AEGINA TOWN AND KOLONA
Around the harbour
Pausanias points out (Descrip. II, 29.2) that the island is ‘difficult of approach’ because of the sunken rocks and reefs that surround it. There are few harbours and the main port is, and always was, on the upper west coast. The boats from Piraeus skirt the long northern coast and round the low promontory of Cape Plakakia, before turning south to the port. On entering the harbour the extensive ruins of the ancient city (now referred to as ‘Kolona’, on account of the solitary monolithic column at its centre) are visible on your left. The area where all the boats dock corresponds to the ancient Commercial Harbour, the southern mole of which was rebuilt by Capodistrias on ancient foundations and is an extension of the ancient southern walls of the town. The north mole, forms the southern boundary of the ancient Military Harbour (κρυπτος λιμην or ‘secret harbour’—i.e. of limited access): the remains of its rectangular quays can be seen below the surface of a smooth sea. It is estimated that these could once accommodate as many as 50 triremes.
Towards the seaward end of the mole from the point of disembarkation is the low double-domed church of Aghios Nikolaos Thalassinos, built in a typical vernacular Cycladic style of architecture; in the other direction on the corner by the exit of the port—and in a very different and more international architectural language— is the striking Voghiatsis Mansion, a large neoclassical building which dominates the water-front. The Voghiatsis family were prosperous sponge-traders, originally from the island of Symi. The building is a pleasingly proportioned architectural unity, presenting similar but not identical fronts on the two sides of the corner, and with fine wrought-iron balconies supported on marble volutes. Dignified and authoritative, without being over weeningly academic in its neoclassicism, it expresses the best of the spirit of the new statehood of Greece which emerged in the 1820s on this island.
A gracious sweep of buildings, mostly in classicising style, forms the water front, broken towards the southern end by the large Byzantine-style sandstone cathedral church of the Eisodia tis Theotokou (‘The Presentation of the Virgin’), referred to as the ‘Panaghitsa’, built in 1896 and with a marble iconostasis in the interior. In the small palmy square immediately to its north is a bust of Ioannis Capodistrias, first Governor of Independent Greece, who, though a native of Corfu, guided the crucial years of the birth of the Greek State here in Aegina.
IOANNIS CAPODISTRIAS ON AEGINA
When Capodistrias arrived at Aegina on 8 January 1826 it was the first time he had set foot in Aegean Greece. He learned of his appointment as Gover nor of the new, independent entity of Greece while staying in Geneva where he had retired after his successful negotiation, as envoy of the Russian Tsar, of guarantees for the constitution, independence and neutrality of Switzerland in the aftermath of French dominance and interference under Napoleon. He was, at 51 years of age, a respected and widely experienced politician and international diplomat: a poliglot, a doctor and a person with proven liberal and democratic credentials and charitable instincts. The fractious theatre of nascent Greek politics, dominated by irreconcilable tribal interests and a systemic allergy to sacrifice for the sake of co-operation, was a very different world from the imperial courts of Europe to which he was accustomed. Added to this, he inherited with the job of governing Greece with a virtually empty exchequer. Against this background, he aimed at two objectives: firstly to bring some uni ty to the Greek military and the country’s political class; secondly to begin on wide-ranging reforms of local administration, finance (with the launch of a new coinage), education and public health—the last, a cause to which, as a doctor by training, he was particularly attached. He formalised the borders and the independence of the Greek State in agreement with the international powers. All this was initiated from his modest base in Aegina.
Thoughtful and skilled negotiator though he was, he underestimated the powerful feelings of independence in the rich ‘naval islands’—Hydra, Spetses and Psara—which had given so much to the cause of Independence. The first substantial threat to his power came when Hydra resisted a punitive blockade which Capodistrias had planned, by destroying the flagship of the Greek Navy and another of its vessels in the harbour of Poros in August 1831 (see Battle of Poros, pp. 108–111). The perpetrator of this act was none other than Andreas Miaoulis from Hydra, the most widely-respected admiral of the Independ ence War. But Capodistrias’s greatest problem was that his world of cosmopolitan diplomacy and high ideals was fundamentally alien to the tribal interests and rebellious egos of local warlords, sharpened by centuries of resistance to Turkish dominion in the mountainous enclaves of the country. In the autumn of 1831, when Capodistrias tried to imprison one of the leaders of the rebels of the Mani, Petrobey Mavromichalis, he was assassinated by Petrobey’s brother and son as he went to morning mass in Nauplia.
Aiakou Street, which runs east and perpendicular to the waterfront beside the Port Authority building, leads in (four blocks) towards a small open square dominated by a mediaeval tower, which has something of the look of a Scottish castle imparted to it by the round turrets projecting at the upper corners of the building which still preserve the defensive slits in their under sides. This is the so-called Markelon Tower, a rare survival of the Catalan presence on Aegina in the 14th and 15th centuries: built with an eye to defence more than comfort, the tower would originally have had fewer windows and a removable staircase or ladder, for access. Opposite the tower across the street is the Aiginitiko Archontiko guest-house (see ‘Lodging’, below); this is a typical, small neoclassical house built around a courtyard, with a finely painted ceiling in the main salon upstairs. The whole area uphill from here has many neoclassical town houses decorated in pleasing colours and with courtyards bursting with vegetation.
Fifty metres west of the Markelon Tower is the large modern church of Aghios Nikolaos, built near the site of an Early Christian basilica. An equal distance south east of the tower, on Kyberneion Street, is the house of Capo distrias—which was, in effect, the Government House of the emerging Greek State between 1826 and 1828. (There are two other houses of historic personalities in Aegina: the house of Admiral Constantine Kanaris, who destroyed the core of the Turkish fleet in 1822 (see under Chios) in revenge for the massacre of Chios; and the house of Charilaos Trikoupis, Greek statesman and prime minister of the later 19th century. The latter is on the coast road to the south, opposite the cemetery; the former is in Kanaris Street, north of the Voghiatsis Mansion.)
Aegina Island is part of the Argosaronic Island group
Aegina town and Kolona – Around the harbour