1The Aegean area is classified as one of the most active regions of the Earth’s surface due to its intense tectonic activity. Examples of important geomorphological, geological and palaeontological sites associated with numerous geological phenomena and processes can be seen throughout the Aegean region: volcanoes, narrow valleys and gorges, caves and other karstic landforms, rare rocks and minerals, thermal springs and geothermal fields, major fossil sites, large geological faults, ore mines, stone quarries and spectacular landscapes. Geomorphological, geological and palaeontological sites having a monumental character can be defined as natural monuments. Such sites, besides their scientific and educational importance, are areas of natural beauty. Combining and promoting the geomorphological and geological heritage, together with the ecological and cultural dimensions of a visit in the area, could undoubtedly offer numerous benefits for the development of alternative forms of geotourism.
2Although several attempts were made during the past decade in order to draw up a national inventory of geosites, no official inventory exists in Greece as yet. The first attempt was made by the Greek Institute of Geology and Mining Research (IGME) and a list of 50 geosites was submitted to the Ministry of Culture, but without further result. In 1985, the first site, the Petrified forest of Lesvos, initially protected for its geological characteristics, was declared a protected natural monument (Presidential Decree 433/ 1985). In 1986, the Environmental Protection Law was adopted, which refers also to the protection of abiotic components of Nature.
3Following international initiatives (Martini, 1993; O’Halloran et al., 1994), a working group for the protection of the geological heritage in Greece was formed in 1995 by IGME and was enlarged with the contribution of scientists from the universities and other institutions. Since then several initiatives have been taken for protecting and promoting important geological and geomorphological sites. In the frame of the Geosites project, an International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) initiative for the inventory and compilation of the global geosites list, a geosites framework list for South Eastern European countries was prepared (Theodosiou-Drandaki et al., 2003).
4In 1998, the Natural History Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest, in collaboration with the Departments of Geology of the Universities of Athens and Thessaloniki and the Department of Geography of the University of the Aegean, started a new effort for the selection and assessment of geomorphological and geological sites in the broad Aegean area, in the frame of a project financed by the Ministry of the Aegean. The result was the creation of the Atlas of the geological monuments of the Aegean (Velitzelos et al., 2003; Zouros et al., 2004).
5The main objectives of this paper are to present the current situation in terms of identification of monumental geosites in the broader Aegean area (including islands and a broad coastal zone) and the results of the geosite management on Lesvos island.
6During the last decade several international initiatives were established aiming at protecting, promoting, and rationally managing geosites through the creation of geoparks. The geopark concept was developed mainly in Europe in cooperation with UNESCO (Eder and Patzak, 2004). According to a UNESCO recommendation “the potential of geoparks is to be used as a basis for enhancing the promotion of geological heritage in order to educate the public at large in geological sciences and in environmental matters; ensure sustainable development (geotourism); and protect endangered geological heritage sites for future generations” (UNESCO, 2004).
7In June 2000, four European territories presenting a particular geological and geomorphological heritage, among them the Petrified Forest of Lesvos, created the European Geoparks Network. The main objective was to cooperate in protecting the geological heritage and promoting a sustainable development of their territories through geotourism (Zouros, 2004). In 2004 the network, operated with the support of UNESCO, has expanded to include 21 territories across eight European countries. These Geopark authorities have endeavoured to identify and protect geosites throughout their territory. Geosites are interlinked by a network of walking trails, benefit from protection and management measures (fencing, preservation, etc.), and are used for the interpretation of the geological history of each territory. In February 2004, UNESCO established the Global Network of Geoparks. Based on the evaluation of the existing geoparks, the International Advisory Group of Experts decided to include at that time the existing 17 European Geoparks and 8 Chinese Geoparks in the Global UNESCO Network of Geoparks (Eder and Patzak, 2004; Zouros, 2004).
8The main goals of the Aegean project were to produce a list of typical geomorphological and geological sites exhibiting a monumental character, which should highlight the geomorphological and geological wealth of the Aegean area and help to draw comparisons among different landscapes of the Aegean islands that share similar geological histories. An inventory of 317 geosites was created, taking into account the main scientific bibliography and following cartographic analysis, remote sensing, ground survey, and mapping. The above-mentioned geosites were selected and categorised into 13 main thematic classes based on the specific characteristic of the study area and on similar categorisation in the international literature (Ellis et al., 1996; Glasser, 2001; Gray, 2004).
9Subsequently, an evaluation process was performed to assign a geomorphological and geological value to all sites in each of the above categories. This evaluation process was based on the following criteria: 1) scientific and educational value (integrity, rarity, representativeness, and exemplarity); 2) natural beauty and aesthetic value; 3) cultural interest; 4) geodiversity; 5) potential threats and protection needs (legal protection, vulnerability); and 6) potential for use (recognizability, geographical distribution, accessibility, and potential for generating economic activities).
10The incorporation of criterion 1 in the evaluation process was performed by assigning a numerical value (within a range 40-4) based on the integrity (10-1), rarity (10-1), representativeness (10-1), and exemplarity (10-1) of each site. Criteria 2 and 3 were incorporated by assigning a maximum (10) or minimum value (1) based on their designation or lack of designation by the national or regional legislation as a landscape of outstanding natural beauty or cultural landscape. A numerical value (10-1) was assigned to criterion 4 based on the number of geological and geomorphological phenomena that appear in each site. Criterion 5 was taken into account by assigning a value of 5 or 1 for the existence of legal protection or its absence, respectively. Similarly the presence and the magnitude of potential threats were taken into account by assigning a value from 5 to 1. A numerical value (20-1) was assigned for criterion 6 based on the recognisability, geographical distribution, accessibility, and potential for generating economic activities of each site.
11The monuments were classified in 5 groups: international, European, national, regional, and local according to the importance of the site. Table 1 presents the most important monumental geosites in the Aegean area. The publication of the “Atlas of the geological monuments of the Aegean” (Velitzelos et al., 2003) is the first attempt towards the recognition of all geomorphological and geological sites by the local authorities, inhabitants and visitors of the area. It will help the public to understand the richness of our natural heritage and the complex processes, which create the unique Aegean landscapes. It will also help the local society to understand the immense value of the natural environment of the Aegean and to raise awareness for its protection.
12The presentation of the sites was made in three different map scales, one map (scale 1:1,000,000) that covers the whole area with location of the geological monuments, 9 maps (scale 1:500,000) covering the continental coastal area and the islands Euboea and Crete, and 32 maps (scale 1:250,000) that cover all the other islands of the Aegean. Sixteen special pictograms representing different categories of geological monuments were designed in order to replace the classical geometric symbols, to mark the location of the monuments in the maps. Digital elevation models were used in order to create the 3D topographical background of the maps instead of the classical contour lines. All sites are illustrated with spectacular photographs (photos 1 and 2).
Photo 1 – An impressive volcanic geosite in the Aegean sea.
Photo 1 – Un géosite volcanique impressionnant de la région de la mer Egée.
Santorini caldera, formed by a catastrophic eruption 3600 years ago, which demolished a large part of the volcano. The multicoloured layers of pyroclastics, lavas and pumice deposits resulted from the successive eruptions during the last 2,5 million years built up of the caldera margins.
La caldeira de l’île de Santorin a été formée par une éruption catastrophique ayant provoqué la démolition d’une grande partie du volcan il y a 3600 ans. Les couches aux couleurs variées de pyroclastes, de laves et de ponces déposées au cours d’éruptions successives durant 2,5 millions d’années ont construit les bords de la caldeira.
Photo 2 – Mushroom rock in pyroclastic rocks of Kimolos Island due to wind erosion.
Photo 2 – Rocher-champignon dû à la corrasion éolienne de matériaux pyroclastiques sur l’île de Kimolos.
13The Island of Lesvos is located in the NE of the Aegean Sea and covers an area of 1630 km2. Neogene volcanic rocks dominate the central and western part of the island. Lesvos is part of a belt of late Oligocene to middle Miocene calc-alcaline to shoshonitic volcanism of the northern and central Aegean Sea and western Anatolia. In the central part of the island a series of volcanic centres is located along a SW-NE direction. The main volcanic sequence consists of andesite, dacite, and basalt lavas, ignimbrites, and a thick pyroclastic sequence (Pe-Piper and Piper, 2002), that are connected with the development of the Lesvos petrified forest. Associated with volcanic rock formations on the western part of the island, hundreds of standing and lying fossilised tree trunks occur (photo 3). The fossil sites comprise the well-known “Petrified Forest of Lesvos” over an area of 15,000 ha. Early Miocene volcanic eruptions resulted in the flow of pyroclastic material that covered the trunks, branches, fruits and leaves of the trees. The isolation of the plant fibbers from external conditions and the ensuing intense hydrothermic circulation allowed for the perfect silicification of the plants. Palaeobotanical studies show that the floral composition of the early Miocene forest was dominated by angiosperms and gymnosperms (conifers) and had a low proportion of pteridophytes (ferns) (Suss and Velitzelos, 1993, 1994; Velitzelos and Zouros, 1998, 2000).
Photo 3 – Typical standing petrified trunk of a conifer Taxodioxylon gypsaceum in the Petrified Forest Park, in Lesvos Island.
Photo 3 – Tronc typique pétrifié sur pied d’un conifère de l’espèce Taxodioxylon gypsaceum dans le Parc de la Forêt Pétrifiée sur l’île de Lesvos.
Erosional processes of the pyroclastic rocks along Tsichliontas river valley uncover hundreds of standing and lying petrified tree trunks, buried in situ after a volcanic eruption during early Miocene times.
L’érosion des dépôts pyroclastiques par la rivière de Tsichliontas met à jour des centaines de troncs d’arbres pétrifiés sur pied ou tombés à terre, qui ont été enterrés in situ lors d’une éruption volcanique au début du Miocène.
14A research study and field survey on Lesvos, carried out by the Natural History Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest and the Department of Geography of the University of the Aegean, has been aimed at better understanding the geological evolution of the island and the origin of the petrified forest. A number of geosites was identified, assessed, and mapped using the same methodology as in the Aegean inventory. A new geosite map of the Lesvos island was published (fig. 1). Geosites within the Lesvos petrified forest geopark in the volcanic terrains of Lesvos, apart from the fossil sites, include the volcanic calderas of Lepetymnos, Vatousa and Agra, volcanic structures like the Pelopi columnar lavas (photo 4), the Petra volcanic neck (photo 5), the Filia veins, the Ipsilou and Messotopos domes, the Eressos laccoliths, and impressive volcanic landscapes like those formed by the Polichnitos ignimbrite formation in Achladeri and Antissa areas. Most of them are observable due to the erosion.
Fig. 1 – Geosites in Lesvos Island.
Fig. 1 – Géosites de l’Île de Lesvos.
1: Petrified Forest park; 2: Nissiopi park; 3: Sigri park; 4: Plaka park; 5: Skamiouda park; 6: Antissa fossiliferous site (=f.s.); 7: Mesotopos f.s.; 8: Eressos f.s.; 9: Rougada f.s.; 10: Molyvos-Petra f.s.; 11: Lapsarna f.s.; 12: Chamandroula f.s.; 13: Gavathas f.s.; 14: Vatera f.s.; 15: Metohi f.s.; 16: Akrohiras f.s.; 17: Mavros Lofos f.s.; 18: Sarakina f.s. 19: Lepetymnos Caldera; 20: Vatoussa Caldera; 21: Agra Caldera; 22: Mesotopos Dome; 23: Ipsilou Dome; 24: Petra Volcanic Neck; 25: Panagia Columnar Lavas; 26: Alifada Vein; 27: Filia Vein; 28: Anemotia Columnar Lavas; 29: Eressos Dome; 30: Pelopi Columnar Lavas; 31: Molyvos Columnar Lavas; 32: Achladeri Ignimbrites; 33: Gera hot springs; 34: Thermi hot springs; 35: Lisvori hot springs; 36: Polichnitos hot springs; 37: Argenos hot springs; 38: Eftalou hot springs; 39: Vatoussa Spheroidal Erosional landforms; 40: Lapsarna Cliffs; 41: Voulgaris Gorge; 42: Antissa Cave; 43: Taxiarhon Cave; 44: Mihos Cave; 45: Alifada Cave; 46: Faneromeni Folds; 47: Gera Gulf Fault; 48: Larsos Fault; 49: Agia Paraskevi Fault; 50: Olympos Tectonic Window; 51: Vatera Fault; 52: Moria Ancient Quarry; 53: N.Lesvos Mines; 54: Magnesite Mines.
1: parc de la Forêt pétrifiée; 2: parc Nissiopi; 3: parc Sigri; 4: parc Plaka; 5: parc Skamiouda; 6: site fossilifère d’Antissa; 7: site fossilifère de Mesotopos; 8: site fossilifère d’Eressos; 9: site fossilifère de Rougada; 10: site fossilifère de Molyvos-Petra; 11: site fossilifère de Lapsarna; 12: site fossilifère de Chamandroula; 13: site fossilifère de Gavathas; 14: site fossilifère de Vatera; 15: site fossilifère de Metohi; 16: site fossilifère d’Akrohiras; 17: site fossilifère de Mavros Lofos; 18: site fossilifère de Sarakina 19: caldeira de Lepetymnos; 20: caldeira de Vatoussa; 21: caldeira d’Agra; 22: dôme de Mesotopos; 23: dôme d’Ipsilou; 24: neck volcanique de Petra; 25: orgues basaltiques de Panagia; 26: dyke d’Alifada; 27: dyke de Filia; 28: orgues basaltiques d’Anemotia; 29: dôme d’Eressos; 30: orgues basaltiques de Pelopi; 31: orgues basaltiques de Molyvos; 32: ignimbrites d’Achladeri; 33: source thermale de Gera; 34: source thermale de Thermi; 35: source thermale de Lisvori; 36: source thermale de Polichnitos; 37: source thermale de Argenos; 38: source thermale d’Eftalou; 39: formes d’érosion sphériques de Vatoussa; 40: falaises de Lapsarna; 41: gorges de Voulgaris; 42: grotte d’Antissa; 43: grotte de Taxiarhon; 44: grotte de Mihos; 45: grotte d’Alifada; 46: plis de Faneromeni; 47: faille du golfe de Gera; 48: faille de Larsos; 49: faille d’Agia Paraskevi; 50: fenêtre tectonique d’Olympos; 51: faille de Vatera; 52: ancienne carrière de Moria; 53: mines du nord de Lesvos; 54: mines de magnésite.
Photo 4 – Columnar lavas of Pelopi due to fast cooling of the intruded lava into softer pyroclastic material on the Lepetymnos volcano flank, Lesvos Island.
Photo 4 – Orgues basaltiques de Pelopi formées en raison du refroidissement rapide d’intrusions de lave dans des matériaux pyroclastiques tendres sur les flancs du volcan de Leptymnos sur l’île de Lesvos.
Subsequent erosion has left the resident dyke standing as an abrupt natural wall.
L’érosion a dégagé le dyke, formant un mur naturel.
Photo 5 – Volcanic neck of Petra rises abruptly above the surrounding land on Lesvos Island.
Photo 5 – Le neck volcanique de Petra s’élève abruptement au-dessus du niveau de la terre dans l’île de Lesvos.
Milenia of erosion removed the less resistant material that made up the cone, leaving the harder, andecitic lava choked neck as a conspicuous remnant.
L’érosion a emporté les matériaux peu résistants formant le cône pour ne conserver que les andésites de la cheminée volcanique, créant ainsi un neck.
15Other geosites represent active and evolving geomorphological landforms, including tectonically active fault scarps, geothermal fields, karst and caves, and coastal and fluvial landforms. Such geosites are the Larsos Sand kamiouda fault scarps, Gavathas fault and Nisiopi fault system, impressive gorges like those of the Voulgaris and Tsichliontas rivers, deltas and wetlands like those formed by the Tsiknias and Tsichliontas rivers, the Antissa cave which is connected with the legend of Opheas, the Lapsarna coastal high cliffs, and the hot springs of Polychnitos, Geras, Efthalou and Argenos. Along the north-western coast of the island intense erosional processes uncovered the basement of the island, which is considered as a probable remnant of the Cimmerian continent (Mountrakis, 1986; Katsikatsos et al., 1986; Papanikolaou, 1989) composed by a Permo-triassic rock sequence including micaschists, quartzites, metasandstones, phyllites and carbonates as well as remnants of a Tethyan ophiolithic nappe. Several stratigraphic geosites show the relations between the different stratigraphic units (alpine basement and post alpine volcanics) in Sigri, Faneromeni, Lapsarna and Gavathas sites.
16Aiming at protecting and efficiently managing the petrified forest, the Natural History Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest was founded in 1994. It is a non-profit organisation and defines the management structure of the Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark. Its seven-member board encompasses representatives of the central government, the local authorities, universities and the local community. Its scientific, technical and administrative staff includes 8 permanent and 25 temporary employees. The Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark comprises a core zone (15,000 hectares of the petrified forest protected area) and a broad buffer zone (more than 20,000 hectares of the central volcanic terrains).
17A strategic plan for the sustainable development of the area has been carried out by the Lesvos Geopark in order to link the protection and promotion of geosites with the development of geotourism. This plan takes into consideration the results of the research and excavations in the petrified forest area, the presence of important geosites (i.e. volcanic structures, domes, craters, and thermal springs) and biological reserves, the existence of spot interventions and infrastructures as well as the local economic activities. Geosites are the essential elements for the Lesvos Geopark, providing information to the Geopark visitors on the importance of the geological and geomorphological processes for the development of the area. Thus local people also realise that certain “rocks” in the vicinity of their houses represent remnants of outstanding phenomena and processes and demonstrate the geological history of their living area. In this way certain rock formations gain a new identity for the people and at the same time become objects to be respected and protected.
18The Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark integrates the range of resources found in the broader region, including the existing geological tourist attractions (the petrified forest park and the museum), the new parks created on important fossil sites (the Sigri park and the Plaka park), the various interpreted geosites, enchanting landscapes, wetlands, sites of natural beauty and ecological value, as well as cultural monuments (the Sigri castle, the Ypsilou monastery, the Eressos acropolis), picturesque villages, traditional gastronomy and local products. A broad range of activities combine the main components for the operation of Lesvos Geopark, including scientific research, the creation of the geosite inventory and map, the protection, interpretation and promotion of geosites, the conservation of fossils, the creation of visiting parks, the establishment of a network of walking trails linking geosites to ecotourism infrastructures, the development of environmental education programmes on geosites, the organisation of scientific and cultural events, and the promotion of monumental geosites.
19The Lesvos petrified forest geopark applies certain management measures for the protection, conservation and promotion of the inventory of geosites present in the territory. These measures comprise: 1) regular maintenance (fencing, cleaning) and janitor services to protect geosites against abuse and vandalism; 2) geosite monitoring providing the necessary measures and protective installations against weathering and erosion; 3) treatment of vulnerable geosites with annual conservation and protective measures (preparation, sealing); 4) interpretation of geosites with onsite information panels, leaflets and field guides, and; 5) organisation of on-site activities (education programmes, guided trekking on geosite trails, various recreation activities in the vicinity of geosites, etc.) that assist in raising public awarness about the importance of geosites.
20The main geotouristic infrastructure in the Lesvos geopark is the creation of “lava paths” that invite the visitor to follow the ancient path of the pyroclastic flows from the main volcanoes to the petrified forest. These are footpaths that link the various geosites and other sites of interest throughout the geopark. Panels along the footpaths provide information about the different geosites that the visitor will encounter along the way. On entering the Lesvos geopark region, signs along the Mytilene-Kalloni-Sigri road direct the visitor towards the Petrified Forest and demarcate the borders of the protected area. Walking trails start from different points along the main road. The Lesvos geopark has also created links with local tourist enterprises, handicrafts and women cooperatives producing local food and drinks.
21Although several efforts have been carried out during the last decade in terms of assessing, protecting, and promoting geomorphological and geological heritage in Greece, the lack of a national inventory of sites still keeps the elements of abiotic nature away from state nature protection plans. Recently, an inventory was published, which includes 317 geosites covering the Aegean islands and the coastal area of the mainland, but a legal recognition of this is still lacking. The publication of the Atlas of the Geological Monuments of the Aegean is the first attempt towards the recognition of these geosites by the local authorities, inhabitants, and visitors to the area.
22The results on the identification, assessment, protection, promotion and management of geosites in the Lesvos Petrified Forest Geopark show that geoparks can become the appropriate tool to heighten public awareness of the values of geological and geomorphological heritage. The successful operation of such structures will ensure the protection and promotion of the geological and geomorphological sites and has the potential to add significantly to local development.