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The ancient History of Vrisa buried now in its ruins

Posted by moodhacker on June 14, 2017 at 9:35 PM

The ancient Vrissa...

The establishment of Vrissa is covered by the mist of myth.As the first founder of Lesvos is reported Makar. According to the politician and historian Androtion, Makar established the temple of Dionysus on Vrissa cape, called today Agios Fokas. According to a later tradition, which is recorded in the book «Poikili Istoria» by the historian Claudius Ailianus, another Makar, a priest, was the founder of the temple of Dionysus.These two reports show that god Dionysus was worshiped at the cape of Vrissa from the ancient times and for this reason took the name «Vrissaios». Also called «Vrissagenis» according to a marble inscription that was found in the district of the temple by the German archaeologist Koldewey: «MEGARITOS AESCHINOU DIONYSO VRISSAGENI».

The eponymous town, ancient Vrissa, was built on the cape and around the temple as the plentiful shells and other ancient finds that have been found in the area show.The sanctity of the area of the cape of Vrissa maintained with a series of temples. Today the visitor can see the ruins of the Doric temple of Dionysus which belongs to the first century B.C.

Concerning the name «Vrissa», according to another legend, is connected with Vrissiida, the bone of contention between Achilles and Agamemnon, as Homer describes. Vrissiida was the daughter of Vrisseus and she was born in Vrissa. When Achilles took the town Lyrnissos where she lived with her husband, king Minitas, after killing her husband, he took her with him in the camp of the Greeks at Troy. This myth was kept alive by the local people and today they show proudly a well on the road to Agios Fokas, which made Achilles on his way to Troy, called «Achillopigado» («Achilles' Well»;).

In the early Byzantine period, and probably mush earlier than Hellenistic and Roman times, the settlemant of Vrissa moved east from the cape of Agios Fokas, in the place of Agia Katerina. The findings in this discrict, like the foundations of a large church of the early Christian era, tomps and clay lamps of the same era, a marble column with the inscription «STRATONIKI XAIRE», lead us to conclude that in this position, where reaches a fertile riverine valley, was Vrissa of thε early Byzantine years and probably the «Vrissia polis» mentioned by the Alexandrian lexicographer Isychios (5th A.D. century).

When and why the habitants abandoned the coast Vrissa is a question that expects the archaeologists to answer. Probably here, as with all coastal towns and islands of the Aegean Sea, the pirate attacks forced the residents of coastal Vrissa to seek a safer place to live. So they are settling in small villages a few kilometers from the sea. Among these settlements the most important were the settlement of Paliopyrgos and the settlement of the current Vrissa.

...and he latest Vrissa

The latest Vrissa, invisible from the sea, was protected from the rirate attacks.The people managed to survive throuht the difficult and dark centuries of the Middle Ages and Ottoman rule and save all their traditions and culture.

In the early 19th century, the Christian inhabitants of Vrissa, despite the poor means, had been able to build within one year (1803-1804) the church of Zoodochus Pigi (Life Giving Source), which as a whole, line and color sescribed as the most royal church on the island.

In the last decades of 19th century and early 20th century presents significant economic, social and spiritual progress. In 1909 in the village are living 480 families, there are two oil-mills, one school only for girls and one only for boys, three doctors and one pharmachy.

The upward trend continued as of mid-20th century. After the German's occupation and the civil war many habitants forced to emigrate to major urban centers not only in Greece but also in USA, Australia and Germany seeking a better life.

Vrissa's inscriptions

Archaeologists Hauvette and Pottier published in 1880 (Bulletin d. corr. hell) all the anceint inscriptions they saw on their visit to the island. Among these inscriptions they report one marble inscription in front of the church of Agios Fokas. Archaeologist Koldewey, who shortly afterwards visited Afios Fokas, also reportes this inscription. We don't know the fate of the missing, today, inscription, but, according to the descriptions, the rectangular stone of white marble, broken on the right side, had height 0.80, width 0.47 and thickness 0.30. On the stone was engraved the inscription «MEGARITOS AESCHINOU DIONYSO VRISSAGENI». This dedication on the marble inscription help us to determinate the exact location of the temple of Dionysus on the Vrissa cape and connect it with the names «Vrissaios» and «Vrissagenis».

Later, another traveller, Boutan saw on the cape a ruined church (Agios Fokas), which contained many of the walls of ancient building materials, among other two columns and two ribbed marble chipped corners. But, misleaded by the name of the Saint (the name Fokas in Greek remind the word «fos», meaning «light»;) and the words of the inhabitants of Vrissa that is the «temple of the Sun», concluded that the remains he saw belonged to the temple of Apollo.

Besides, in the interior of the chapel we noticed another ancient relic: the altar is a marble slab resting on a headstone column. Above the column was engraved an inscription, whose first lines have been obliterated by hammer blows and has left only the word «CHARISTIRION». In the lower part of the cape, on the east side, there are some parts of a road paved with slabs of granite, which was part of an ancient port, covered now by sand. Also, under the water there are many pieces of columns.

The paleontological findings and the Natural History Collection

Τhe fossils in Vatera came to light in 1980, after a small-scale excavation by Professor of Geology and Paleontology, University of Athens Mr Michael D. Dermitzakis. Several years later, several residents of the area found in some rural locations many fossilized bones. Thus, in 1997 began a systematic palaeontological research and excavations across the region. For making the excavations and study of fossil the research group of the University of Athens co-operated with an international team of paleontologists, under the supervision of Professor Dermitzaki.

The University in Athens, helping to develop tourism in the region, mainly contributing to the environmental awareness of visitors, proceeded to create a local Natural History Collection at the old school of Vrissa. The inauguration took place in September 1999 and so far has received positive response and enthusiasm from the residents.

The Natural History Collection of Vrissa include vertebrate and invertebrate fossils found in the area, samples of minerals, ores and rocks of the island, with zoology department representative species of fauna of the island, and part botanical samples with a modern and fossilized flora of the region. Some of these fossils were selected to create the exposure of vertebrate fossils, which was organized so that a visitor to obtain a general impression of the kinds of animals lived in the area before 2 million years.

Representative samples are monkeys, horses, carnivorous, deer and cattle, the Rhinoceros and giraffes, the proboscides and the turtles. Thus, the study findings of fossilized fauna of Vatera interesting findings have emerged, regarding the age of the fauna, the causes of the disappearance of giant turtles, but also in the way of walking of paradolichopithecus (a kind of ape). The study of skeletal material from paradolichopithecus will help better understanding of how walking primates and contribute substantially to the scientific study and research on the origin of man.

Paliopirgos (Gatelouzian castle)

Paliopirgos, a small castle, stands on the top of a hill a small distance from the village, at the meeting point of the two rivers of the region, Almiropotamos river arising from the thermal springs of Polichnitos and the river which descends from Lagada. In this section there is also one of the most fertile valleys with trees, gardens, melon fields and vineyards. In the middle of this region stands Paliopirgos, invisible from the sea and high enough to be able to scout the surrounding area.

As a building is certainly of medieval times, but there are some questions to be answered: at what time was exactly built, if it is a Byzantine construstion or belongs to the Gatelouzian period, by whom and for what purpose it was built.

From several findings and reports of ancient writers, we know that ancient Vrissa must have been built on the cape of Agios Fokas and the Roman and the early Byzantine period transferred in the area of Agia Katerina (Byzantine Vrissa). Because of the pirate attacks, the inhabitants forced to move to the interior, 3-4 km away from the sea, to seek a safer place to live. They were settling in small villages and the area of Paliopirgos was one of them. The whole district, because of the fertile valley, became the center of a rural life. But the inhabitants decided to build the tower for defensive military purposes in case that pirates decided to move along to the interior of the island. So, if the inhabitants observed suspicious movements of the enemies, they could be closed in the fortress tower and be secure for several days (the tower had an underground tank with water and a store of food).

Concerning the time that Paliopirgos was built, the current building belongs in the early Byzantine period despite some features of the Gatelouzian technique, such as rainwater drainage pipes, but it was probably repaired and strengthened by the Gatelouzians (1355-1462), as also happened with other castles of the island. Only an archaeological research is able to give us more informations for the exact time that the tower was built, but it's certain that Paliopirgos played an defensive role throughout the Gatelouzian period and probably was abandoned by 1462, after the establishment of the Turks in the region. The fear that the Christian inhabitants felt for the Turks forced them to gather in a central village which was not different from today's Vrissa.


Brick kilns and lime kilns

Brick kilns

There is a district near Vrissa, called Blo, very rich in argil. For centuries the inhabitants of Vrissa, at least from the Byzantine era, supplied from Blo the argil to manufacture bricks and tiles for their houses. We don't know where the brick kilns were exactly in the ancient and Byzantine years but we have more information for the postwar period. The brick kilns were all in Vatera and manufactured tiles, bricks and bricks for ovens. Their operation began in early spring and stopped October and there was a export of the production in many places on the island as Plomari, Gera, Agiassos, Polichnitos and Kalloni. Of course the work was very hard as it was manual, by the excavation of the argil until the loading of product for trade.

Lime kilns

In the west of Vrissa there are some districts (Ananida, Koukvas, Vathrakia, Marmari) rich in lime, so it was matter of course the inhabitants of our village to busy themselves with the lime production, as happened with the argil and the brick kilns. Of course it was another hard work that took place in summer. After the excavation of limestone, the workers should construct the lime kiln, which demanded many skills by the workers, to transform the limestone into lime. Today of course the creation of largers untis for the lime production and the availability of lime straight in plastic bags knocked out the local lime kilns.

The Customs Station at Vatera

The Customs Station was built in the centre of Vatera. The construction began at the end of 1926 and completed the next year. The area of the building was 120 m² and had three rooms and many facilities. As Customs Syation operated until 1957 and its purpose was the avoidance of tax and smuggling operations, to maintain its books, to recover charges of delay, to atteng and certify alli loading and unloading e.t.c.

In 1957 it was repealed as Customs Station because there were problems in the static of the building and the roof. The repairs were made anf finished in 1960, but in 1961 it began to operate as a restaurant for the next five years. On 19/7/1964 a part of its roof collapsed and three months later it was declared as a tottery building. Finally, in 1975 the buliding was totally demolished.Of course today there is no sign of the building, but its operation as a Customs Station shows how important was the area of Vatera in past years.


Categories: Travel to Greece News , The Unspoilt Lesvos , Greece Cultural Heritage

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