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Lesvos the Magaluf of ancient Greece

- by Dabs Banner

The Greek holiday island of Lesvos was once the 'Magaluf' of ancient Greece, famous for sex tourism and the exotic beauty of its women, according to a new BBC TV documentary.

Known today for its links with links with lesbian women and the female poet Sappho – there is even an annual women's festival on the island – it was once a sex playground for Greek men who flocked there in their thousands.

In a new BBC documentary to be screened on BBC Four on May 6, former 'Apprentice' star Margaret Mountford will discover that the north Aegean island of Lesvos was once the ancient the capital of sex tourism in the Greek world.

Professor Edith Hall from King's College London tells the programme that Lesvos once had a widespread reputation for the beauty of its women.

She says: "Lesbos had a very particular reputation for producing very beautiful women. They really were supposed to be the sexiest people in the entire Greek world."

The Greek island's close links with Turkey and the east is thought to have added to the sexual allure of the women of Lesvos whose local accent would have added to their exotic appeal.

The programme goes on to examine the life of Sappho, the ancient Greek female poet who lived on the island around 600 BC.

Although the bulk of her poetry – much admired in ancient times – has been lost, the surviving lines, often declarations of love for other women, has meant that her reputation has lived on and the name of the island linked to lesbians.

Lesvos is still a favourite holiday spot for modern-day lesbians, with an annual festival to celebrate women held every summer around the south coast beach resort of Skala Eressos.

In 2008, local lost a legal battle to ban the festival and to outlaw the use of the word 'lesbian' to describe gay women, arguing that the term violated their human rights and brought 'disgrace' to the island around the world.

Lesbos is called Lesvos by the Greeks as the Greek letter for 'b' is pronounced 'v'. The island lies in the north-eastern Aegean islands close to the Turkish mainland.

Also often named after its capital town of Mytilini, Lesvos is relatively isolated from other Greek islands with the nearest ibeing Chios to the south and Lemnos to the north.

Lesvos is the third largest of the Greek islands and being off the beaten track as far as the main Greek island holiday market is concerned it has managed to maintain a traditional small Greek island atmosphere.

With an international airport that takes regular holiday charter flights, tourism has always been an important but not dominant industry on the island.

The production of award-winning olive oil and its trademark ouzo are two of the island's most important exports. The island's hot springs have also triggered a growth in health tourism in recent years.

Lesvos is also noted for its flora and fauna with birdwatchers flocking to the island every year to photograph the birds that rest on the island lagoons in the migration season.

Lesvos is also famed for its petrified forest at near Sigri, now classed as a World Heritage Site. The forest was formed when Mount Ordymnos erupted and submerged the trees in ash around 20million years ago.

Sappho: Love And Life On Lesbos, with Margaret Mountford will be shown on BBC Fouron May 6.