50 PALAIOCHORA HILL, NORTHERN AIGINA Access By “Flying Dolphin” or ferry boat from Piraeus. From the city of Aigina to Palaiochora using the local bus line.
The medieval settlement of Palaiochora on Aigina extends over the hill of the same name in the rural northern part of the island. The settlement is identified with Byzantine and Post-Byzantine history, since for about 1000 years (from the 9th/10th c. to the early 19th) it formed the center of island life following the abandonment of the coastal city of Aigina due to recurrent pirate raids. Its strategic location and the naturally-fortified configuration of the hill entirely justified this particular choice. The Aigenetans built their new capital with small houses, narrow streets, many churches, and a castle at the summit of the hill, in a way that was fully harmonized with the natural environment, rendering the buildings invisible from the sea. Between the 9th century and 1204, the settlement was under Byzantine control. After 1204, there were many conquerors – Franks, Catalans, Venetians, Turks – who invaded and occupied the island until its final liberation in 1821. The medieval city grew up on the south, east, and west slopes of the hill, taking advantage of its natural gradient and the abundant building material it offered, and thus leaving the plain free for the growth of agriculture. It was built up amphitheatrically, with small, densely-set buildings, primarily houses and churches. The city’s road network consisted of two main streets that concluded at the castle; these continue in use even today. The castle at the hill’s summit was supplemented and completed with fortifications in 1462 by the Venetians, in exchange for the skull of Agios Georgios, which was kept in the church of Saint George the Catholic in the settlement’s “Foro”. Today, only a few remains of the walls, traces of three cisterns and two towers, and the “twin” church of Agios Georgios and Agiois Dimitrios are preserved at the castle. From the rest of the medieval settlement, a few houses are preserved to foundation height. Due to their sanctity, the remains of 38 Byzantine and PostByzantine churches are preserved in better condition scattered across the hill. Though not immune to the ravages of time and various tribulations, many have rich wall painting decoration of various periods on their interior. The hill of Palaiochora is a totality of monuments harmonized with their natural environment that affords us important information concerning the history, architecture, and residential development of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Aigina, given that for about a millennium it was the medieval capital of the island and served as its administrative, economic, and religious center throughout this long period. Text: Aik. Avramidou