Coming Ashore For A Day on Lesbos
Monday, September 22, 2014
Today was our first day of shoreside exploration here onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 as we tendered ashore in Mytiline, Greece for a morning of exploration with the Lesbos Tourism Association. This was, of course, after another stunning breakfast taken out on the stern terrace of The Yacht Club on Deck 9.
So, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Mytiline is the capital and largest city on the island of Lesbos, which is actually located nearer to the Turkish coast than to the Greek mainland. Of course, those who live on Lesbos – regardless of sex – are referred to as Lesbians. The term ‘lesbian’ is derived from the island and 6th century poet Sappho, who was born around 630 BCE. Her writings detailed her admiration for the female sex (not to mention female independence, which was likewise pretty taboo at the time), and the term stuck as a way to describe either independent women, or simply women who like women. I’m paraphrasing through centuries of history, of course, but that’s more or less how it went. It’s a terminology that has been so problematic for the people of Lesbos that they considered renaming the entire island in 2008. Frankly, the situation hasn’t been helped by North Americans like myself who, despite all my best efforts and attempts at professionalism, are hopelessly unable to suppress a stupid smile – particularly when our tour guide informed us that “Lesbians have more fun.”
Terminology down and giggles quashed, one of the most interesting places we visited in Mytilene was the Castle of Mytilene, which dates back to the Byzantine period. The current castle, which was constructed around the 6th Century, may have even been built atop another, even older castle. It’s conveniently situated on the hillside looking over both the north and south harbours of the city. The north harbour was historically used for trade, while the south harbour – which now boasts ferry docks and tender piers – was formerly used by military only.
To me, fall is the perfect time to visit Mytilene. I can’t imagine coming here during the heat of July; temperatures soared during our visit to the Castle to 27°C (80 Fahrenheit), and there is precious little shade at the castle.
One interesting part of the castle were the ancient baths, located deep underground and still filled with water to this day. Descending below the surface, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees. No doubt this was where any and all important business was conducted in the middle ages, as being topside during the summer months would have baked even the hearty ancient Greeks to a crisp. If the stone walls surrounding these baths could talk, I’m sure they’d have a story or two to tell.