Paleochora Aegina: The insular “Mystras”
Paleochora (also Paliachora) is a medieval village of Aegina built in the 9th century; it was the capital of the island until 1826. It is located behind and above the hill of Agios Nektarios, at 7 km from the port of Aegina towards the center of the island, and stands out for its history, the great view and its churches.
What is there to see
The lyrics “a priest to each bell” (used proverbially to describe a flourishing, multitudinous religious community) from the famous traditional dirge commemorating the Fall of Constatinople, have often been uttered in reference to this settlement, due to the 366 churches (one for each day of the year) and 800 houses it once featured. Today, only 38 basilicas are preserved; few of them in good condition, they are worth visiting for their history and the frescoes preserved up to today. One will also find ruins from the old fortification and water reservoirs of the town. Do not omit climbing up the hill where you can see the traces of Castle (built by the Venetians in 1654) and also enjoy the view of the island’s other side.
Paleochora was designated as the capital of the island when locals, threatened by pirates, began to move from the coast to the interior of Aegina. Essentially, it was built by the Aegineans to protect themselves from the Saracen pirates and was preserved for about a millennium. But after the sea-borne threat receded, the inhabitants began again to descend to the seaside areas and the Paleochora got deserted and gradually went to ruins. Its remnants include a few of the churches and some other elements that remind us that this place once was the center of the island.
Paleochora has its own, unique atmosphere and is reminisvent of Mystras of the Peloponnese with its Byzantine references. Walking in its cobblestone streets, you can hear birds singing while enjoying your walk in the verdant environment that in spring is flooded by wildflowers. Waterfalls, cisterns and water reservoirs, the view towards Mesagros and flora such as lemon trees, sunflowers and olives add to the scenery.
Of the original 366 there are approximately 38 churches left. It is worth visiting the following:
- Agios Georgios (unique frescoes)
- Diocese of Agios Dionysios (vaulted basilica with magnificent frescoes, built in the rock, where you will see the cell in which Agios Dionysios (Saint Dennis) lived between 1576-1579 and the moving inscription dedicated to him by the locals)
- Metamorphosis (all the frescoes of the sanctuary and the iconostasis are preserved)
Agia Kyriaki (double basilica with extraordinary frescoes that formed the center of Palaiochora from the 17th century and up until 1830)
- Agios Charalampos
- Agios Georgios of Kastro (Castle)
- Agios Nikolaos Mavrikas (with frescoes from 1330)
- Agios Ioannis the Theologian (domed cruciform, with blue bell tower)
- Stavros (Located at the entrance of Paleochora, celebrating on 14/9, while in Easter, on the churchyard, the revival of the custom of Lambri dance takes place)
- Agios Georgios Katholikos (later renamed Panagia the Foritissa, functioning as the central square of Palaiochora)
- Double Church of Agios Georgios of Kastro and Agios Dimitrios (at the site of the Castle of Palaiochora)
- Agia Barbara
- Agios Nikolaos (700 year-old frescoes)
- Agia Anna
- Agioi Theodori
- Agios Minas
- Agios Eleftherios
- Agia Makrina
- Taxiarchis Michail
- Agioi Anargyroi (with idolatric motifs)
- Agia Catherine
- Koimisi Theotokou
- Panagia (Our Lady) of Giannouli
- Agios Euthymios
- Agios Ioannis the Baptist
- Agios Stephanos
- Agios Athanasios
- Agios Kirykos
- Agios Stylianos
- Agios Zacharias
- Agia Kyfti
- Agios Spyridon or the Sotiras (Savior)
- In Paleochora you can visit the cell of Agios Dionysios (St. Dennis) of Zakynthos, where he lived from 1567 and throughout the three-year duration of his archbishopric in Aegina. It still exists today, next to the church of Episkopi (Agios Dionysios) along with the touching inscription which is a token of love and worship of the locals to his person.
- In the church of Stavros, at the entrance of Paleochora, Easter is celebrated by the revival of the custom of the Lambri dance.
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