The South of the Island
Aiantion and Kanakia
From the junction beside the modern town hall of Salamis, a road leads along the south shore of Salamis bay to Aiantion (5km). To the west of the centre of the village, which is on the slope of the hill to the south, is the 15th century church of the Koimisis tis Theotokou (Dormition of the Virgin): 300m further west of this, partially built against an outcrop of the natural rock below the pine woods at the upper extremity of the village, is the smaller *church of the Metamorphosis, which dates probably from the 13th century. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, unexpected in the context, and contains wall-paintings of several different periods. The steep cupola is supported on four monolithic columns with plain capitals in a cross-in square plan. The templon screen is in masonry and painted with sacred images that have been damaged and partially retouched; there are also remains of wall-paintings of the 14th or 15th century in the apse, and of an almost life-size St George on the south wall. The paintings in the side chapel to the north are more complete, but darkened by candle-smoke and soot. Some of the windows of the church—one of which has a bifora design with central mullion—are still glazed with alabaster.
From the church of the Metamorphosis a scenic route climbs up through extensive pine forests with good views over the island and the Attic mainland beyond; once over the watershed, the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos ‘Limonion’ (9km) comes into view, hidden in a wooded fold of the valley below the road. (Open daily from sunrise to sunset, except 1–4.) The core of the original out-buildings of the 17th century is partly ruined, and a new extension has been built to the south by the nuns who now inhabit the monastery. In the centre of the compact courtyard is the catholicon whose dark interior has icons and an iconostasis of interest. The entrance-door in the north wall is flanked by two finely carved, marble templon-panels immured to either side of the entrance; these must have been saved from the previous, 12th century church on the same site. Above the door a masonry niche, with an inset Rhodian-ware dish, is decorated with a clumsy im age of St Nicholas; above it, a curious fragment from a 4th century bc funerary stele with a banquet scene and a sacrifice at an altar, has been immured with the date 1740 scratched on its surface—the date presumably when the restoration of the monastery was completed. A short distance to the southeast of the monastery on the hillside opposite is the isolated church of Aghios Ioannis Kalyvitis dating from the 15th century. The interior is plain apart from vestiges of 17th century painting in the apse, but the well-proportioned exterior is attractive in its solitary setting. The stonework is interleaved with brick tile. The overall design of the building plays interestingly on contrasts between exterior and interior forms: the cupola-drum, which is cylindrical on the inside, is of square form with chamfered corners on the exterior; the three hemi-cylindrical lobes of the floor plan, are straight edged on the exterior.
From the Monastery of Aghios Nikolaos, the road continues to descend through uninterrupted pine for est to the southwest shore of the island at Kanakia bay (13.5km)—a sandy cove with a small settlement and an offshore island in the bay. One of the most important, recent finds in Mycenaean archaeology has been made in this tranquil location. Archaeologists have good reason to believe that what they are unearthing may be the city and palace of the Aiacid dynasty, to which Ajax, son of Telamon, one of the most important of the Greek warriors mentioned in the Iliad, belonged.
The main area of excavation is along the ridge of the slope that rises to the south of the flat alluvial valley behind the shore. (On arrival at the waterfront, turn left and continue south along the shore; then turn left again into the pine trees before reaching the small harbour. The site is on the summit to your left as you walk inland to meet the path leading up.) The citadel and settlement, which grew into the island’s principal urban centre, was continuously inhabited through the Middle and Late Bronze Age, but was then abandoned in the first half of the 12th century bc around the date that is generally ascribed to the siege of Troy. Looking across into the Peloponnese, with a protected harbour and a small fertile valley below, the city was well placed to play a leading role in the commerce of the Saronic Gulf. Finds made at the site bear witness to commercial links and contacts with other Aegean centres, Cyprus and even Egypt. The settlement conspicuously lacks the massive fortifications we find at Tyrins or Mycenae, but the buildings and the urban plan are created with a notably fortified aspect nonetheless—densely built and with substantial wall-foundations, and the bases of complex gates and towers. If this citadel was the home of Ajax, it is likely that he was the last king to live here: he never returned to it after leaving for Troy where, according to Sophocles, he died from his own hand. The city was abandoned shortly after. A cult to Ajax in historic times is attested on Salamis.
Salamis Island is part of the Argosaronic Island Group, Greece.