Even in today’s modern world, the sight and feel of Molyvos still provokes an explosion of emotions, charm and sensations. Inheriting the glory of ancient Mithimna, home to the ode musician Arion, creator of the dithyramb, Molyvos is a colourful impression of light that transforms the landscape depending on which time of the day. It is a shining example of folk wisdom and architecture through its dazzling colours of wood and stone, unique to Lesbos. The enclosed courtyards with jasmine and bougainvillea as well as the mazy streets of stone and pebbles are protected by age-old trees that give an undoubtedly special taste of the ancient city’s history.
In Molyvos, one spends the day with constant reminders of all historical periods: Antiquity, the Romans, Byzantium, Gatteluzzi and Middle Ages, as well as the post-Byzantine and Ottoman periods and Asia Minor and the time of massive internal and external immigration. Indeed, every historical period of Molyvos is uniquely imprinted on the settlement’s structure and the small plain around it. In Molyvos, time stands still. It humanizes and transforms you through its changing light. This unique atmosphere creates a new and powerful musical experience like no other.
The castle of Molyvos
The Molyvos Byzantine Castle (capacity 500 seats) is the primary venue during the festival days and, together with many other parts of the village, sees a flurry of activity.
Methymna, which in the medieval period was renamed Molyvos, had since antiquity been the island’s second most important city after Mytilene (Mytilini). The castle of Molyvos was built during the Byzantine period at the summit of the hill, ensuring control of the narrow passage to Asia Minor and the Gulf of Adramyttion.
In 1128, the Byzantine castle was taken by the Venetians, and from 1204 to 1287 it was in the possession of Baldwin II of Flanders. In the late 13th c., it passed into the control of the Catalans. In 1373, the Genoan Francesco I Gattelusi, who assumed the rule of the island in 1355 following his marriage to the sister of the Byzantine Emperor John V Palaiologos, rebuilt the castle. The castle’s strategic position and the protection it afforded the settlement at Molyvosharbor, from which the olive and olive oil were transported, were the main reasons why the Gattelusi dynasty took care to maintain the castle in good, battle worthy condition.
Turkish incursions multiplied in the 15th c., so the Gattelusi strengthened the castle’s fortifications and opened an underground escape route leading from the castle to the coast. The castle was not destroyed by the Turks when they occupied Lesbos in 1462; rather, it was maintained, strengthened through the installation of a garrison, and expanded. Its present form is the result of Ottoman repairs and additions in the 15th and 17th centuries, as it was at that time that new ramparts-cannon emplacements were built, and an outwork (proteichisma) constructed on its northern and eastern sides, with the creation of an intervening dry moat.
Molyvos is the second-largest castle on Lesbos. It has an irregular, trapezoidal shape; each of its sides is approximately 70 m. long. The chief building material for the walls and buildings was a local grey and reddish trachite. Its southern and eastern sides were founded on bedrock, and the other two sides are less steep. Most of it is built in the pseudo-isodomic masonry system. Large, hewn stones of basalt were employed.
The function of the castle was purely defensive; residential functions arose to the east, south, and west outside the walls beginning in the medieval period.