious art - and care to admire the Museum’s extensive display of age-old ecclesiastical items - do follow up your visit to Saint Therapon with a trip to the Ecclesiastical Byzantine Museum just opposite the church. Opening times are between 9.00 am and 13.00 pm, Monday to Saturday. Tickets cost 2 euros while group visits receive a 10% discount.

Ottoman Monuments

Lesvos was a major Administrative center in the years of the Ottoman occupation. Its natural resources and strategic position in the Aegean supplied the Ottoman Empire with significant wealth, as did the island’s long history in the production of fine olive oil. Numerous Ottoman buildings were erected on Lesvos in the course of the Ottoman rule: several ‘djamia’ (mosques) and a few ‘tekedes’ adorned the Lesvian landscape. The majority of these were constructed on the site of pre-existing religious buildings.

Among the several mosques to have been erected in Mytilene, the Validé Djami (1615), the Gheni Djami (1825), the Vigla Djami (1867, the mosque was destroyed by an earthquake and replaced by the Christian Orthodox temple of Agios Nikolaos), and the Tsinarli and Yiali Djami with their beautiful roof paintings were situated in the district of Pano Skala, the area, that is, where the old Ottoman market once stood.

The Gheni Djami remains the grandest Ottoman monument in the entire city. Built by Greeks and originally in use as a mosque, the Gheni Djami is currently an exhibition space where a number of Municipal events are held during the summer months.


Mytilene is renowned for its multifaceted architectural landscape and a large number of Neoclassical ‘archondika’ (mansions) lend an air of discernment to the Aegean city.

The majority of its Neoclassical buildings were constructed in the late 19th / early 20th century AD in the Sourada district. Commissioned by wealthy expats who maintained permanent homes abroad, these grand Neoclassical mansions make display of numerous Western European architectural elements drawn from the Baroque, Belle Époque, Neo-gothic and Renaissance styles popular at the time.

Accommodation, Dinning and Leisure Activities:

Shopping in Mytilene

Walk from Saint Therapon towards the main shopping district just around the corner: the stone-paved Ermou Street becomes alive as soon as its many shops open their doors to trade at around 9.00 am. A diverse array of goods and consumables such as fresh meat and fish newly brought in from the port, dried herbs and spices, clothes, shoes, stationery, books, cosmetics, jewelry and ceramics can be admired and purchased on the street that has long acted as the Lesvian Mecca for shoppers.

For the main part, the long, shop-lined strip is closed to traffic. Numerous narrow alleys branch off Ermou Street and lure visitors to explore them, however if you head straight in the direction of the old Mytilene harbor, you will soon encounter Gheni Djami, the greatest of the city’s Ottoman monuments.

Nearby Beaches

There are several beaches in Mytilene. Neapoli, Vigla and Kratigos lie on the route to Lesvos Airport and are much favored by visitors to the island, while Tsakmakia is the most popular beach in the city. The organized beach is located right by the main harbor of Mytilene and has received Blue Flag Certification to attest to the purity of its water. A miniature golf and a tennis court are available, together with beach sports (volleyball and paddle-ball) facilities. Lovers of water sports will be able to go kayaking and windsurfing. Entrance to the beach carries a small fee.

Cafes and Tavernas of Mytilene

Combine a wander around the mansions, churches, monuments and shops of the city with a leisurely meal in one of Mytilene’s many cafes, tavernas and restaurants. If you’re keen to savor some amazing views of the coast, do sit in one of the several fish tavernas at the far end of the quay, or enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of one of the cafes on Sappho Square with its marble statue of the great Lyrical poet.


The city boasts a wealth of accommodation options and you will be able to choose from an array of hotels and rooms to let that branch off from the main coastal route and will cater for any requirement and budget.

Travel Arrangements, Coach Links and Car Hire

If you are aiming to hire a car (which is highly advisable if you’re going to make the most of your stay on Lesvos), do approach one of the many car hire establishments in the city center. There is also a large selection of travel agencies where you will be able to arrange your flight home or book a place on a trip to the Lesvos provinces. Lesvos is teeming with places of archaeological interest and abundant natural beauty - if you are keen to discover this truly stunning green island, hire a car and discover the many hidden treasures of Lesvos. If you’re on a tight budget, the central Coach Station of Mytilene provides links to the villages - do, however, make a note of the coach timetables before you set off on your trip.

Sea Links to Turkey

Mytilene has sea links to Turkey and the shores of Asia Minor are only a short voyage away. A day trip to ancient Pergamos or Ayvalik and Dikeli (or even a longer visit to Constantinople or Izmir) are affordable solutions if you are eager to go on a brief exploration of Asia Minor in the course of your stay on Lesvos. There are various travel agencies in Mytilene that organize day tours to Turkey: to acquire a taste of the East, pop in and register in a group visit to the Asian Minor shores. You will be amazed at the similarity between the traditional architecture of Lesvos and the coastal towns of Turkey and have the opportunity to discover the beauty of our neighboring country.

For an even more affordable trip, go to Turkey as an independent visitor - there is a boat to Ayvalyk that sets off from the harbor each Thursday morning and returns in the evening on the same day. The voyage usually lasts for one and a half hours. If you decide to avail yourselves of the opportunity to visit the city with its long outdoor market, brace yourselves for an exploration of the colorful coastal Ayvalik, where goods and meal prices are low and the return to Mytilene harbor will afford you the amazingly beautiful sight of the lights of uncountable fishing boats floating in the sea in twilight.

Nearby Attractions

If you are eager to explore the villages on the outskirts of Mytilene, Agia Marina, Kayiani and Panagiouda are highly picturesque settlements where a number of local dishes may be enjoyed. A mere 6 kilometers away from the city, Kayiani is of particular interest if you are aiming to savor some amazing views of the city. While here, pay a visit to the impressive church of Taxiarches (Saint Michael the Archangel, circa 1958) and the cave of Agios Vartholomeos (Saint Bartholomew) which is situated near the main village.

Whether you come here on a brief visit or plan to spend a more prolonged stay, Mytilene will enchant you with its many sights and the variety of tourist amenities available. Brace yourself for a memorable trip to the capital city of Lesvos - you will love the architecture and sights and fall in deep, enduring love for this splendid Aegean city.


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