PALEOCHORA AND THE TEMPLE OF APHAIA IN AEGINA

PALEOCHORA AND THE TEMPLE OF APHAIA IN AEGINA

Aegina may not be one of the most exciting Greek islands. Its close proximity to the Greek capital and the lack of stunning beaches or charming whitewashed villages make it seem ordinary and even boring. However, there is plenty to see across the inland of this pine-clad island and with little bit of  effort a trip to Aegina can make for a day full of ancient history, medieval sights and easy pleasant hiking.

There are two ports serving the island of Aegina. The main port is based in Aegina Town and covers most of the transportation to and from the island. The second one in Agia Marina is used by just a few smaller ferries connecting the island with Athens. For this hike, Agia Marina is a better choice. On our arrival, we jumped on a bus for Agios Nektarios Monastery and returned back to Agia Marina on foot. This way, we were able to visit both Paleochora and Temple of Aphaia along the way.

Comparing to other places in Greece the transportation to and around Aegina is easy, frequent and quite cheap. There are regular ferries connecting the Port of Pireas with Aegina and Agina Marina. It takes just over one hour to reach the island and you’ll pay around 3o euro for the return ticket.

The transportation across the island is delivered by one of the three bus lines, connecting the Port of Aegina with Perdika, Agia Marina, and Vagia. The main sights of the island including Agios Nektarios Monastery, Paleochora and the Temple of Aphaia lie on the line Aegina – Agia Marina. The ride from Agia Marina to Agios Nektarios took us just around 15 minutes and we paid 1.60 for the ticket.

Agios Nektarios

The monastery of Agios Nektarios is truly impressive mainly thanks to the enormous size of its main church. As the name suggests, it is devoted to Agios Nektarios, who spent the last years of his life among its walls, preaching, writing and tending to the manual labors of the monastery. He died here in 1920 at the age of74 and was buried inside of  the monastery. Nowadays, the monastery is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year seeking miracles and spiritual guidance especially in connection with fertility and motherhood. However, for a non-believer like me, it lacks the charm of the older, smaller monasteries clinging to the cliffs or squeezed into caves all over the Greece.

Paleochora of Aegina

That’s why after a brief look around we started the ascent to Paleochora overlooking the monastery from a nearby hilltop. I’ve been to Paleochora before and loved it from the first moment wanting to revisit ever since. The settlement was founded around 9th century when due to the frequent pirate raids the islanders had to move away from the coast and into the safer inland. It didn’t work all that well, though. Through the centuries, the village succumbed many vicious attacks from pirates and other occupying forces longing after a piece of Aeginas wealth. It was burned down many times with its inhabitants forced to a life of piracy or slavery. Paleochora was finally abandoned in the 19th century after the fall of the Turkish occupation. The arrival of calmer times allowed its residents to settle at the cost once more and to rebuild the Port of Aegina.

Since then, Palochora was left to its own destiny slowly decaying and disappearing into the vegetation. Today, the dwellings are gone and only 35 of its churches still standing. Cobbled paths crisscross the hillside connecting the small churches and climbing up to the Kastro. The walk among them is magnificent and the shabby churches, sparsely decorated by holy icons and the occasional burning candle, charming and atmospheric. But it’s not just the medieval site that makes the climb to the top of the hill worthwhile. The views from the top across the green valleys of Aegina and towards the sparkling sea are splendid, too!

I could spend hours wandering among the cobbled paths of Paleochora or laze in the shade of its ancient walls. But we still had a long walk in front of us. So after a while, we started our search for a path leading down to Mesagros. This was the biggest fail of our hike! The path was clearly marked in my map of Aegina from Anavasi but nonexistent in the reality. Even the elderly local firefighters, guarding Paleochora against the summer fires, couldn’t (or didn’t want to) point us in the right direction. Instead, to discourage us from the crazy idea of hiking through the countryside we were presented with stories of thousands of snakes and scorpions crawling through the hills and deadly cliffs and impenetrable fences obstructing the way.

It was all hard to believe in the mild landscape of Aegina. But not having any other option we ended up walking back down to the Agios Nektarios Monastery and following the main asphalt road towards Agia Marina. This was the most boring 3km of our trip and in 35 degrees heat also very tiring.

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Temple of Aphaia

However, just outside Mesagros things changed for the better. Just outside of the village we joined a beautiful marked trail heading towards the Temple of Aphaia. The path climbs to a pine-covered ridge and provides superb views towards the sea and the white mass of Athens in the distance. It took us around 30 more minutes to reach the temple but it was an enjoyable walk through a bright green and fragrant pine forest.

The Temple of Aphaia is splendid and well worth the 6 euros entrance fee. It was built in 500 BC in a place of an older temple and was devoted to Aphaia, the daughter of Zeus and Kharme. There are few different opinions on the origin of Aphaia and her arrival to the islands. But they all agree that she was an outdoorsy gal with love for hunting and admiration for Artemis, the goddess of hunt and wilderness. She fled her homeland in Crete trying to escape from a persistent suitor, the king Minos and took shelter on the island of Aegina. The locals build her this stunning temple and worshipped her as their goddess of fertility.

From the temple, it is an easy half an hour descent down to the Agia Marina Port. Just follow the asphalt road for couple hundred meters until a sign pointing to the right. From here, a comfortable, wide path drops down towards the town. Agia Marina it self is a typical sea side town with lots of taverns, cafes, and over-developed sandy beach. It wouldn’t be my first choice for a full day of beach fun. However, after hiking for hours through the burning countryside of Aegina it was a salvation to finally dip into its refreshing waters!

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Hiking in Aegina

Aegina

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