If you first see Mitilene on the transfer coach from the airport, perhaps after a night flight,
or a very early morning at Gatwick or Manchester, it's easy to dismiss it.
Some impressive nineteenth century mansions on the way in from the south, a glimpse of harbour,
then a struggle through a narrow one-way system never intended for trucks and buses,
up past disused quarries, random commercial developments and the inevitable army base,
until at last you come over the ridge behind the town
and the Gulf of Gera and the high white peak of Mt Olympus lie ahead.
That's when you relax and remember why you have come to Lesvos.
In fact Mitilene is a very pleasant port and university city, and well worth a visit.
It is home to about thirty thousand people, one third of the population of the island.
It is the seat of government of the region (Περιφέρεια) of the North Aegean,
from Limnos in the north to Samos and Ikaria in the south,
the Prefecture (Νομός) of Lesvos/Limnos,
and, since local government re-organisation at the end of 2010, of the Municipality (Δήμος) of Lesvos.
The main campus of the University of the Aegean, with 5,000 students is also here.
(There is a smaller campus on the neighbouring island of Chios).
The city is, as yet, very little affected by tourism or foreign influences
(for a few years there were small Body Shop and Marks and Spencer franchises here,
but they have both given up and gone away).
Mitilene's history goes back to the earliest days of Lesvos, when it was one of the six city states sharing the island. It was in turn under ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Genoese and finally Ottoman rule,
until in November 1912, with the defeat and expulsion of the Turkish occupiers by Greek and local forces,
it became part of the young modern Greek state.
Its chequered heritage, however, is still apparent everywhere you go.
The ruins of the large castle dominate the town, sprawling across the low wooded hill (once an island)
which separates the present-day port from Epano Skala, the ancient 'Upper' or north harbour,
now home only to a few small fishing boats.
The castle mainly dates from Byzantine times, with later Genoese and Ottoman additions.
It has been extensively renovated in recent years, complete with bilingual explanatory boards at all key points.
There are Hellenic and Roman archaeological sites throughout the city,
and reminders of the more recent past in the form of ruined
Ottoman mosques and hamams.