Monday, 9 July 2007

The Seven Wonders of Lesvos

What is missing amongst the following names: The Great Wall of China, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, the ancient cities of Machu Picchu in Peru and Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Colosseum in Rome and the Taj Mahal in India? Well spotted: the Acropolis in Athens. It was a candidate for the latest selection of the Seven Wonders of the World. The result was published last week and the most important ancient Greek building is not supposed to be a new Wonder of the World.

The Greeks not only were not the ones to exclusively choose the new wonders, none of the newly chosen Wonders of the World are in Greek territory. While the classic Wonders of the World (the pyramid of Cheops, the colossus of Rhodes, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, the statue of Zeus in Olympia, the mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Lighthouse of Alexandria) were all within the borders of the empire of Alexander the Great. Do you think it was by chance that the classic Wonders of the World were selected more than 2000 years ago by several Greek writers? Now it is the internet site that made the new selections possible, although they are not supported by organizations such as UNESCO. Why won't I be surprised when the Greek don't accept this new selection of Seven Wonders of the World?

For me a Wonder of the World is something which you don't quite understand how it was made or if it has ever existed. Like from the mythical hanging gardens of Babylon there only exists drawings and stories about them, or like the colossus of Rhodes, a 30 metre high statue of Apollo that stood with its legs spanning the entrance of the port of Rhodes, which was destroyed by an earthquake, after which they never managed to find all the different pieces. The only building still standing is the pyramid of Cheops, but no one ever agreed on how exactly this huge death house was built.

The Taj Mahal in India or the Great Wall of China were simply built by workers/slaves. There is nothing miraculous about that. So these new Wonders of the World are just magnificent buildings, standing out due to their beauty or their greatness, but there's nothing mysterious about them. Similarly, you could name many more wonders everywhere. Like for example the Seven Wonders of Lesvos.

Wonder number one of Lesvos should also be on the list of wonders of the world, except that it was not made by humans but by nature: the petrified forest. These colourful trees, some pieces looking like precious stones, are a rarity worldwide. Greece should be more proud of a park full of million year old trees.

The second Wonder of Lesvos was not built by Greeks but by the Romans: the aqueduct at Moria. It is not even the huge building in the middle of the olive trees that makes you wonder, but the fact that the aqueduct was once part of a water system running all over the island. It is even said that it transported hot water from the hot springs. Imagine, when the Romans lived on Lesvos, Molyvos got hot water. That is more than you can say for modern times, especially when there is a power cut. Near to Lambou Mili you can admire a second aqueduct, smaller than the one at Moria, but the spot where you view it is more impressive. It stands between two mountain crags where nobody cares that the vegetation is slowly creeping up to arrive at the other side.

Ancient Molyvos in the north of the island can be called wonder number three. Unlike other old cities on the island this ancient city managed to survive many wars. Its square houses made of big stones, some still having wooden overhangs, and its narrow medieval streets running up to the castle, are the favourite targets of tourist cameras. It's a miracle that for so many years the Greeks have preservied this beautiful sight.

My number four on the list of Wonders of Lesvos is the Ypsilo monastery. Not because of its size or importance (for that the Limonas monastery and the Mandamados monastery are number one), but because of where it is and therefore because of its atmosphere. It is built on a rather high mountain, where you have a panoramic view over the rugged landscape of the south west of the island. Standing on the highest battlements you will lose all sense of time. There it is easy to imagine that the island was once full of sequoias, the enormous trees that are found at the petrified forest. It is here you can easily imagine how the head of Orpheus washed ashore at Old Antissa. Wind is always blowing around your ears, which makes it easier still to hear the music that Alceos continues to play.

The fifth place in the Wonders of Lesvos goes to the mountain village and the surrounding area of Agiasos. This village is hidden on one of the slopes of the mighty Olympus and is surrounded by the most beautiful forests on the island, such as the chestnut woods. Here you still find old crafts like wood carving and pottery. The shops are endlessly filled with their products, as well as with numerous religious relics, because the Church of Maria in the middle of the village is an important place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims from all over the island rush to the village on the 15th of August. They are not as dangerous as the bulls they release in the streets of Pamplona (Spain), but I can guarantee that reaching the middle of the village that day is nearly impossible.

In sixth place is the hollow tree at Karini. Not because it is so big and so hollow, or because Karini is such a beautiful spot with lots of water, but because it's the tree where Theofilos, a painter from Lesvos, once lived. His naive paintings even reached the Louvre in Paris. Although there is enough Greek art in that museum, most is from the antique past. The merry scenes of Lesvos life, that Theofilos painted at the beginning of the 20th century, can be seen on the island in the Theofilos Museum in Varia, a suburb of Mytilini.

Seventh place in the Wonders of Lesvos goes to the Ouzo of Lesvos. Dozens of different ouzos are brewed on the island. It is not a building, but the Greeks have made it already for centuries. So why not choose a culinary wonder? A good ouzo from Lesvos transforms the taste of fish or grilled meat. No French foie gras, German choucroute or Spanish paella can beat roasted octopus, salted fish, fresh sardines or grilled lamb chops that are accompanied by a good glass of ouzo.

Of course the island has far more wonders. Like the Kremasti bridge, the picturesque village of Vatoussa, the Italian-like city of Plomari or the castle of Mytilini. And I will not forget the most important: the absolutely gorgeous nature of the island.

So still plenty of wonders left in the world. And you don't have to travel all the way to Brazil, India, China, Peru, Jordan or Mexico to see them. Greece is close enough...

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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