Aegina is a Greek island set in the Saronic gulf a short distance from Athens. It’s a very attractive island, and and has two sites of interest if you’re one of those visitors who can’t get enough of ancient Greece! It’s also nice to travel out of Athens and escape to this nearby island for a day’s visit.
The History of Aegina
The site at Colonna was first occupied in the 4th millennium BC. Aegina was not an easy island to arrive at by sea because of it’s rocky shoreline. In fact, Pausanias made special mention of it when he said, “Aegina is the most unapproachable island in Greece”.
The main problem was the island’s low rainfall and lack of suitable land for agriculture. In spite of this the site at Colonna did develop over the centuries, and it’s main source of income seems to have been trade. Pottery was both imported and exported. There are some suggestions that one source of wealth was in fact from piracy.
The height of islands power
The island reached its zenith in what is known as the Archaic era, when it developed into a powerful maritime state. It was not only able to mint its own coins, but exported pottery and bronze items, and established colonies in other areas of the Mediterranean. But it was in close proximity to the mighty Athens who would tolerate no rivals, especially with regard to trade. In 455 BC Aegina was defeated by the Athenians, and the inhabitants had to leave the island.
Fame in modern times
During the Greek struggle for independence the island was the capital of the new Greek state from 1827 to 1829. It was set up by Kapodistrias, who was the first governor of Greece. Later the government moved to Nauplion, and finally to Athens.
Places to see
Aegina town is an attractive place, and you immediately get that ‘Greek island’ feel, even thought you’re not that far from the mainland. Some of the buildings are in the Neo-classical style which add to the character of the town. You’ll find lots of tavernas and restaurants, and it’s very pleasant strolling along the harbour in the evenings.
As far as ancient Greece is concerned, north of the town you’ll find Cape Colonna and the site of Colonna itself. The museum here contains finds from the Neolithic period onwards, including some excellent Mycenaean pottery.
The prehistoric phase of Colonna is quite complex, and it’s difficult to make out the various stages of development. Two features which are more easily recognised are the Middle Helladic wall and the Warrior Grave.
At the highest part of the site is the platform of the Temple of Apollo. From here you get a great view of the town, and also the port which was once the ancient harbour. The first temple was built in about 600 BC. This was replaced in 575-550 BC with another temple which bears the marks of having been destroyed by fire. The third temple was constructed about 510 BC, and was of the Doric order. The solitary column you can see is a monolithic limestone column, and was part of the opisthodomos.The room at the rear of some ancient Greek temples. It was located behind the naos, or cella. To the east of the temple you can see the altar.
The main archaeological attraction on the island is the Temple of Aphaia, visited by hundreds of tourists from the ferries as they do their day trip from Athens round the islands of the Saronic Gulf. (But don’t look with disdain on these ‘tourists’ – I was one during my first visit to the Temple of Aphaia.) Take a look at the map of Aegina Greece for more travel information.
Agia Marina is the main centre for tourists. It is set in a beautiful bay which has good sandy beaches. Many modern hotels have been built here, and there’s a good choice of tavernas, cafes and restaurants.