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Mike Maunder &
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17 October 2019


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Historic Mithimna

However little interest you may have in the past, it is impossible to escape it in Molivos.
 The first sight as you come over the headland from Petra is of the Byzantine castle,
nearly one hundred metres above the sea,
dominating the town that drops away down the steep sides of the hill below.

 But Mithimna  (its original and still the official name - Molivos was the Turkish name)
was already more than two thousand years old when this final version of the castle was built.
There is evidence of its existence from around 1000BC,
 and by two or three hundred years later it was the second most powerful city of Lesvos,
 controlling the whole of the north of the island from present-day Anaxos in the west
 across to the east coast and down to the head of the Gulf of Kalloni.
 The town was then two or three times its present size, with its walls stretching across the Dapia,
(now the fields running across behind the town from the castle ) to Cape Molivos and beyond.

 There have been several archaeological excavations on the Dapia;
sections of buildings, walls and pavements are still there to be explored,
and the whole area is strewn with fragments of pottery,
from amphora handles to delicate decorated black slip-glazed ware,
with more still being brought to the surface with each heavy rain.

  Almost the first thing you see on entering the town, at the junction next to the school,
 is the large excavation of a cemetery and streets from the archaic period
(more than two and a half thousand years ago),
 while the curved bank of the car park opposite, behind the school, was once the city's theatre.
(Since the car park was 'improved' in 2009 this bank is largely hidden behind concrete.)

 Further along the road towards the harbour a large section of archaic 'Lesvian masonry',
otherwise called 'polygonal masonry', irregularly shaped stones cut to fit snugly together,
and part of a building were exposed some years ago during the construction of
a new OTE telephone exchange and are now on display in situ.

In 2002 a bath house was excavated behind the police station
(which, together with the local tax office, is housed in
the former Ottoman garrison on part of the old city wall).
 It would have been fed from the aqueduct that brought water to the city
from the slopes of the Lepetymnos range,
 a solitary tower of which survives on a mound on the back road to Eftalou.

 In October 2003 a small paddock opposite the tourist information office was being prepared for building.
 The excavator, together with its accompanying archaeologist, was beginning to dig foundations,
with the  site owners watching anxiously for any telltale signs of ancient remains
which would immediately halt work and mean many months or years of delay to their development.

By summer 2005 a better-preserved extension to the next-door cemetery had appeared
alongside a paved main road, probably halting development for ever.
 Understandably, many Molivos residents regard their archaeological heritage as more
 of a burden than an asset.

In 2011, very belatedly, explanatory signs have been put up at the main sites,
and a more detailed leaflet should be available at the tourist information office

Until the end of the 1990s the Town Hall housed an interesting archaeological museum,
 containing many finds from the area,
together with a collection of photographs of the Greek Army campaign
and the final expulsion of the Ottoman forces from the island in 1912.
 Then the building was closed for renovations; the Mayor's office and the public library
 were 'temporarily relocated' but the museum collections were put into storage.
Work was finally completed, and the Town Hall re-opened in 2008,
but whether, and when, the archaeological collection will return remains to be seen.

 Visible legacies of Ottoman rule in the town mainly come from the end of their era.
  Apart from the fine nineteenth century mansions dotted around the town,
 built by both Ottoman and Greek officials and merchants,
the mosque was built in the centre of the town, crossing the main street on a bridge.
 It is now the community hall and theatre,
but its washbasins and part of its minaret survive on the wall of the courtyard outside.

And in the last quarter of the nineteenth century came the reintroduction of plumbing,
 with the erection of water fountains throughout the town, and the building of the public baths.
 Many of the fountains survive, some still with their Turkish inscriptions,
 though most have lost their water supply.
The baths, hidden away up a flight of steps opposite the post office, are closed,
and were in a state of increasing collapse until their restoration, after many years of delay,
finally began in December 2010. Work is still continuing sporadically in 2013.

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ISBN 9780953921454
ISBN 9780953921461