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Around the Island
The main road north from the western end of the promenade leads past what was the first Naval Training School of the newly formed Greek State. Until the facilities were moved to Salamis between 1878 and 1881, Poros was Greece’s Naval Headquarters. The Progymnastirion— the large neoclassical building between the road and the shore, originally designed as a summer residence for King Otto, is still used as a training centre for navy person nel. In the wide bay in front of the building, the Greek flagship, Hellas, was sunk by Andreas Miaoulis in August 1831.
THE BATTLE OF POROS, 1831
Links between Hydra and Poros were strong since both islands had grown prosperous on their merchant fleets, which had customarily gone about their business in virtual autonomy under Ottoman rule. Perhaps the strongest bond between the two islands was that (richer) Hydra used the sheltered port of Poros extensively for its fleet since its own habours were vulnerable to northerly and westerly winds. In the aftermath of the battle of Navarino (October 1827), in which the Ottoman fleet had been defeated by the combined forces of the Russians, the French and the British, a split had occurred between those Greeks who saw greater freedom and safety in the protection of the British (Hydra and Poros), and the mostly mainland Greeks, under Capodistrias, who favoured Russian protection because of the historically close religious and cultural affinity with the country. In essence, wealthy Hydra and its ally Poros saw their historic independence under threat from the nascent Greek Government and the increasingly arbitrary rule of Capodistrias; while, on the other hand, Capodistrias, the Governor of Independent Greece, realised that Hydra had somehow to be neutralised and its open hostility defused.
In the summer of 1831 the small and heterogeneous navy of the Greek State—less than a dozen large vessels—was in the port of Poros under the command of Constantine Kanaris. Capodistrias had given orders for him to use the fleet to blockade Hydra and restore control of the waters. Hydra learned of this and dispatched the veteran Admiral, Andreas Miaoulis—by now a national hero—to counter-at tack and take control of the navy. On 14 July 1831, his Hydriot forces together with sympathisers on Poros, took the fleet and captured the strategic islet of Bourtzi. The allies that Capodistrias could most rely on where the Russians, part of whose navy was still in the Aegean and constituted a force that it was difficult for Miaoulis and his supporters to resist. Open hostilities broke out in the last week of July, with the Russian Admiral, Richord, and a detachment of Greek army regulars under Colonel Kallergis taking Poros, recapturing the Bourtzi and sinking one of the vessels in the hands of the rebels—the corvette, Isle of Spetses, which formerly had been Laskarina Bouboulina’s celebrated flagship, Agamemnon (see below p. 163). On 1 August, Miaoulis, rather than be forced to hand the ships over to the Russian command, detonated and sank both the corvette ‘Hydra’ and the flag-ship of the fleet, ‘Hellas’, subsequently slipping through the Russian lines unnoticed and returning to Hydra. In the mayhem that ensued Poros was looted and plundered by Kallergis’s men.
The responsibility of Miaoulis’s actions takes some justifying. The Greek navy—of which Miaoulis him self had been such an important element—was small and in its infancy: his actions left it toothless and dependent once again on its powerful allies. Such a situation, which in his view might lead in the long run to a fairer and more stable solution for Greece, and particularly for Hydra, could well have been his strategic objective. He was 63 years old at the time and an almost unassailable national hero on the basis of his previous actions in the struggle against the Ot toman fleet. He survived to be made a rear-admiral of the navy once again in the new kingdom of Greece before his death only four years later.
After crossing the bridge over the artificial canal which separates Sphairia and Calauria, the road branches (1km). The left branch leads to Megalo Neorio, passing below the russet-red Villa Galini, a fine example of a neoclassical rural mansion on the hill above, and then by the Poros Image Hotel, constructed in 1967 as part of the Xenia group, by one of Greece’s best-known architects of the post-war period, Aris Konstantinidis. The road subsequently fol lows a succession of sandy coves, fringed with pines, the most intimate of which bears the name ‘Limani Agapis’ or ‘harbour of love’. The next bay west (3km) contains the unexpected ruins of a once grand piece of industrial architecture. The bay was used as a provisioning station for the Russian Navy; the two blocks—offices and quarters (near the shore) and store-houses and barracks (behind)—were built in 1834 by prisoners taken at the Battle of Poros. The Russian Navy maintained a presence in the area for almost a century—from the 1820s until 1917, when the station was abandoned and destroyed by the departing crews who returned home in loyalty to the Bolshevik cause.
Off-shore can be seen the islet of Daskalio—its pine trees and the church of the Panaghia occupying nearly all of its surface: it is a popular place for weddings. Beyond, the pine woods of the south coast give way to a rockier landscape covered in low scrub and maquis. The road first heads north, and then climbs east: at 10km, it rejoins the main asphalt road, below the Sanctuary of Poseidon (see below).
The right branch by the canal follows the south coast, east through the pleasant resort of Askeli, to the 18th century monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi (5.5km), whose buildings are set a little way in from the shore, on a hill side above a densely treed valley with a running stream— the ‘Life-giving Fount’ of the dedication. (Open daily 7–sunset, closed 1.30–4.30.) In front of the west door of the catholicon are several conspicuous gravestones to members of the Hydriot naval families of Miaoulis and Tombazis; beside them is the grave of Brudnell James Bruce, grandson of the 9th Earl of Kincardine. He died on Poros of a fever while accompanying the historic mission to Greece in 1828 in which Russian, French and British diplomats met on the island to consider the formation of an independent Greek kingdom. Another gravestone with an elaborately designed, classicising entablature is laid in the floor of the portico of the church. The catholicon itself is simple and undecorated, but is dominated by the magnificent *wooden iconostasis—a fine and well preserved work of the 17th century, which predates the building in which it stands. Above the architrave are two levels of attic: Scenes from the Life of Christ below with a variety of figurative designs, reflected and balanced by an upper level with Saints disposed in pairs. The iconostasis was brought from Asia Minor, and may well be of Constantinopolitan workmanship.
Poros Island is part of the Argosaronic Island Group, Greece.