Have you ever noticed the great
number of stones on a Greek island? Just like the Lesvorian landscape, that
proudly shines with its stones and rock formations. It was millions of years
ago that volcanic forces ravaged and reshaped the island, so that now we can
admire whimsical rock formations - like the mountainsides built-up of columns
(columnar lava), horizontal stone plates that seem to be on the brink of
falling down, or enormous rocks which were catapulted by the force of the
eruptions and now lie scattered around, just waiting to be made into a
Lesvorian Stonehenge Centre.
The monastery of Ypsilo, which has,
without doubt, the best view over the stone desert of the West, has been built
on the Ordymnos, a so-called lava dome (see it as lava that gets pushed upwards
and forms mountains). Also the tops of Lesvos' biggest mountain range, the
Lepetymnos, are lava domes, as are most of the mountaintops surrounding Eresos.
The famous mermaid church at Skala Sykaminias has been built on lava rocks.
Filia, Avlaki and Alifanta present 'so-called' dikes, plates of horizontal
stone (solidified magma) sticking out in the landscape like enormous
ridges.The Panagia Glikofiloussa Church
in Petra has been built on a 'so-called' volcanic neck (the solidified end of a
canal transporting lava when the volcano was active, with the sides now
The volcano’s also petrified thousands of trees,
so that we now can enjoy the beautiful Natural History Museum in Sigri,
where you not only find trees, millions of years old, but where you can discover all sorts
of other fascinating geologic aspects of the island. If you don't fancy popping
into a museum during the hot weather, or you don't want to go for a stroll in
the Park of the Petrified Wood during the soaring heat, you might venture out
by car from Andissa towards Sigri, where just after the junction to Eresos,
there are construction works going on to widen the road. Digging into the
ground they have found a whole museum-full of new petrified trees. Upon
discovery they are first covered in plaster to protect them, thus creating a
landscape of white phalluses. When you take a closer look at where the earth is
removed you might see other trees, branches or roots that were covered by lava
and rain millions of years ago, thus getting petrified and transformed into
colourful fossils, and now seeing daylight after so much time.
During the last few weeks the Greeks
have been under the spell of another road construction discovery. Close to
Serres in the northern province of Macedonia: a gravewas found, where two sphinxes
and a huge statue of a lion (resembling the Amphipolis lion) stand guard over the entrance. The
enormous grave dates from the time of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) and because the last resting
place of this great warlord has never been found, lots of people hope he will
be hidden in this grave. Other, more sober, persons think it might be the grave
of Alexander's wife Roxane.
Alexander the Great and his wife
Roxane are known worldwide and the discovery of their grave would bring lots of
publicity. So too, I could imagine, would the discovery of the grave of Sappho
during the road construction at Sigri. However, the very important
archaeological finds made this summer on Lesvos seem only to have attracted the
local media. For a few years the archaeological service of the University of
Crete has been digging around Lisvori and what they have found has not been a
statue of a lion, but lots of stones that served 150,000 to 500,000 years ago
as tools for the inhabitants of Lesvos. That means that the site is the oldest
archaeological place in Greece and the East of Europe.
Can you imagine that where we now
drive around in rented jeeps and cars, people used to roam in search of food
with spears and axes hewn out of stones? In those times there was no
agriculture. People survived by hunting animals and finding plants. Apparently
the hunting fields of Lesvos were plentiful, especially around the Lake of
Kalloni. The lake was only much later connected with the sea after a severe
earthquake. Prehistoric animals as big as elephants, camels, rhinoceros, deer
and huge tortoises were all living on the island (some bones of those animals
found near Gavathas can be seen in the Natural History Museum of Vatera in Vrissa). People in paleolithic times did
not depend on planes or boats: it is thought that the island was then still
connected to the Asiatic plateau, so that it could be reached by walking.
It is known that the Romans used to
come to have a holiday on the paradise-like island of Lesvos. I guess that
people in the Stone Age were not familiar with the concept of vacations. When
they wanted something different, they just moved elsewhere to another place and
I bet in those years Lesvos already was pretty popular, due to all the tools
that now have been recovered.
So stones can be mighty interesting.
Without knowing you may have in you hands an antique item: a prehistoric axe or
spearhead. Stones on Lesvos can also provide more surprises: they can sometimes
hide amethyst or quartz. Even gold and silver used to be mined on the island.
Other less flamboyant stones can
also surprise you. During volcanic eruptions, pumice can be made, as was the
case during the eruptions on Santorini: lava cooled so fast that gas got
trapped inside the clot. This porous stone has the attractive attribute that it
can float. I read about it by accident and when the next day I took a stroll
along the beach I could not believe my eyes: there was a piece of stone
floating on the water! I thought that I might not have seen them before,
because I had not known their story. A few days later I saved another piece
from the sea, but since then I have never again seen stones swimming in the
Although I do like birds, I will
never become a birdwatcher: I haven't enough patience for that. And I can
imagine that in order to pry on birds you need to study a bit. How else would
you recognize a bird? Lesvos is a birdwatch-paradise and I often see odd birds
and then think: what can that possibly be? The flamingo is the easiest bird on
Lesvos to identify. For that I do not need a book. Same for the Black Storks.
They of course are easy to recognize, but are not easy be find.
The real trouble starts when seeing
a heron or a (white) stork. Sometimes, when driving with friends along the
saltpans of Polichnitos, I say: “Look, there's a stork”, when, according to my friends, I
am actually pointing out a heron. I have no idea what the small stilt-walkers
are that roam the same waters. I have never studied the bird world and I rarely
write about it. I did once write about those strange flamingos. And I was so surprised at finding
a huge information board about the colourful red shellduck in the middle of nowhere in Palios,
that I had to mention that phenomenon. As far as I know it is the only
information board about a bird on the island. They should install more of those
boards, especially along the saltpans on the island.
I do see often seagulls and it seems
that here on the north coast you can even spot different species like the
Audouin’s gull, the Yellow-legged gull and the Yelkouan shearwater (this bird
looks like a gull, but is not a gull). My intention now is to learn more about
birds and so I have bought a book (only in Dutch: Vogels kijken op Lesbos [Watching birds on Lesbos] by Luc Hoogenstein), and hope that
this will make me a bit wiser about the birding world. The book describes all
the important birdwatch-places of Lesvos and also provides a list of what birds
you can expect at those places. Very handy. But I think this is a book for the
more advanced. I mean, I can learn to say all those names by heart, but how
does such a bird look? It would have been better if each name was accompanied
by a small picture. Now I have to go through the whole book hoping that there
will be a photograph of the bird I have just seen. How do I find, for example,
the little bird I saw with white spots on its sides? Even on the internet that
will be a Herculean feat.
Another bird that I see nearly daily
is a crow. Well, that's wrong. The black birds here that sit on the electricity
cables and scrabble around in the fields and the beach are not crows. It has
taken me some time to decide whether that are crows, ravens or jackdaws. But I
think they are jackdaws (corvus monedula), because they are partly grey and they are
recognizable by their beautiful eyes with a yellow circle around the dark iris.
Even though jackdaws are big birds, it seems crows are even bigger and ravens
are as big as an enormous bird of prey. It is good that their family members
Eurasian jays and magpies are so much coloured that they at least are easy to
The big birding season is, of
course, in the spring. But even during the past months I have seen lots of
birds, sometimes very bold in stealing my fruit. Even though the crickets now
sing louder than anyone else, you can still sometimes hear the song of a bird
in the background.
And when I go out for dinner, I am
often confronted with birds flying over the tables. Tourists can be confronted
by this phenomenon on the balcony of their hotel: a swallows' nest that, when
birds are in residence, is at the end of a busy landing strip.
(Old) Greeks think that dogs in the
sea may dirty the water and – as far as I know – dogs still are officially not allowed to swim in the sea. But Greeks
have no problem with birds pooping around their homes or in restaurants. You
see, swallows bring luck and even prosperity when they choose your home,
terrace or balcony to raise their off spring. The Greeks will watch over the
nests, even though that most flying hours, made by the parents to feed their baby’s, go straight over the heads of the
I am not complaining: I think this
birding thing is an entertaining performance and it makes you feel immediately
at ease in the restaurant. I never realized that swallows are trekking birds
and have a special place in Greek culture: not only do they bring fortune, they
also are the announcers of the spring and they all should be back from Africa
on March first. At least, that is the day in Greece that their arrival is
celebrated and when children go around the houses with swallows made out of
paper and sing songs about the spring and about swallows (Chelidonismata).
I am always looking for new forms of
income for the Greeks and that is why I was interested to learn which swallow
nests are eaten in Asia. The artfully crafted nests here are made of mud, small
branches, straw and whatever else keeps the construction together. Somehow, I
could not imagine that these nests could be a new export product. And I was
right, they cannot. In Asia there lives a kind of special swallow that build
its nests only with saliva! I am not sure if I prefer to taste swallow’s saliva or a bit of mud.
Also swallows are divided in
different kind of birds. I did some study but am still confused. What the heck:
if it has a forked tail it just is a swallow! I now will look for a book about
birds on Lesvos that has a clear overview in photographs that makes it easy to
find what bird you just saw. It must be a bird guide for beginners, with clear
explanations about differences within species. Now that the heat has arrived
and the sparrows fall off the roof (a Dutch expression meaning that it is very
hot), it seems to me that it would be helpful to quickly identify which kind of
sparrow you might have to resuscitate.