VIP tour to Agiasos
Wilco Van HerpenWe, as people who work for the media, are lucky people. Many doors will be exclusively opened for us, while for the “ordinary” people, those doors will remain closed. When I was at Lesbos Island, I traveled around as an ordinary tourist, but it was in Agiasos that I saw something I had never seen before. I was not alone; together, with a small group of people we were visiting Agiasos and it was Aris Lazaris, who opened the doors that otherwise would have stayed closed. The only, for me, very serious bummer was I was not allowed to take any pictures. I was tempted to take some sneaky pictures, but did not want to put Aris in a difficult situation, so unfortunately there are no pictures of the treasures I will write about.
It was early in the morning and it was already burning hot. Together with four other people, we left Mytilini to go to Agiasos. Driving through the forest, every now and then, we had a peek of the landscape behind. It was after a 30-minute-ride that we could see Agiasos far away on the top of a mountain. It looked as if it was a small place and yes indeed, once we arrived in Agiasos, it indeed turned out to be a little village, but with great historical importance.
As small as it may be, Agiasos is a very dynamic village. As where some places are famous for just one thing, Agiasos has at least five different and very interesting things to offer. Let’s start with music; Aris led us into a library. It was an ordinary building, but the secret was in a room beyond the library. Here, an old man was teaching a young boy how to play the santur, a beautiful and old stringed instrument. Behind him in the library were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of antique books. When we entered, the man stopped playing music and looked at us. It was impossible to communicate with the guy because the only language he knew was Greek, but the he started communicating with his music. First, a couple of Greek classics and as a last piece he played a famous Turkish song called Üsküdar.
Walking over the little cobble stones, we finally were in the center of the village and our next stop was a church. Of course, I know how Orthodox churches look, I had seen some in Turkey, but I was curious if there would be any differences between the Orthodox churches in Greece and Turkey. At a first glance, it all looked the same but then, all of a sudden, I realized the churches here were richer than the churches in Turkey. The churches in Greece are alive; I mean, the Greek people frequently and, for different reasons, visit the churches on a regular basis. In Turkey though, the group of people who visit the Greek Orthodox Church has minimized and this also is reflected in the church. They are less alive.
All the authentic icons I saw and all of them were old, very old. In the middle of the church I saw a beautiful chandelier made of wood. Agiasos is famous for its wood carving works and here was a perfect example of why it was famous. It was a giant chandelier and it was perfect. Everywhere in the village you can find little workshops where you see what the craftsmen are making. Chandeliers, chests, candleholders, chairs or tables; whatever can be made of wood, those craftsmen will make it. Their work is not cheap, but when you take into consideration that they use walnut or olive tree wood for it, I think they ask a fair price for their products. Aris asked us to come with us since there was still a lot to do and to see. “We will go to one of the most special places on the island,” he told us. “What you are about to see is unique. I am the only one who, sometimes, has permission to show these places.”
We left the church, Aris left us for 20 seconds, came back with a smile on his face and we went into the direction of a door. Just a door… An ordinary, boring door! It was dark inside, but once Aris switched on the light I became speechless.
The room was filled from the floor up to the ceiling with offerings.
The first thing that caught my eye was a model of a beautiful building. An Italian man gave this beautiful and very detailed mockup in 1450. He visited Agiasos two years before to pray for his health. The prayer was overheard, he was cured and the man gave, as an offering, this impressive mockup. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo worked on it together.
Besides all the gold, beautiful dresses (also decorated with gold), watches etc. there were two more impressive offerings. I saw some miniature paintings showing biblical scenes. The pictures were so small, but every detail was clearly visible. And last, but not least were handwritten bibles, the Mathew, Luke and John bibles. These bibles were the only bibles of their kind in the world and came from a woman who used to live in Thessaloniki. They were given in 1714 and are 24-carat golden and handwritten bibles. The bibles are 1,500-years-old, decorated with 24 carat gold.
Nearby the church, there are some nice little cafés where you can buy coffee, lemonade or ouzo. There was one café that offered something else though; a drink called Cherez…
Cherez is made from cherries and is a kind of liquor with a lot of herbs. The taste is fantastic and it felt as if this would be a nice drink to have in your corner against a cold or the flu.
Paying Turkish Liras
Agiasos is such a nice and cute village. Small streets, not too many, make it into the center of the village. Everywhere there are flowers, wood and ceramic workshops and little cute souvenir shops. It was here that I saw one of the best entrances to a public toilet. It was a narrow alley and looked like a kind of bonsai lane; with plants and greenery everywhere. It was fun to go to the toilet here. The number of Turkish tourists was quite overwhelming; so many visit Agiasos that you can even pay with the Turkish Lira here.
On our way back out of the village, I saw this little pottery workshop. An old man was painting a pottery landscape with beautiful pastel colors. Of course, the famous “Greek blue” was there as well. The man, used to thousands of tourists visiting his workshop, did not look up when I entered. Instead, a woman approached me and said if I wanted something I could call her. After that, she turned around and walked to the old master. I took a couple of pictures, wished them a good day and left.
Aris knew a good restaurant near the sea. You might know that Lesbos has a huge connected inner sea. Years ago, in this area there used to be many tanneries. They prepared leather for all different products and used to dump all the dirty water in the sea. One day they had to close their doors and from that day on, slowly the inner sea could clean itself up. Nowadays, the quality of the water is perfect again and many fish that once avoided the inner sea came back and their numbers are increasing. At the narrowest point of the inner sea, a boat was waiting to bring us to the other side of the inner sea. It was at the other side that we had our late lunch.
A five-minute boat trip later and we had already reached the mainland again. Right at the seaside was Efkaliptos restaurant in Panagiouda village. Probably the most popular restaurant in town, it was almost empty when we arrived. Greek people eat late, very late. In general, you will not see Greek people eating before 9 p.m. and it was just 4 p.m. The fridge was filled with all different kinds of appetizers and each looked more delicious than the others. It was so difficult to make a choice, so I told the waitress to surprise us with some appetizers. Fried Feta cheese, fresh green beans, fried flowers of the Courgette, some nice yoghurt, calamari and octopus came to the table. The food was delicious; it was so fresh and tasteful. I was happy I did not order any main dish; everything I ate was so satisfying that if I would have continued, it would not have been possible to appreciate the rest of the food.