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THE NORTH OF THE ISLAND
The north of the island is best explored by taking the road that heads east from the southern extremity of the waterfront, Phaneromenis Street. This is the main road to Aghios Nektarios and the Temple of Aphaia. The road passes, to the right, the former Orphanage built by Capodistrias for the children orphaned by the War of In dependence—subsequently converted into a prison and now standing empty. A further 500m down the road, is the ruined church of the Panaghia Phaneromeni—a large 18th century basilica-church, characterised by its wide, round-arched doors and windows, which are pleasingly framed in marble on the west front. There is a crypt below the church.
To the east of the town, the road soon climbs into the varied and beautiful landscape of the centre of the island. The sparse foliage of the immaculate orchards of pistachio and olive trees against the pale terracotta-coloured earth beneath creates an effect characteristic of Aegina’s landscape: and the mature Aleppo pine-trees which form the dark backdrop to it all, complete what is a striking combination of colours and textures.
THE PISTACHIO OF AEGINA
The angular and sparse growth of the pistachio tree gives it an appearance similar to the fig-tree; but its glossy and smaller foliage is quite different. The fruit forms in abundant clusters of lupin-shaped capsules which, although a yellowy green at first, soon acquire a beautiful pale red tinge which enlivens the whole tree: these are the forming nuts. They have adapted easily to the soil and very mild climate of Aegina, and have become its most famous product. They have a rounder form than other pistachio nuts. The pistachio tree is native to the hot dry climate of an area that stretches from southeastern Turkey to eastern Iran, but in the mild climate and clayey soil of Aegina it appears also to have found a congenial home. The progenitors of the pistacio vera trees on Aegina were first brought here from Syria in 1860.
Four kilometres from Aegina is the road junction at Kondos, with the huge pilgrimage church of Aghios Nektarios dominating the view to the north. The traveller, intent on the antiquities of Aphaia and the Byzantine churches of Palaiochora, may be tempted to pass by this piece of modernity; but a visit here is instructive and not without considerable reward. The main building, which is actually dedicated to the Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity), must be the largest church to be built in Greece in the last 100 years. Its octagonal form and shallow cupola are deliberately Constantinopolitan in design, and the mass of coloured marbles inside and carved, ‘basket’ capitals are surely a deliberate imitation of Justinian’s Haghia Sophia. The apsidal mosaic of the Virgin and Christ and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, with all the islands of the Saronic Gulf laid out below their feet, is a work of surprising beauty. The church was begun in 1973, and the mosaic finished in 1999. The pre-existing monastery above, reached via a serpentine ramp, contains a highly decorated chapel enshrining the grave of Aghios Nektari os, who died in 1920 and was canonised in 1961.
Almost opposite the entrance to the complex of Aghios Nektarios and a few metres to the west is a road which leads south across the valley and up the hillside opposite, to the isolated monastery of the Panaghia or Theotokos Chrysoleontissa (3km). This is everything that Aghios Nektarios is not—remote, old and peaceful, in a wild val ley of the interior where there is little sound beyond the wailing of peacocks and bleating of goats. The foundation of the monastery is much older than the buidlings: it was originally situated by the coast at Leonti, just west of Vathi in the north of the island and was moved, together with its holy icons, to this isolated site for greater protection in the first decade of the 17th century. The fine pre-existing 15th century machicolated tower at the centre of the monastery complex provided a focus and a safe treasury around which the monastery could be constructed. Although founded as a male community, it be came a nunnery in 1935 and currently has eleven resident nuns. The original catholicon burnt down and the present one dates from the late 17th century. The heavily carved wooden iconostasis is from 1670: much of it has been over-varnished, but its doors have escaped this treatment and possess fine, polychrome figures of Christ and St Peter with keys.
Aegina Island is part of the Argosaronic Island group
Aegina - The north of the Island - General