THE SOUTH OF THE ISLAND
Two roads leave Aegina for the south of the island: one follows the coast, the other heads southeast on a plateau which crosses the centre of the island to the south. This latter rises quite sharply outside the town and offers wide views of the coast and of the sea towards Angistri and the Peloponnese. After 6.5km it passes the hamlet of Pachia Rachi, built as the name implies along a spur of the hill (‘rachi’ means a crest or ridge)—a charming and peaceful village of stone buildings, spread around the colour fulbell tower of its church. Immediately beyond the village to the east is the Hellenic Centre and Clinic for Wild Animals, dedicated to the care of stranded or wounded wild animals which are reintegrated into the wild, where possible, after cure and treatment. Less than 1km further down the road, a track signposted to the church of the Taxiarchis leads to the right towards the slopes of Mount Oros which dominates the landscape at this point. The small church with its red roof and octagonal drum is visible from afar, now totally isolated in the barren and rocky hillside, but once the centre of a monastic community. It is only as one begins to get nearer that the massive ashlar masonry retaining walls on which its stands, come into view.
The terraces created by these impressive walls, and the monumental flight of steps which separates them, are what remains of the sanctuary and Temple of Zeus Hellanios, ‘Zeus, giver of rain’—a cult which was brought to the island by Dorian settlers around 1000 bc. The scale of the construction here and its imposing strength have a calculated appropriateness to the mightiest of the Olympian gods. What is visible today is the last phase of the site’s development—mostly Hellenistic construction of impressively dressed and cut stone (in particular on the left of the flight of steps), which dates from the 3rd century bc when, during the Pergamene domination of the island, the whole mountain was held sacred. A place of cult had already been here for a long time before, how ever.
The 7m wide, processional staircase gives the site an unexpected monumentality. The building material here came from the cutting away of the hillside when the ter races were first levelled, and it may have been during that process that the springs behind the sanctuary were opened up. Today there is little more than a black Stygian rock-cut hole with standing water in it, just above the site; but the presence of neatly cut conduit channels for flowing water, along both the south and east sides of the terrace under and against the hill, suggests that the water here was once far from stagnant. Nothing remains of the temple which was here, and which a combination of earthquakes and early Christian zeal has deleted. But the massive quantity of rubble would suggest that the buildings were of imposing size. Many of these large, regular ly-cut blocks have been incorporated into the church of the Taxiarchis, which sits on the northwest corner of the temple’s crepis. The present church appears to be a 13th century structure, although it probably replaces an earlier foundation on the same site. The contemporaneous wall paintings in its interior are impressive, though damaged. Again, the iron-oxide reds and yellows predominate, as observed at the Omorphi Ekklesia on the edge of Chora: here, however, there is greater sophistication in the paint of the magnificently detailed armour of the Archangel Michael, and of an unusual and graceful scene depicting the dream of Jacob’s Ladder with angels flowing between Paradise and Earth, in the southwest segment of the drum of the dome.
Mount Oros, known as Panhellenion to the ancients, dominates the scene from behind. The barren, rocky mountain (531m) has a pure shape which was a conspicuous landmark for mariners in the Saronic Gulf. The gathering of clouds on its peak is said to be a sure sign of rain, a phenomenon noted in Antiquity. Legend also relates how Aiacus, the mythical early king of Aegina, successfully interceded with Zeus, on the advice of the Delphic Oracle, to bring rain to end a drought which had afflicted the island for many years. The summit is reached in 50 minutes by a path from the saddle on the western side of the mountain. At several points and levels just beneath the summit, to west and to east, there are outcrops of ancient wall which belong to a Mycenaean sanctuary of the 13th century bc. To the north of the chapel (dedicated to the Analipsi, or Ascension) on the peak is evidence of a podium (possibly for a temple or shrine) of later construction. The summit commands splendid *views over the whole of the island, which from here appears to be in the midst of a vast lake encircled by an almost continuous coast-line, formed by Attica, the Peloponnese and the islands of the northern Cyclades.
The asphalt road descends through Anitsaiou, to the seaside village of Portes, and turns north up the coast to wards Aghia Marina. The pine trees on Aegina are generally very fine and full, but at Kilindras (2km north of Portes) they are at their best: their flowing volumes fill the valley.
The coast road south from Aegina runs past many beaches and improvised ports for small boats. At Prophitis Elias Bay, water coming down from Mount Oros has irrigated the whole valley, and the shore is backed with stands of eucalyptus and cane. On the low projecting spit of land at the southwest end of the island, the town of Perdika has developed. There is a raised promenade of cafes and tavernas, where it is a pleasure to eat at sunset. From here it is possible in the summer months to take a boat across to the small island of Moni, which is less than 1km offshore to the west. The island has particularly clear waters in its bays, and the north side — where the caiques land — is well forested with pines. There are a number of protected species of animal on the island.
Aegina Island is part of the Argosaronic Island group
Aegina – The South of the Island – Temple of Zeus Hellanios – Mount Oros