The Traditional Village of Vatousa

Vatousa is one of the five villages of Lesvos whose identity as a traditional village is protected by law. The village was first settled in the 10th century and probably takes it's name from the word meaning ‘area rich in berries', or perhaps according to another interpretation from a word which means "the accessible one".

The visitor to the village will immediately notice and admire the architectural features which have gained  protected status. The stone-paved streets and walls and the impressive stone houses with ceramic-tiled roofs provide a link to the past which will remain permanent. The people of Vatousa follow informal conventions which enhance it's unique local character, retaining the flora of their gardens and general surroundings in fine condition, adding more character to the village in a tasteful and authentic way. This suggests that village life within Vatousa is also respectful of tradition as the activity in the central square might make evident. Vatousa is profoundly traditional without being self-consciously antiquated or quaint.

The Gogos Mansion and Museum

There is much to see in the village but the visitor should not neglect to visit the Gogos Mansion, whose particular placement makes it a dominant structure in the village, and whose nineteenth century neoclassical style matches certain of the Mytilini mansions of the same period. The building is maintained by the Vatousans as a small museum and has become a tourist attraction. It houses a library of two rare collections, a museum of local arts and crafts, a lending library, and an exhibit of photographs which document past life in Vatoussa and includes a partial record of Vatousa's emigres to other parts of the world. The Gogos Mansion also includes bound volumes of a newspaper devoted to Vatoussa's concerns, The Pulse of Vatousa, edited and published in Athens by Yannis Manoukos and the Society of All Vatousans.

Of particular interest within the village are Vatousa's two churches. The older of the two, The Church of the Archangels, dates from 1832 and is a three-aisled basilica, a construction reminiscent of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and common to the Eastern Aegean. The interior of the church is decorated with folk art. The church itself is located in the village cemetery which has unusual vaulted tombs still in use. In a corner of the cemetery are two buildings, one old and the other new, where wooden boxes contain the remains of the village deceased.

The more recent church, The Central Church of the Dormition of the Virgin, was built in 1850 of hand hewn stone and is of the same style. The iconostasis of carved wood contains fine examples of post-Byzantine iconography. In the church courtyard there is an ecclesiastical museum which houses some interesting Byzantine relics. Also noteworthy in the platia is the bell tower which can give you a vantage point of the entire lower village and the valley, hills and mountains beyond. Depending upon when you look at it, this clock tells the correct time and it's bell strikes loud and dramatically on the hour and half hour and can be quite startling if you are standing next to them enjoying the view.  You will also notice the small cathedral for the more spiritual birds of the village built on the wall of the church.

Two more buildings are worthy of attention. One is the old Finishing School for Young Women, unique in it's time which today serves as a hostel. The other is the once-renowned Vatoussa School for Boys, near the cemetery, in use today as an elementary school.

The upper part of the village has a cobblers shop, two barber shops, and three cafes which are no less traditional and still very much in operation. Ouzo is still served in the traditional way, with mezedes, small snacks that lessen the effects of the alcohol, providing a sense of well-being rather then drunkenness. They also serve meals from an unwritten menu that varies from day to day but is always delicious. Tryphon's, shown here, is a popular meeting place in the morning when the men drink coffee and watch for the fresh produce trucks that make the rounds through the villages selling fish, fruits and vegetables.  He is famous for his cooking, much of which is done by his wife at home and then brought to the cafe before lunch. The view of the valley from the very large window is spectular and the interior remains untouched and looks as it has for a hundred years. Across the street is another cafeneon where Michali and his father, who also own the woodworking shop next door,  serve excellent mezedes. Though the cafe itself has a somewhat more modern look to it, the atmosphere is still very traditional, despite the occasional World Cup match or basketball game being shown on TV.

The barbers practice an art that  has a has been lost in modern society, using a straight razor and traditional barbers methods with a sensitivity that is rare. A simple shave can be a relaxing, thoughtful and enlightening experience that may make you want to change your grooming habits forever. A shave costs around a dollar. A haircut may cost you as much as two dollars and a shave and haircut together will cost almost three. The barbershop is a popular place to get the news of the village as well as what goes on in the world outside.

There are several shops in the upper village including two ‘super-markets' which are actually small food stores, a ‘pandapoleion' which means literally ‘store that sells everything'. A visit to this store will reveal products that may have have been sold in this shop and others like it for a hundred years. There is a butcher shop that sells fresh meat including beef, chicken, pork, sheep and goat. The butcher uses a giant chopping block which is actually the trunk of a tree.

Most of the fresh produce and fish is sold off trucks that go from village to village. While the vegetable and fruit trucks pass through town several times a day, the fish trucks are less frequent and sometimes seem to have made Vatousa the last stop. This is because the villagers are known for being tough customers who are more likely to gather around the truck and make jokes about the fish then they are to buy any. Even so when a truck arrives with fresh sardeles, kolios or gopa, Tryphon is quick to buy and a few minutes later, fried in olive oils it appears on a customer's plate.

There are two bread shops in the village including the small one on the steps leading up from the main platia which sells traditional bread, baked in traditional methods in an oven heated by wood. The villagers buy their bread through the window, as well as tiropitas(cheese pies), paxemadia (a hard bread that is softened in water or milk) and koulourakia(donut shaped bread). The second bread shop is located on the street behind the main church in a basement under Mario and Michali's Supermarket. The bakery is so small and the large oven takes up so much space that the upper part of the door remains open not only so people can purchase their bread from outside the store (which can get very hot) but so the baker has room to work without the giant wooden spatula hitting walls and windows.

The upper platia is worth a trip just by itself. Shaded by a remarkable Platanos tree which actually has a very large fig tree growing out of the middle of it, this is indeed a miracle of nature. These trees are home to families of owls. In the early summer many of the young fall from their nest and land in the platia where they are rescued by locals and cared for until they are old enough to fly away and care for themselves. In the evenings you can hear them sing back and forth to each other, with their distinctive cries.

In between the two cafeneons is one of the most interesting peripteros in all of Greece. From this little rectangular free standing store, Mr. Vassilis sells cigarettes and other neccessities of village life until the late evening when he retrieves his donkey and makes his way up the mountain to his house at the top of the village. Many of the men who own shops or have day jobs, wake up early to tend to their flocks, fields and gardens before coming to work in what is known as the agora or marketplace.

In the lower platia on the main road between Erressos and Mytilini there is the remains of a Turkish Hania, or guest house that is currently being restored and will be re-opened. This building overlooks the tiny square which is a popular gathering place for people not only from Vatoussa, but the other nearby villages of Pterounda, Remma, and Xidera. One might attribute the popularity of the area to the fact that it is one of the few places in the village where there is actually room to park a car or two.

There are two restaurants including Michali's which is a meeting place bringing together the villagers and travelers on the main road. Open all day long and late into the evening, he serves delicious grilled meats and vegetable dishes all cooked by his mother and served by his family. Like the traditional cafeneons above he also serves ouzo and mezedes by the glass or the carafe.

Among the different trades practiced by the people of Vatousa there are carpenters, various types of stone masons, electricians, farmers, shephards, a butcher, shop owners and a priest or two. There are many old people who have returned after living abroad and now spend their days farming or talking in the cafeneons. Others have been here since birth. There are also many Athenians who originally came from the village and now return for summer holidays making it a very festive time.

Vatoussa is the birthplace of many prominent persons among whom the Archimandrate Gregorios Gogos who was a theologian, Ioannis Taxis, a professor of Greek and Philosophy at the school of Halki and Antonios Harilos, a professor of Greek at the Greek Academy of Constantinople, were notable scholars. Also born in Vatousa was Ignatios Ekonomides who in the beginning of the 20th century was bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in Erseka (Albania) and who later became the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Iakovos Anastasiades, was the highly respected director of the aforementioned School for boys. His children also distinguished themselves as journalists. Doros Doris (Theodore Theodorides), a multi-talented writer and musician is best known as a surrealist poet of the literary period called ‘the Lesbian Spring' and published the first newspaper on the island. Not least of course there is movie producer James Paris (Dimitris Paraschakis) whose father taught school in Vatousa and has been among the villages most important benefactors.

Current inhabitants of the village include the famous Dramatic Soprano Ioanna Sfekas-Karvelas whose arias can be heard each morning while she practices from her home near the upper platia.

Vatousans are proud of their heritage and of the traditional identity of their village which they are determined to respect and to retain. They extend a hearty welcome to others who appreciate this tradition, to come and visit.

If you have not done so already visit these pages too:

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