The tower houses of Mytilene
The tower houses of Mytilene are located close to the capital of Lesvos, in an area that extends from north of Thermi to the southern suburbs and the villages of the Amale peninsula. The locals call these tall buildings with a ground floor and two upper floors ‘towers’ (pyrgoi) while those with one upper floor are called pyrgelia or small towers.
They were built by prosperous Mytilene families in a zone around the city at a time when the Lesvos bourgeoisie were flourishing in the mid 18th century, mainly owing to the profitable exploitation of olive groves and oil. They stand in the center of large private estates, which were dedicated either to the cultivation of olives or the pressing of the oil.
Several scholars have traced the origin of these distinctive ‘tower houses’ to the forts built in the Middle Ages in many places throughout Greece. Most of them have a square ground plan with an elevation of 8-10 m, the ground floor was made of stone blocks about 80 cm thick, without windows for defense purposes. This was where the harvest was stored, the upper stories being the workers’ living quarters. The top floor, on the other hand, consisted of spacious, light-filled rooms whose walls were made of a lattice of sticks, cane and a mortar mixed with goat hair, while enclosed balconies (sachnisia) projected over the façade, providing even more space for the gentry.
The tower buildings are all three storeys high, with a peaked roof that projects over the enclosed balconies.
In the early days the tower houses were introverted as befitted their primarily defensive character; however, in time, when the risk of pirate attacks diminished, they acquired up to three sachnisia on the top level, with large window openings.
By the end of the 19th century, there were 300 fine tower houses owned and inhabited by Christians in the vicinity of Mytilene, most of them (160) in the area called Towers of Thermi – 10 km to the north –where several can still be seen standing today as proud reminders of prosperous times.