“The ancient trees of Lesvos were submerged in a sea of volcanic material in an eruption in the Northern Aegean 20 million years ago”
The Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark, former Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark, is a founding member of the Geoparks Network that brings visitors to an ancient forest preserved by a massive volcanic eruption 20 million years ago.
Lesvos with an area of 1.636 km2 and 370 km of coastline is the third largest Greek island, and the seventh largest in the Mediterranean. Lesvos is located in the NE Aegean Sea close to the coast of Asia Minor. The island has two major gulfs those of Gera and Kalloni. Its highest mountains are Lepetymnos and Olympus and the largest part of the eastern and central part of the island belongs to Natura 2000 Network.
Lesvos belongs to the Pelagonian geotectonic zone of Greece which represents fragments of the Cimmerian Continent. Τhe geological structure of Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark is composed of the Metamorphic basement, the nappe of the ophiolitic sequence, the Miocene postalpine volcanics, the Neogene marine and lacustrine deposits.
The Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark features rare and impressive fossilised tree-trunks. Formed some 15 to 20 million years ago, due to intense volcanic activity, the trees were covered by lava, ashes and other materials that were spewed into the atmosphere. Heavy rainfalls soon followed and saturated the ashes, thus creating huge mudflows of pyroclastic material. These flows moved from east to west with considerable speed and engulfed the trees that covered the western part of Lesvos at that time. Today some of the trunks can still be seen in their upright position with intact roots of up to seven metres, while others are found in a fallen position measuring up to 20 metres. The forest comprised enormous trees similar to those of the Sequoia family found today in North America - as well as pines, oaks, conifers and cinnamon trees. The fossilised trunks have retained fine details of their bark and their interior reveals a great variety of colours. Not only ancient trees were fossilised but an entire ecosystem as well. Branches, fruits and leaves have also been preserved. The Greek state recognised the major environmental, geological and palaeontological value of the area and declared the Petrified Forest to be a preserved Natural Monument (Presidential Decree 443/85).
Moreover in the area of Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark there are findings of the oldest known land mammal (Prodeinotherium bavaricum) 19 million years ago in Greece, impressive fossils of animals that lived on Lesvos 2 million years ago, numerous volcanic sites and thermal springs witnesses of the intense volcanic activity (21.5-16.2 million years ago), faults and landscapes created from tectonism, caves and karstic structures, erosional forms and waterfalls as well as impressive coastal landforms.
The population of the island is 85.410 inhabitants (2011 census) a third of which lives in its capital, Mytilene, in the southeastern part of the Island. Mytilene is also the administrative center of the North Aegean Prefecture and it is the seat for the General Secretary of the Aegean & Naval Policy and for the University of the Aegean.
The local economy of the island is based on agriculture with an emphasis on olive oil production, cattle-raising and fishing. Distillery is developed and its main product is the world famous ouzo. An important component of the Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark management plan is the support of the local economy. Several opportunities have been created through Geoparks activities for tourist enterprises, small hotels, guest houses, restaurants, and other enterprises such as local handicrafts artisans. It is worth to be mentioned that Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark collaborates closely with women’s agrotourism cooperatives and every summer organizes an agrotourism festival, which promotes high-quality local products, food, and drinks prepared by the women’s cooperatives.
The park includes the Natural History Museum in Sigri that offers visitors a better understanding of the geological evolution of the Aegean Sea, together with a variety of original exhibits. Special guided tours of the area and educational programmes for students can also be organised. Educational activities lie at the core of the UNESCO Global Geopark’s operations. Environmental education programs organized for elementary and high school students in Lesvos Island UNESCO Global Geopark cover a broad range of activities such as fossil excavation and conservation, nature observation, and bird watching. School visits are organized all year round, contributing to the local economy through the development of educational geotourism. Educational activities for local schools help raise the awareness of the local inhabitants as to the importance of the natural monuments and the conservation of the earth’s heritage.