As you follow the tour ever closer to the Fortress (point I on the Mytilene Map) that overlooks the city and sits between the northern and southern ports, prepare yourself for an experience of cultural and historical importance. When you reach the castle, spend a little time walking round its perimeter taking it all in. All parts of the castle a free and accessible to the public!
So, a little bit of history…. Originally erected in the 5th century during the realm of Justinian I in the Byzantine ages, this was one of the largest and strongest fortresses in the East Mediterranean (Williams 1989). It was unaltered for several centuries until 1373, when Franceso I Gattilusio added his own extensions, which can be seen by a square tower used as their palace, which bears the Gatelouzi arms on it (DETAM 2013). In addition to this, if you head towards the main external gate you will see another coat of arms from the Paleologi period, the family that followed the Gatelouzi’s. Further interventions followed in the Ottoman period, when Sultan Bayed II repaired damage suffered during the Ottoman-Venetian War in the turning point of the 15th Century, and extended the fortress by building new walls and two large round towers (Williams and Whitbread 1984). After the islands liberation from the Turks in 1912, the function of the castle changed towards a predominantly military use, as shown by the barracks built by the Madrasa, and the gunpowder vault alongside it.
When you have had enough of taking it all in, you could perhaps start to explore and find some of the historically specific sections of the castle. When you do begin to do this you will see that it consists of three main parts (Williams 1989):
- Firstly, most obvious is the upper section (or the Acropolis section), in the north, which is the highest point of the hill. This was originally used as residences for both the Byzantines and the Genovese, which can been seen by each of their towers.
- Secondly, the middle part of the castle, predominatly built by Franceso I Gattilusio, is, as you can see, the main enceinte. There were also several additions during the Ottoman period, notably a Tekke Islamic Monastery, a bath house, and a fountain, which all survive today (albeit in there ruined forms!)
- Thirdly, you may be able to see the lower section, which was built by the Ottomans in the 17th. Most notable in this section is the bottom enceinte on the northwestern side of the building, which was in fact a Turkish extension.
In addition to the separate sections, the most other notable feature is the three main gates (DETAM 2013). The most important of these was the southern one, bearing the Paleologi coast of arms, as mentioned previously. Throughout the fortress, remnants of various defensive features will also become obvious, such as small guard-houses, watch posts and several small towers which made the inhabitants aware of who was on the horizon!
Clearly in the present day the functions one used by the castle have radically changed, and it is now an ongoing archeological site and also hosts various cultural events. It is has been excavated by the Canadian Archeological Institute which was invited to do in 1983, specifically in regard to the Acropolis and the lower section. If you are lucky, you might be able to see them still doing work on several sections of the monuments interior (Williams and Whitbread 1984).
When you are finished exploring this amazing monument, head back down the road you came from and turn right back onto Mikras Asias. Follow the road round to the left onto Navmachias Ellis for about 100m, upon which you will find your next site!