I don’t think a king has set foot on the island of Lesvos since the time of Alexander the Great. But, there has been a queen: in 2008 Queen Sofia of Spain came unexpectedly to Molyvos on a shopping spree. The Byzantine Empress Irene was banished to the island, only to die here in 803 and the ex American president Bush senior liked to hang out as a tourist on the island. And now a real king is coming.
In ancient times Lesvos was divided in different kingdoms. The very first king of Lesvos was the mythological Makaras, one of the five sons of the Sun and goddess Rhodes. He and three of his brothers killed their fifth sibling, because they were jealous of his intelligence, after which they had to flee Rhodes. That is how Makaras came to Lesvos which he made his kingdom and for each of his children he built a city: Eressos for his son and Mithymna, Mytilini, Pyrrha, Issa and Arisvi for his daughters
Then there was Epopeus. This King of Lesvos was not a great example for his people: he slept with his daughter who only realised after the event that she had shared the bed with her father. She fled into the woods, where the Goddess Minerva pitied her and changed her into an owl.
Then there was the poor King Peisidikis of Mithymna. His daughter felt helplessly in love with Achilles when he besieged the city. She gave him the key of the gates of the city so that this hero from the Trojan war could easily walk inside. Instead of thanking her Achilles punished her treacherous deed by throwing her off the city walls into the sea.
There were more of those kings, but in 88 BC the Romans ended all kingdoms on the island. Later barbarians conquered the island, no longer worth a crown and even the members of the Gatilusia family, that ruled the island from 1355 to 1462, were more pirates than kings. The Byzantines had emperors and the Ottoman had sultans on embroidered mules (all too mighty to visit poor Lesvos). There exists a photograph of a group of high military boarding the quays of Mytilini harbour in 1913, when the island was just liberated, but there is no proof that the Greek King Konstantinos I was amongst them.
Now it is a modern royal couple that’s coming: King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands. They have been invited by the president of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Willem-Alexander and Máxima will first complete a busy program of two days in Athens, and on March 18, spend a whole day on the island.
Since the refugee crisis in 2015 Lesvos has become accustomed to welcoming celebrities like movie star Susan Sarandon or the artist Ai Wei Wei. Pope Francis even visited Lesvos last December (his second visit). All those famous people came for the refugees and the NGO’s.
Willem-Alexander and Máxima however do not come only for that reason, but will also visit the Aegean University in the afternoon, talking to people that work on the subject of durability and innovation.
In my dreams, I would like to take Willem-Alexander and Máxima out for a day on a jeep tour, up into the mountains with their waterfalls and their mysterious valleys and sparkling views over the island. They could see the thousands of flowers like wild orchids that will soon decorate the island. I would love to take them to a small tavern by the sea, where the fish jump straight onto your plate and the vegetables come fresh from the garden. I would drive along the salt pans to show them the pink flamingos and other birds that make the island so special.
But I would also show them some hot springs, closed now due to European rules, or show them the restaurants and hotels, closed due to the crisis. I will point out to them the wooden fishing boats in some small harbours, becoming rarer and next to extinction, again because of European laws and I will most certainly take them to visit the people in Skala Eresos who are protesting against the building of a hotel on the beautiful beach.
But I’ll also show them the newest sensational finds of petrified trees, because Lesvos has so much more to offer than just refugees. But the Royal Couple is on a state visit and not a vacation: they have to visit especially the less nice sides of the island and I suppose it is a bonus that they will visit the university, where work takes place for the future. I hope in between the official program their hostess will tell them about the other Lesvos, where life continues without fuss, much like in a royal paradise.