The Chairs of Molyvos – Lesbos, Greece

The Greek town of Molyvos takes your breath away the first time you see it. With a preserved medieval castle at the top, the town seems to rise up into to the skies from its position on the northern coast of the island of Lesbos.


Molyvos radiates compactness, the way its houses cling to each other and to the hillside, two- and three-storied houses built of unhewn stone, a few of them sporting an upper story of wood. Window frames and shutters are usually claret-colored, matching the stone walls and the pale red tiles of the characteristically pointed roofs. Being a cultural heritage site is flattering, so every house is painstakingly kept up and nurtured. Methymna, the ancient name of the town, is still used sporadically.

Aware that Molyvos is a popular resort for artists, I expect to see painters immortalizing local scenes, but there are no painters in the streets, and the cafes are stripped of absent-minded poets. All I see is tourists, particularly down at the harbor. Things have really changed since I was here years ago, long before Molyvos became the leading holiday destination of Lesbos. It was a short stop, only a few hours. I still remember, though, the quiet harmony of the little fishing harbor.

Invaded by Chairs

Nowadays, the harbor is occupied by chairs and tables. If you are out and around at night, you have to run the gauntlet between encroaching menu stands and cafe chairs. At the last count, this small spot was the home of no less than eleven cafes and taverns. By means of gigantic canopies, the owners have nearly turned the harbor into one big sitting room.

Atmospheric Harbor
Atmospheric Harbor

I eat dinner at Kozmaz the first night, because I hear Greek voices among its customers, a sign of good food. While waiting for my swordfish, I’m bewitched by the illuminated castle high above, Kastro, where the holes in the walls must have been intended for cannons. I soon dream of bombing the harbor back to its former peace and quiet. Just getting rid of the chairs and tables along the water would make it possible to move about freely.

The next morning, I’m determined to visit the castle to find out whether it can be used in an attack on the hampering furniture. I start near the bus terminal, at the tourist office, not yet open, as the elderly employee – whom I name Cleopatra – has office hours from nine. I asked her yesterday about the population of Molyvos, but she had no idea and waved me away irritably, looking to heaven with her huge eyes, heavily rimmed in black.

Intrusive Turks

A road sign, Agora Center, guarantees that I will pass through the shopping area on my way uphill. Two energetic garbage men are clearing the narrow street, fortunately leaving behind the smell of freshly baked bread. Just as I bought myself a soft roll with raisins, I meet an old woman, dressed in black, busy hanging up her selection of war toys outside her shop, as if she had read my mind. Being out of cannons, she offers me a Powerful Machine Gun, with which I could easily gun down rickety chairs.

View from the Castle
View from the Castle

The castle is already open and the flag hoisted. Apart from a chained dog, there is not a living soul around, not even in the ticket office. Stretching out my arm, I can almost touch the coast of Turkey with my fingertips. The Turks were last in Molyvos in 1912, and should they attack again, then I’m the only one here to fight them at the moment. An army of olive trees, possibly camouflaged Turkish soldiers, covers the bottom of the valley.

After coming to terms with the Turks, I go for a walk on the wall, on the brink of the precipice. In the background, a dark narrow beach stretches on, caressed by lazy, elegantly foaming swells. All the roofs far below, with not one single tile askew, rest close to each other. To reach the part of the wall facing the harbor, I need to cross a broad stage, in front of which there are rows of benches for a large audience.

Another Way of Life

The benches are really uncomfortable. Tavern chairs with cane seats would be better, so instead of wiping out the chairs, it might be an idea to carry them off to the castle. I could set them out in rows, with exactly the same number in each, and then suggest to Cleopatra that she and I invite the whole town to a musical evening in the castle. Everybody will be there, and the minute people have seated themselves, we shall estimate the population of Molyvos, practical for both of us to know – simply by counting the rows of occupied seats and multiplying by the constant number of seats per row! Simple as that.

As I eventually do face the harbor, I give up my ingenious plans. It’s so peaceful and beautiful, and in the daytime lots of chairs and tables have been piled up, allowing the fishermen to access their boats. Their way of life, plain and idyllic, is probably the reason why all of us insist on having dinner by the sea, surrounded by the fishermen’s boats and stumbling over their nets and empty fish crates. We wish to get as close as possible to that way of life – smell it, taste it and for a while pretend it is our own.