Villages of Polichnitos
The village is full of liveliness. Villagers cultivate their land. Aniseed, an aromatic herb, the seeds of which are used in the distilling of ouzo, is still produced here. Lisvori was built in the 11th or 12th century A.D. Its first name was LESVORION, as Stavrakis Anagnostou writes it in the book «Lesvias», and it comes from the words Lesvos and Orion (=border) meaning that in this area were the borders of Lesvos’ fields.
Copying the proceedings of Lisvorion local council in 1963 we quote the record of antiquities of the area:
@ In the northern site of the village at “Kroutir” beach there are extensive ruins of a prehistoric settlement of 2000 B.C, which are contemporary to the 5th city of Troja.
@ There are also ruins of sunken port diggings.
@ Shells testifying the flourishing of the Mycenaean civilization on Lesvos were found in the area too.
@ The ruins of a tower from the age of the royal family of Palaiologos were discovered nearby (late Byzantine period.)
@ The monogram of king Manuel Palaiologos is fixed on the wall of a neighboring chapel.
@ Coins and a lead seal of the Pope of Rome Eugene D’ were found in Skamnioudi.
@ Near there are the ruins of a Byzantine fortress.
@ It is referred that modern Lisvory lies above the ancient city of LESVOS, which gave its name to the whole island of Lesvos.
The historical importance of the area of Lisvory is additionally shown in the toponyms of the sites “Temenos” and “Temenitis”. There have been found substructures of ancient buildings and pieces of vessels. In Lisvory are still preserved some of the most ancient olive trees on the island.
West from Polichnitos, behind Prophet Helias and “Orgalo” mountains, following the asphalt road, lays the bay of Nifida. It is a large settlement where people of Polichnitos have built beautiful country houses among gardens and running waters. Visitors can enjoy the warm waters of the gulf of Kalloni and have lunch or dinner at the fish taverns by the sea.
Nifida has its own historical tradition too. It said that were Nifida lies today a wedding was taking place. Just before the wedding feast pirates arrived in the area. The bride was saved riding away with the groom on his horse. On the way, while they were climbing the eastern barrows of Polichnitos to escape from the pirates, one of the bride’s shoes fell off and they didn’t stop to pick it up out of their fear. Further up the bride’s sleeve was torn by a holly and remained hanging on its branches. Finally, after escaping the danger, they stopped at a quiet place and the wedding feast began. Since then the corresponding areas are named after the incidents: “Nifida”(Bridal), “Papoutsi” (Shoe), “Maniki” (Sleeve) and “Choreftria”(Dancer).
The most ancient settlement of the whole of Lesvos, which dates back to the Age of Copper and perhaps even the end of the Neolithic era is located at the area “Perivola”(Big garden) of Nifida, at the site called “Chalakies”.
There are two traditions concerning Polichnitos and the origin of its name both of them relating to the word “Polichni”. The first definition is that of small city while the second comes from the conjunction of the words “polla ichni” which mean many traces. According to the tradition the area was scattered with tiny villages (traces) such as St. Basil, Holy Trinity, Melanta, Damandri, Traperia, Tsichia, Drokopia, Kouxonia, St.Anna, Perivola, Katapirgos, and Stogilou. However, out of the fear of Saracen pirates they were forced to move to the location where Polichnitos lies today, away from the sea, surrounded by hills and seen neither by the gulf of Kalloni nor by the Aegean.
From time to time, due to excavations for the construction of wells or houses, come to the surface findings that prove the foresaid tradition.
Polichnitos is located deep in a valley surrounded by the heights Kardonas, Rachta, Plakoura, Plakes, Prophet Helias and others.
It has been built upon ignimbrites-volcanic rocks. All the buildings in Polichnitos are built with this stone because it is unwearable and easily carved.
In Polichnitos it is worth visiting the church of St. George, where you can see part of the Saint’s sacred relics and admire its steeple, which is the most beautiful on the island. Visitors should walk the cobble-stoned streets of the village, which has been characterized preservable.
SAINT GEORGE IN POLICHNITOS
The cathedral of St. George in Polichnitos with its wonderful, carved-stone built steeple, which is believed to be the most beautiful on the island of Lesvos, was built during the Turkish occupation and there is a saying concerning its construction. In order for the church to be built a building permission should be granted by the Turks, who never gave permissions for big churches. A man from Polichnitos named Papa dimitriou and nicknamed “Rodanas” took a very thin thread and after folding it in such a fine way as to seem single, measured with it the perimeter of the unbuilt church and presented it to the Turks in order to get the permission. The tread was sent to Constantinople (Istanbul) with a sailor who knew about the trick. After the Turks accepted the double thread as single, it was sent back. The people of Polichnitos unfolded it and started building the church according to the double perimeter. In the end a large church was built but the Turks executed “Rodanas” because he tricked them.
The building itself is an impressing three-aisle basilica fascinating visitors with its imposing size, the innumerable columns and the wonderful wood-carved temple. The stateliness of the church and the wealth of its construction are seen not only in its interior but also in the exterior courtyards, the surrounding walls and the magnificent steeple. The whole of this noble structure is a work of the most worthy foremen of Lesvos. At the entrance of the narthex there is an inscription with the name of the foreman who built the church. The inscription says: “ Theodore Kalfas son of Athanasios from Vatousa, 1805. Cornerstone put in August”. The steeple and the courtyards were constructed by some of the best stonecutters in Polichnitos. The material used for the building of the church, the steeple and the courtyards is ignimbrite-volcanic rock, which is abundant in the area.
The mosque built during the Turkish occupation hosting now the post office, the Elementary School, the magnificent mansions at the entrance and further in the village, the Community Youth Centre which in former years was a Municipal olive press with its tall chimney and stork nest on top it (being also the municipal trademark.), the Museum of Folk Art, the church of St. George and the Hot Springs.
Skala Polichnitou is the seaport of the village of Polichnitos. It is a modern anchorage, the perfect place for strolling and the staring point for excursions all over the island. It has become one of the most important ports on the island since it is constructed in such a way as to accept ships of great tonnage.
Its position just at the entrance of the gulf of Kalloni is concessive because of its commercial use and availability to safe anchoring whenever needed. Fishermen of the area with their fishing cooperative supply the surrounding villages, Mitylene, even Athens with fresh fish, ostracea, scallops and the famous Kalloni sardines. At the harbor there are many fish taverns where visitors can enjoy all these while they relax and watch the sunset over the mountains of Agra.
Further from the port extends the sandy beach, the highway with mar-ram grass trees from either side and the olive yards due south creating a wonderful picture. Here visitors can enjoy swimming and having lunch.
On the right side as you enter the village there is the church of St. John. It is a peculiar Basilica. Its façade with the tall windows creates a great impression. The narthex is supported by columns, which stand on the bases of an old temple. At the door there is a marble fountain and on its arch we can read that it was built in 1834.
Moving towards the beach we can see another tall building whose windows have arches and the chimney is polygonal. It was the mansion of Kalia-Bey, an important man of the area in older times. It is characterized as a preservable monument. Refugee families from Asia Minor in the 1920s found refuge in this mansion.
Restaurants, cafes and pizzerias lay their tables under the mar-ram grass trees. It is a wonderful and cool place for the visitor to relax. In Skala there are many rooms and apartments in newly built constructions to rent.
POLICHNITOS SALT- LAKES
Due north there are the Polichnitos salt lakes. Originally they were natural. They started being used more efficiently during the Turkish occupation. The sea entered by itself into the illuviating valley during wintertime and the water evaporated during the summer leaving behind salt. The salt lakes consist of the machines, the pans (tigania), the heaters (thermastres) and the salt pools (alopigia). The machines and the salt pools are in the middle of the salt lakes. The pans are flat areas, about 1000 square metres each, located on the lakes’ highest points in order to have natural flow. The pans are divided by earthwork and communicate with each other through wooden gates.
The preparation, which starts in May, includes earthwork and steam rolling of the salt pools by a special cylinder and the change of the gates. The cylinder flattens the salt pools and the floor becomes watertight. In June watering begins. The machines pump water from the sea into the pans. Here two things happen: the precipitation of unhealthy salts contained in seawater and the “roasting” of water meaning its partial evaporation. The “roasted” water is transferred from pan to pan in the salt pools and the thickening of salt takes place there. Water evaporates because of the air and the sun and the density of salt increases within salt-oil, as the salt pools’ water is called. Thus, begins the process of precipitation of salt crystals. At times, according to the density of salt in the salt pools, which is measured by a densitometre, salt oil is removed and thrown in ditches and more “roasted water” is poured from the pans. This procedure will be repeated many times until chemical saturation occurs and the thickness of salt reaches 10-15 centimetres. Finally, men with axes enter the salt pools and start extracting salt piling it up in heaps. In the past salt was carried by horse rolling stocks.
Polichnitos salt is thought to be one of the best salts in Greece. It is as white as snow, tasty and contains a great amount of natural iodine.
The coastal area of Polichnitos is one of the most important hydro biotopes for water birds in Greece. More than 130 species of birds have been recorded in the gulf of Kalloni, some of which live permanently there while others migrate. For biologists, ornithologists and the amateur bird watchers the area is a living museum of natural history in which they can observe and study the existing bird species, their habits and behavior as well as various biological and environmental issues of the area.
Observation and research is possible all year round, especially in spring when there is a massive migration of birds from other countries.
The stagnant valleys of the area, particularly in the pans and heaters of the salt lake, where salt is being dried, become the proper ground for the formation of various organisms (animals and plants), which constitute the basic feed for those birds.
Several species such as wild geese, wild ducks, wild swans, cranes, halcyons, copper hens, avocets, pelicans, seagulls, terns, dippers, water hens, cormorants, swarm every year in this ideal hydro biotope. A bird that stands out because of its beauty and colors is the pink flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber, fam. Phoenicopteridae), which has become accustomed to the human presence. Their long pink legs, their height, the pink feathers on their wings, the long neck and the peculiar shape of their head make flamingos the most outstanding and imposing birds of the hydro biotope.
It is the smallest of all villages surrounding Polichnitos. In earlier days it was also called Vourkos (mire) because this was the name of the river separating the two villages of Stauros, the Upper and the Lower. The village is built in the midst of the verdurous valley of the river Vourkos. There are three churches: St. Bartholomiou, St. Paraskevi (Friday) and St. Therapondas (Healer). Some time ago it had a population of 800 people. Today though, after the migrating wave to Australia in the 1950’s and 1960’s as well as the relocation of a great number of people to big urban centers, such as Athens and Mitylene, in quest of work, there are only 100 people left in both settlements. During summertime this number increases since most of the locals who live in other places (Australia, Athens, Mitylene) return temporarily to visit their homeland.
The village is built deep in the valley and not close to the coast perhaps out of the fear of pirates in earlier days. As it is mentioned before, it took its name after the river flowing in the area and the stagnant waters that used to be there in older times. However, there’s evidence of a much older name. It is said that it was called “SYKIES”(Fig trees).
Nearby the village there is a site named “ STAVRIA” and it is also connected with the recent name and history of the village. There have also been found broken bricks, tiles and vessels that manifest the existence of a medieval settlement in the area. Another element proving the existence of a settlement in the area is the church of St. George. Although it has been renovated, there’s evidence that it was built onto the foundation of another, much older church. Today visitors can see there a capital, a column and a pedestal. Thick try-pots with bones have been excavated at “Macros” site, at the opening up of a rural road, showing that the area was a cemetery during the early Copper Age - a rare finding for Northeastern Aegean. Another location certifying the existence of a settlement and its habitation since antiquity is the plateau of “ROGADA’. There is a rough rampart called “KASTRI”(little castle) at the edge of rocky cliff. The people of Rogada who lit fires to warn the citizens of other areas of forthcoming danger used this tower. Nearby Kastri there are two churches built upon the ruins of an older temple and several graves.
Today people at Stavros live quietly working in the fields and breeding animals. They are famous for their roupades (a local kind of olives), skim-milk cheese, oil cheese, frumenty, fresh vegetables without fertilizers and mushrooms found under pine trees (pefkites). Hospitality is the main feature of the people of Stavros. Nestled in green with its gardens full of flowers awaits for travelers to visit it and relax in one of its five traditional cafes while drinking coffee or enjoying a meal under the shadow of perennial plane trees.
It is worth visiting the church of St. Paraskevi that after the arson of 2003 was renovated and it has become the jewel of the area. Stavros and the surrounding area are full of routes of extreme natural beauty: St.Faneromeny, St. Marina and St.George’s gorges or the panoramic view from St. Helias, which you can visit either on foot or by car.
Every summer on 2nd July there is the fair of St. Therapon and in August there is an annual feast unique for its liveliness and merriment.
It is worth the while for holidaymakers from Vatera to visit this verdurous little village with the warmhearted and hospitable people.
Panagiotis Palaiologos, Chairman of the Cultural Club of Stavros
The village was named Vasilika (Royal) either because in Byzantine times it hosted royal families or because there were royal properties in the area. In any case, it is historically proven that here lived, in exile, Irene the Athenian, Constantine VIIII- the Gladiator and others. Vasilika is known for its magnesite mines, which are abandoned nowadays, as well as Mount Pyrraion or Pityodes, as Theofrastos named it meaning its pine forest.
Relics of ancient and Byzantine settlements and temples have been pointed out in all the extent of the eastern coast of the gulf of Kalloni. It is believed by locals that the Apostle of All Nations (St. Paul) first arrived at the coastal area, today called St. Paul with the homonymous chapel, in order to preach the Word of God to the people of Lesvos. It is ascertained that this little chapel is the only church dedicated to St. Paul on the Island of Lesvos except for the one built in Polichnitos in the 1960’s.
ANCIENT PYRRA: According to ancient Greek mythology, Pyrra was one of the daughters of Makaras or Makaros, who was the son of Sun. He conquered Lesvos and named the city built on the eastern coast of “Pyrraios Euripus” gulf (gulf of Kalloni) after her. Pyrra, as it is said, sunk because of an earthquake during 231BC together with Agamid, a small nearby town. Port constructions, traces of temples and others are still visible at the bottom of the sea, thus attracting archaeologists from all over the world.
According to Thoucidides, during the Peloponnesian war, when Paches- the Athenian- lay siege on Mitylene, the captain of the Spartan flea disembarked at Pyrra and this way managed to set foot on the city too. This is the reason why Paches, after persecuting the Spartans until the Isle of Naxos, returning to Mitylene suppressed the town of Pyrra. It is also referred that during the fourth year of the Peloponnesian war the people of Mitylene, amongst other cities (Antissa –Eressos) caught by surprise and conquered the town of Pyrra as well.
After Alexander the Great’s victorious battle at Granikos River, Dareus rendered Satrap of Asia Minor a resourceful and brave man, General Memnon. Memnon thought of transferring the war from Asia to Macedonia and the rest of Greece in order to bring Alexander in a difficult position. Because of this, using treachery, he conquered the cities of Lesvos -Pyrra being one of them- and then suppressed them. Fortunately, during the siege of Mitylene he died because of some illness and Igelogos one of Alexander’s officers liberated these cities.
Today in the surrounding area of ancient Pyrra called Achladeri, there are the former Agricultural School facilities, stables, houses and mansions, where people successfully cultivate and produce bioproducts, especially olives and olive oil.
With a length of 8 kilometres and width of 10 to 30 metres, Vatera is a beautiful beach covered with coarse-grained itacolumnite sand, rubbles and mar-ram grass trees.
Because of its position –in the south part of the island –it is protected from the usual summer north winds (meltemi). The seafront is crystal clear because the water is renewed in the open sea.
On either end of the beach two rivers flow into the sea forming interesting biotopes, Almiropotamos in the west and Vourkos in the east. Almiropotamos, which springs from the hot springs of Polichnitos and flows all year round, is a shelter to a great number of turtles, water snakes, water hens and other bird species straying from neighboring biotopes such as the one of the gulf of Kalloni. One of the advantages of Almiropotamos is its riparian ways that give an easy access to visitors for the exploration of the area in great depth. In addition, the flora found on the riverside is unique and of great interest.
West from Almiropotamos begins the cape of St.Fokas. At its very end there is the picturesque piscatorial shelter and above that there is St.Fokas’ chapel next to the ruins of early Christian churches built with material coming from the ancient temple of Dionysus. A little further on, there are small sheltered sandy beaches, where you can go either on foot or by boat.
The area of Vatera hosts the majority of visitors of our Municipality. There is a satisfying number of hotels and rooms to rent as well as a camping site where they can obtain a pleasant and affordable stay. The development of agro tourism in the recent years is very important too.
Local restaurants and taverns selling fresh fish, local meat and fresh, homemade food cooked in olive oil accompanied by homegrown vegetables are a good solution to those who do not wish or are unable to cook their own food.
Furthermore, the clean and cheap cafes of Vrisa, serving a great variety of exquisite starters (meze) for ouzo, day and night, are a nice alternative for an outing.
Visitors can enjoy their coffee, ice cream, traditional sweets, drinks and dancing- 24 hours a day- at the local cafes and bars.
According to their interests, visitors can:
@ play on the long sandy beach and the open sea without bothering anyone or being bothered.
@ do water sports with safety despite the open, yet windward, sea.
@ walk near the coast or through olive yards and pine forests in order to discover the beauties of the area.
@ fish and go scuba diving.
@ enjoy the beautiful view from the top of Mount Helias.
@ swim alone or in company at the two edges of the beach and the small sandy beaches near St. Fokas becoming one with nature.
@ visit the exhibition of the Collection of Natural History and the church of Zoedochos Pigi (Life-giving Spring) with its amazing wood carved temple at the village of Vrisa, enjoying their coffee under the big plane tree later on.
@ experience the beneficial effects of the healing water of Polichnitos and Lisvory hot springs.
@ groove every night enjoying more the moonlit ones.
@ join or attend folk feasts or performances in all the villages of the area.
In Vatera all newspapers and magazines arrive the latest till midday. There is also the possibility to book tickets and rent cars. The beach is organized with beach volley and football facilities as well as deck chairs, sun umbrellas, canoes and water bikes. Finally, there is plenty of parking space.
The four existing mini markets can serve basic needs. Visitors can purchase more goods in Vrisa (2Km). The Health Centre, pharmacies and a bank are all located in Polichnitos. (7Km).
Vatera is convenient for any sort of vacation- intense or not, with or without a family- because of its size. Although thousands of people visit it every year nobody has ever felt suffocated by the presence of others.
“Summer holidays in Vatera may be the best of your life. It is a promise we make for the first time you’ll visit our place. For the second time and the ones to follow you’ll be already sure about your decision to return because of your previous experience.” (Efstratios Nikelis, Headmaster of the Unified High School in Polichnitos.)
Vrisa through legends and history
The mist of legend covers the establishment of Vrisa. The legendary settler of Lesvos, Makar or Makarefs, whose name is still used in Makara, a location on the western end of the gulf of Kalloni, is, according to politician and historian Androtion, the founder of the temple of Vriseos Dionysus at the cape of Vrisa. Today the area is called St.Fokas: “ το ιερόν του θεού εν τη Βρίση φήσιν ιδρύσθαι υπό Μάκαρος» (meaning that Makaras founded the temple of Dionysus in the area of Vrisa).
According to Claudius Elianos in his “Varied History” another man called Makar, a priest of Dionysus, was the founder of the deity’s worship at the cape of Vrisa. Thus, according to scholarly Stefanos the Byzantine, Dionysus was named after Vrisa, Vriseos. Moreover, he is also called “vrisagenis”, meaning born in Vrisa, according to an inscription found in the area of the temple, as it is mentioned by the German archaeologist Koldewey: “ΜΕΓΑΡΙΤΟΣ ΑΙΣΧΥΝΟΥ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ ΒΡΙΣΑΓΕΝΕI” [meaning that it was an offer of Aischynes from Megara to god Dionysus Vrisagenis (born in Vrisa)]
Ancient Vrisa must had been situated over the cape of Vrisa, nearby the temple, as it is shown by shells which were accidentally found during the cleaning of the small natural port located at the eastern side of the headland.
It is still a mystery if the cape and the temple of Dionysus were named after the city or vice versa. It is certain, however, that the village of Vrisa existed since antiquity and its name today is directly connected to Vriseos Dionysus, forming thus an example of historical continuity at this tiny corner of Lesvos.
The sacredness of the site at the cape of Vrisa has been preserved through the years by the successive building of temples. The latest temple of Dionysus is of Doric rhythm and its ruins date back in the 1st century B.C.
Mythical Vrisa, which is related to Makaras, the founder of Lesvos, is also related to another myth concerning Brisiida a female figure in the Trojan War, “ικέλη χρυσέη Αφροδίτη”(as beautiful as goddess Aphrodite) as Homer describes her. She was the apple of discord between Achilles and Agamemnon.
According to the tradition, Vrisiida was born in Vrisa. She was the daughter of Vriseas from whom derives her name. When Achilles occupied Lirnissos, the city where Vrisiida was living with her husband king Minitas, he killed the king and took his wife, Vrisiida, with him to the Greek army camp in Troja, as a precious prize.
The local tradition kept alive the belief that Achilles past by Vrisa. Locals show with pride, even today, the well on the way to St. Fokas, which was dug by Achilles and it was named after him, “Achiliopigado”.
During early Byzantine period, and most probably much earlier, during the Roman or Hellenistic times, the village of Vrisa was transferred further east from the cape of St. Fokas to the location of St. Catherine.
The findings of that area, such as the groundwork of a big paleochristian church, tombs and clay oil lambs of the same era, marble or inscribed columns as the one with the inscription “ΣΤΡΑΤΟΝΙΚΗ ΧΡΗΣΤΗ ΧΑΙΡΕ” (kindhearted Stratoniki we salute you), lead us to the conclusion that Vrisa of early Christian times and most probably “Vrisia polis” mentioned by the Alexandrian lexicographer Isychios (5th century B.C), was located at the end of a fertile riverside valley.
The reason why maritime Vrisa was abandoned is not known. Perhaps here happened the same thing as in all Aegean maritime and island cities; pirate raids, which convulsed the Byzantine Empire during mid and late Byzantine eras, forced the inhabitants of maritime Vrisa to look for a safer place of residence inland.
After the distraction of their city, the people of Vrisa settled in small rural, stock breeding societies, a few kilometers from the sea in the surrounding area of Vrisa. Through the years other settlements as that of Paleokastro, Aegida and Livadi were taken up by the much safer Vrisa settlement.
Vrisa, unseen by the sea, protected by a reconnaissance system against pirate raids consisting of watchtowers in strategic points, survived through the difficult and dark Middle Ages and the Ottoman dominion. This way it managed to preserve not only the life but also the spirit of its inhabitants with all the beautiful qualities of past beliefs and culture they carried through the years.
In the beginning of 19th century, Christians of Vrisa with their little means of survival managed to build within a year (1803-1804) the church of Zoedochos Pigi (Life-giving Spring), which is described as the most lyrical basilica of the island because of its colours and lines. Its wooden carved temple is of unique artistic value. In the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th Vrisa follows the general development of the island and exhibits remarkable financial, social and intellectual progress. In 1909, 480 families live in Vrisa. There are two olive presses producing olive oil. Cereal, aniseed and figs are its main products. People of Vrisa maintain by their own means a girls’ and a boys’ school. The village has three doctors and a pharmacy.
This upward course lasted till the mid 20’s. After the German occupation and the civil war, an intense migrating current towards large urban centers caused population shrinkage, the fast aging of people and the downbeat of the agrarian economy of Vrisa.
In the last two decades the tourist development of Vatera and St. Fokas created a promising perspective in concern to the reinforcement of local economy and the sustenance of the remaining population in Vrisa.
In addition, important results are expected by the exploitation of the paleontological findings in the area of Vrisa-Vatera, which already attract the interest of the international scientific community. Specimens of petrified animals are exhibited in the Natural History Collection at the old Girls’ School in Vrisa.
Municipal Unit of Polichnitos