Mansions of Mytilene Town
If some voyager walked along the streets of the town at the end of 19-th century he would be happily surprised and certainly she would think how a little European town anchored in the world of Asia.
The architecture of the big buildings of the town (residences, public buildings, banks, trade buildings, churches) resemble more an European town than a capital of a small isolated island in the Otoman Empire.
Where we are and what we talk about.
The topic of this essay is Τhe Mansions of Mytilene town and what we´ll try to understand is how they were built in such a glory compared with the houses of the past, where the architects or civil engineers who built them were inspired of, what were the prototypes they used and how they evolve it according to the house needs.
The houses that we´ll talk about where built from 1850-1930. There was not such a house or country house built afterwards as the erection of that type of houses could only happen in that period as we can understand from the historical, social, political retrospective study of that time.
Lesvos island has been under the Turkish occupation from the 15-th (1462) to the 20th century (1912). This period was not prosperous at all for the Christian natives of the island as there was not any education, developing opportunities or wealth. The Christians used to have small properties (olive fields) and were obliged to give the 1/5 of their income (olive oil) to the governor of the island. Those four centuries have been very dark for Greek recent history; the development of the island was reduced.
The Ottoman Empire started collapsing at the end of 19th century. In its last efforts to survive the English, French, German, Russian embassies and companies where involved with the political system for the reorganization and modernization of the Ottoman Empire called Tanzimat. The Tanzimat made proposals for development concerning trade, construction of roads, railways, town buildings, harbours and bridges. Therefore, the reform of Tanzimat (1839-1876) boosted the:
- Development of trade.
- Industrialization of the production.
- Road construction and sea transportation network.
- Consolidation of the personal property right.
- Population was increasing from 1850-1912.
The application of the Tanzimat was the onset of Christian citizen freedom, prosperity and wealth. The Christians from now on could have properties and were legally able to deal with property, products, trade and industries. The Ottomans on the island were a minority and were never involved into trade and exportation of products.
In 1838, the monopoly of trade from the Ottoman Empire had been repealed, so every Christian could get the products and trade them on the Ottoman Empire or in any other country (Europe, Asia).
The Christians were able to open shops in the market place of the town and as their property was growing they started investing into companies of the continent or arranged their trade business with branches , and founded their own transportation with ships that started journeys from Mytiline`s harbour to Istambul, Izmir, Egypt, Marseille, Trieste, South Rusia...etc.
There was frequent transportation from Mytilene harbour to many international destinations. In the town 4 international post offices were in use (Austrian, French, Russian and Egyptian). The Christians natives business started from trade and cooperative family business and expanded to factories. Therefore companies of Lesbians erected in immigration places as Egypt, Romania, Russia, Marseille and Istanbul. At the end of 19th century bank branches settled in Mytiline as the imperial Ottoman bank, Agricultural bank of the East and other minor banks.
Accordingly with these changes a new urban class of traders, merchants and landowners appeared and succeed in Lesvos. Banks and Consulates from European countries were established in Mytilene. Numerous people of Lesvos spread their commercial activities abroad and settled there. In this way Mytilene changed into a commercial and financial centre in the Aegean as well as a meeting place between East and West.
New artistic and western trends began to emerge in the architectural style of the mansions in Mytilene. They were luxurious homes, which were primarily built as country homes by the wealthy urban class of Mytilene and wanted to express the superiority of the prominent class of landowners and merchants, through elegance and sometimes extravagance.
The mansions date to the late 19thcentury and early 20th centuries like a result of the profits gained by Mytilene’s big olive-oil merchants. They were created in a completely different way to the traditional architecture of Lesvos (Influenced by Macedonian and Turkish trends).
Most of these buildings not only have noticeable neoclassical influences, but also European ones. The archetypes were directly brought from European countries (England, Italy and France). Architects were combining both western and ottoman architectural models. The many-sided structures of the mansions made known the wealth of the owners in the small community of the island. The disparate styles (mainly baroque and neo-gothic) combine as never before in the history of architecture to create a unique composition.
Some of the most important families of Mytilene were housed in the mansions and some Public buildings were also constructed by similar models, such as the church of Agios Therapon, The Town Hall and the Mytilene High School.
Mytilene’s High School
Nowadays, if you take the south exit of the city, going uphill towards the Sourada District, you could admire these traditional town residences which have survived.
Information used for the text
- The Municipality of Mytilene. Touring routes, archaeological sites, monuments and museums. Texts by Stratis Anagnostou.
- Book “Lesvos” the Crossroads of civilizations. Maria Giagkou.