Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus owes its natural wealth to the variety of the island’s habitats, the peculiarity of its rocks, the age-long human effect, the vicinity with Asia Minor and its geological disconnection from the Eastern Aegean. 

Lesvos has one of the richest floras in Greece because of its favourable weather conditions (winds, clouds, temperature, humidity etc) and the morphology of its landscape. Its flora includes more than 1400 taxa (kinds and sub kinds) of higher plants. If we consider that Crete, which has one of the richest floras, is 5.5 times larger than Lesvos in size and has 1750-1800 taxa then we can conceive the magnitude of wealth of Lesvos flora. Many of these kinds are rare and present particular phytogeographic and ecological interest.

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The mountain range of Olympus is assessed in the official list of habitats by CORINE-Land Cover. It is also part of the region called “Gulf of Gera – Marsh Dippi and Mount Olympus” which is included in the scientific and national catalogue of the European Network of Protected Areas “NATURA 2000” with the code number GR4110005. It has been characterized as an “Important Bird Area (IBA)” and is situated on the North Eastern part of Lesvos. Geologically speaking it is composed of alluvial deposits (around the Gulf of Gera), marble, schist, pyroxene-peridotes and olivines.

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Mountain Olympus (968m.) is covered with chestnut and rough pine forests while its peak is bare and rocky. Olympus Mountain Range is the most interesting area of Lesvos because of its incredible flora with a vast number and presence of Greek as well as indigenous and rare species. There is a large number of habitats (it is part of the 7% of the areas belonging to the network “NATURA 2000” with the greatest variety of habitats) and other important species (it is also part of the 17% of the areas owning the largest number of important species).
A great variety of habitats and living organisms is met in a relatively small area. Predominant plant areas are a non-native chestnut tree forest (Castanea Sativa L) of about 8,000 m2 and an extensive thick forest of rough pine (Pinus brutia). These forests cover the mountain and are in very good condition. Only a small part of the mountain is covered with black pine which constitutes a priority habitat according to the E.U instruction 92/43 (Coniferous mountain forests with pine forests Pallas).
Another priority habitat “Pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals” is met in a very limited space in the area.

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In addition, other ecologic features of the area are the Mediterranean mount formations with the species Astragalus and the rare Silene urvillei. Olympus is the place where the native Asyllum lesbiacum grows together with 8 more native kinds of plants which are protected by the Greek Law (Presidential Decree 67/81) and the only area on the island where the most rare Festuca pseudosoupina (native of Chios and Lesvos) can be found. The area is also rich in geophytes, particularly rare orchids; there are 12 kinds of orchid, such as Comperia comperiana, sensitive and protected by the CITES agreement being considered rare both in Greece and in Europe. The same applies for certain kinds and sub kinds which grow on Olympus mountain in relatively humid areas without them being strictly hydrophilous. Such are Fritillaria pontica Wahlenb, Paeonia mascula, kinds of the species of Tulipa and others. Most of them have also a decorative value. They usually grow in areas away from the sea towards the interior of the island in shady forests or sometimes by running waters which however haven’t got constant flow. All of the above are only a sample of the rare and interesting plants in Mount Olympus. There are a lot more equally important thus the area can easily be characterized as a botanic paradise. However, only few of them are included in the “Red data book of rare and threatened plants of Greece” (Phitos et al.1995), where laws for their protection are suggested.

CASTELI
It used to be a very important fortress. As the road goes to Agiasos, after the junction leading to Stavri, on its right there is the deep ravine of “Perasia” or “Perasma” (passage) coming from higher up the mountain and collecting the water of the town. It passes by “Pigillia” with their renowned Byzantine and post Byzantine settlement remains. From this entrance road we can detect another great fortress, Xylocastro, lying at a distance. 

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Above this passage rises a steep rock crowned with Castelli at its top. This hillock is covered with pine trees until its north side which is connected to another steep rocky mountain, the western side of Saint Dimitris ravine. You can reach Castelli through a beautiful coble paved path under the tall pines. The chapel of Taxiarchis (Archangel) is situated at the top with a marble spring and a fountain. The construction of the Byzantine fortress is rectangular with thick walls built with limestone and powdered brick. Its eastern side is higher than the western, which was built on a lower level but with the same technique. There are several more recent accressions to the castle. The old road meets the western side at the foot of the rock which supports it. At the meeting point with the cobble paved path there is a piece of fortification made of the same materials. It most probably was a rampart protecting the entrance to the fortress. There are several ceramic relics in the interior of the castle such as bricks, roof tiles and earthenware jars proving the existence of a settlement. Information gathered from coins found in the area prove the importance of the fortress during the Middle Byzantine Times (8th-9th century A.D) and the period of Gatelouzi (1355-1462).

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It seems that this small castle was protecting the settlements from Agiasos to Sanatorio and according to researcher Andrew Mazarakis perhaps Agiasos itself since it was referred to the Genova archives by the Bishop of Chios, Leandros under the same name (later known as Agia Sion -1565,1653). Xylokastro must had been used as a shelter and observation post for the surrounding area around the same time.

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However, there is evidence that Castelli is much older. Several potsherd found inside it prove the existence of an ancient fortress (6th century B.C). It must had been an important spot because of its position. It used to stand on top of the deep ravine coming from the western side of the fortress which was also separating it from Mount Olympus. This ravine is a continuation of the Prionas one starting from Drota and ending through Saint Dimitris to the Valley of Ippios. The South end of the ravine was controlled by the fortress called “T’ Skliou tou Marmarou”. These fortresses must had been on the border line between Mitylene and Pyrra situated on the eastern side of Olympus. There are findings suggesting the presence of prehistoric life in the area. However, there should be thorough research done in order to get some proof.

(Newspaper “Empros” Thursday, 24 September 1998 by Dr Makis Axiotis)

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T’ SKLIOU TO MARMARO, THE ANCIENT ROCK
Neochori or Boros, as it is known, is built on the great ravine of river Prionas which further on becomes Kalamias. This ravine is deep and reaches Agiasos, unites with the ravines of river Evergetoulas and ends in the Gulf of Gera. 

The river is of unique beauty surrounded by lush vegetation. Its crystal clear waters reflect plane trees, ferns, wooden bridges, hydro mills’ relics and great orchards. Chestnut trees, apple trees, pears and cherries mingle with white rocks, pines and cypresses, perpetual water springs and the cries of eagles and skylarks. Above all this beauty there are the hillocks of Akrasi known as Pera Plati and Boros known as Castrelli hosting prehistoric settlements.
As you stand at Boros due north, where the ravine cannot be seen any more, on the right, there is a mountain crowned by a flat white rock. This is “T’ Skliou to Marmarou” (The Dog’s Marble Rock), a unique, sentinel, all-seeing rock. Passing the village and walking up along the river you can cross it over a bridge. These are the western slopes of the mountain. Here you will come across crystal clear springs and remnants of settlements (Halasmata). The path passes between two peaks and there is evidence of a past destructive fire. However, fortunately a big part of the forest has been saved and the steep rock is dressed on its eastern and northern side with tall tree trunks of rough pine.

Reaching the top is a real hike. Eighty metres from the road this place is difficult to approach. It is situated in two levels protected from the north winds by the surrounding rocks. It is a naturally fortified old rock with limitless view, situated on a strategic point where there used to be the boundary line of Mytilene and Pyrra land.
Here I found traces of human presence. This old rock was a sentinel and a fortress perhaps even a frictoria (ancient signal tower) in antiquity. There are pieces of black painted pottery and oil lamps painted dark brown dating perhaps from the Hellenistic times. 

The vast number of potsherd (red clay pottery and handmade utensils) at the water discharge in the ditches of this peak, dating perhaps from the Bronze Age show that wherever there is water and natural fortification, there is also farming and animal breeding, there are human settlements. It is gradually becoming more known that these positions were of unique importance since they were settled throughout antiquity. 

(Newspaper “Empros”, Thursday July 30th by Dr Makis Axiotis)