The Sanctuary of Poseidon
From the junction 1km west of the monastery the road into the interior of the island climbs through pine for ests and crosses the central ridge of the island (10km), at which point the north coast and the long peninsula of Cape Acherado are visible below, with the island of Aegina clear on the horizon ahead to the north. At the coast below is the attractive inlet of Vaghiona, which can be reached by an un-surfaced road: visible under the water of the bay, when calm, are the outlines of buildings of a now submerged settlement. Due east, at the coast, is Cavo Vasili where a substantial Early Helladic settlement of the mid 3rd millennium bc with the well-preserved bases of houses has been brought to light. It is the largest prehistoric site on the island to have been explored so far. On the islet of Modi, off the island’s east coast, a Late Mycenaean settlement has also been identified.
At 12.5km, on a saddle between two hills, with ample views north across the gulf towards Attica, is the Sanctuary of Poseidon (always open, though enclosed). The site is tranquil and beautiful, but the paucity of remains do not do justice to the importance which the sanctuary had through much of Antiquity. Ongoing excavations by the Swedish Institute are uncovering significant new elements of the site however.
Layout of the site. As you stand at the entrance gate, with the sea ahead to the north, the area of the sanctuary extends to your right, with the site of the temple of Poseidon itself marked by a stand of pines in the top, right-hand corner of the area. Behind where you are standing and up the slope of the hill to your left was the Ancient city of Calauria. A spring (now dry) which may have fed the town and sanctuary can be made out low down on the slope of the hill just above the modern road to the left. The city has not been archaeologically explored; the only part of it which has been partially excavated is ahead and to the left within the en closure, where the remains of an important public building have been identified. The most recent excavations are under the metal roofing, immediately in front of you and to the right.
History. The earliest excavations carried out by Swedish archaeologists in 1894 showed that the precinct was built on the site of a sanctuary that dates back to Late Mycenaean times (11th century bc). There was continuity of cult again from the 8th century bc; by the 7th century the sanctuary became the centre of the ‘Calaurian League’ whose members included the powerful cities of Aegina and Athens. The league is better termed an amphictyony since its bonds were primarily cultic, and only secondarily military or commercial. The Temple of Poseidon and the precinct walls were built at the end of the 6th century bc; the area was enlarged again to the extent that the visitor sees today in the late 4th and 3rd centuries bc. The sanctuary provided asylum: it functioned as a place of inviolable refuge for suppliants, the most famous of which was the orator Demosthenes (see below), who sought sanctuary here from Macedonian pursuit in 322 bc. His tomb was honoured by the Calaurians.
The remains are not easy to read.
* Ahead and to the left is the area believed to correspond to the agora of the city of Calauria; it is bounded (back left, beyond the olive trees) by a long stoa with slightly protruding wings at either end, dating from the 4th century bc. Near to its right-hand end are many pedestals for honorific statues of benefactors.
* Ahead and to the right is the sanctuary itself, which was defined to south by a precinct wall or peribolos laid in the 6th century bc. This is obscured by the large additions which were made in the 4th century bc, when a building of triangular plan was added to its south: a magnificent stretch of its wall is visible right in front of you, constructed in parallel rows of ‘ballooned’ lime stone blocks, drafted at the edges. This structure (Building ‘D’) is divided into rooms and may have functioned as a ritual dining area or hestiatorion.
* The precinct proper was entered from a point 30m ahead of the entrance, where the rectangular base of a (4th century bc) propylon can be seen, preceded by a small, circular stone structure with what looks like a stone bench against its interior wall: this was in fact an exedra (probably for statues) of slightly more than semicircular form. East of the propylon, a large esplanade of trapezoidal form opened out, bounded to left and right by long stoas—two contiguous stoas to each side—whose bases are visible. These were covered porticos with Doric columns. From inside this area the tri angular building ‘D’ can be seen more clearly.
* At the northern end of the area stood the Temple of Poseidon, built around 520–510 bc—a Doric, peripteral structure in limestone with 6 x 12 columns. Nothing of it or of its altar remains because the stones were carried off and used as building material on other islands in the early 19th century; but its plan can be read from the foundation works in the ground. The surrounding inner peribolos in rough stone, with two entrances, one to the east and one to the south, can be seen clearly. The temple would have been visible from far out to sea. Its position commands the waters to the north, as if look from a crow’s nest with the promontory below ex tending like the long bow of a ship.
DEMOSTHENE’S LAST DAYS
Demosthenes was one of the greatest intellectual figures of 4th century Athens—a statesman of almost obsessive energy, with a passionate devotion to the cause of liberty and to his city. His orations are justly considered works of art and monuments to the cause of freedom. He was neither the first nor the last great Greek to run foul of the tragic inability of his fellow Greeks to unite properly in the face of perceived danger from outside. His implacable hostility to the threat of Macedonian nationalism and the expansionist ambitions of its king, Philip II, has seemed to some a heroic idealism and to others a dangerous allergy to pragmatism. After Philip’s death in 336 bc, Demosthenes played an important role in his city’s uprising against Alexander the Great. His efforts were doomed, and the victory of Alexander’s viceroy, Antipater, at Crannon in 322 bc led to the imposition of a Macedonian garrison on Athens. Demosthenes was condemned to death by a decree of Demades, and fled to Calauria to avail himself of the asylum offered by the Sanctuary of Poseidon. He commit ted suicide there by taking poison in the autumn of 322 bc. The Calaurians honoured his memory with a tomb which was seen by Pausanias (Descrip. II 33, 3) within the precinct.
From the village of Aghios Nektarios, 1km below the archaeological area of Calauria, the road crosses the shoulder of Mount Prophitis Elias, and returns to the canal and to Poros after 6.5km.
Poros Island is part of the Argosaronic Island Group, Greece.