SALAMINA BEAUTY AND HISTORY
Translation: Stavroula Kyriakou
Photography Vassilis Lappas
Salamina is the largest island of the Saronic Gulf and nearest to the coast of Attica. Only 1.200 meters away eastward to Perama and a mere 500 meters from Megarid coast to the northwest.
The island’s area consists of 93.5 square km, with approximately 100 km of coastline, and a population of 39.220. Administratively, it is a part of Attica Prefecture, Department of Piraeus. From a religious perspective, it belongs, along with Megara, to the Megara – Salamina Metropolis.
Salamina is the birthplace of the Homeric hero, Ajax, the great tragedian Euripides, and the creative venue of our national poet, Angelos Sikelianos. Additionally, Salamina was the beloved place of hospitality and refuge of Georgios Karaiskakis, a national hero of the Greek War of Independence.
Salamina is renown throughout the world as the site of the greatest naval engagement in world history, which took place in the straits between the island and the mainland in 480 B.C. There, the Greek victory over Persian despotism assured the salvation, flourishing and expansion of Greek civilization to the West, and to the rest of the world.
The origin of its name.
According to myth, the island was named “Salamina” by the legendary King Kychreas as a tribute to his mother, Salamina, Aegina’s sister, and one of the 50 daughters of the River God Assopos.
In ancient times, Salamina was also known as “Pityoussa” (Pine tree smothered”), also as “Skyras” (after the legendary ancient hero Skyros) and “Kychreia” (after King Kychreas). Moreover, even in ancient times, the island was also known as “Koulouri” after Cape Kolouris (now known as “Pounta”) at which an ancient settlement and port were built in the 4th century B.C.
Mythology – History.
The River God Assopos ruled the island after killing its first king, Ofis. The Sea God, Poseidon, fell in love with Assopos’ daughter, Salamina, and the fruit of their union was Kychreas, who was half man and half snake and who became ruler of the island. Kychreas produced a daughter named Glaffki (The Blue Eyed) who married Telamon, son of the King of Aegina, Aeakos.
Upon succeeding Kychreas, Telamon fathered two sons: Ajax (through Perivoia, who was the daughter of Alkathos, the King of Magara) and Teucros (through his marriage to Issioni). The two brothers participated in the Trojan War with 12 ships. Ajax was then ruler of the island and was described as one of the bravest Greeks. His end, however, was tragic. He committed suicide upon his defeat by Odysseus for the prize of Achille’s weapons and armor in the funeral games organized to commemorate the Achille’s death. At war’s end, Teucros returned to the island in the company of Eurissakis, Ajax’s son by Tekmissa. Once there, Teucros was confronted with the anger of his father, Telamon, for failing to avenge the death of his brother. As a result, Teucros abandoned the island, proceeded to Cyprus and founded a city that he named “Salamina”. Eurissakis, in the meantime, ruled the island and fathered a son, Filaeus, who, in turn, acquired Athenian citizenship and gave the island of Salamina to Athens.
For several centuries, however, Salamina was the “Apple of Discord” between Athens and Megara.
For a time, Salamina fell under the hegemony of Megara. It was only after intervention of Solon did Athenian rule over Salamina become final.
During the Persian Wars, the people of Salamina provided invaluable assistance to Athens against the invaders, most notably during the epic sea battle which took place in 480 B.C. In an incredible confluence of history, the three great tragedians of Greece “met” during the battle. Aeschylus, the eldest of the three, fought in it. Sophocles, then a teenager, participated in the victory celebrations.
Finally, perhaps the greatest tragic playwright of the three, Euripides, was born on the island on the day of the battle.
Recent excavations, which began in 1994 by archaeologist Dr. Yannos Lolos, have brought valuable findings to light. One example is the discovery of the cave of Euripides where, according to historical sources, he wrote his immortal works. On the footpath leading to the cave, the ruins of the Temple of Dionysus were discovered. Additionally, even more recent excavations in the southern part of the island, in the area now known as “Kanakia” have yielded the ruins of the Homeric – era settlement.
In its later history, Salamina suffered numerous invasions, such as those of the Macedonians and Peloponnesians. In between the ebb and flow of war and peace and, especially during the period between 350 B. C. and 318 B. C., the island was able to mint its own coins.
During the Byzantine period, the island enjoyed a vigorous life style as evidenced by construction of numerous churches and tombs. That life – style was threatened by the Venetians, pirates and others.
During the Turkish occupation, due to its unique position, the island enjoyed certain benefits while, at the same time, it made positive contributions to the struggle for liberation.
The island offered a place of safety for refugees, such as those from Athens in 1687, in addition to the people from Attika and Boeotia in 1770 and in 1821. It was from this experience that the phrase: “My heart has flown to Koulouri” is derived.
Salamina participated in the “Orloff Revolt” with Mitromaras as its leader, who later donated his sword as a token of faith to the Monastery of Phaneromeni. Later still, a cell of the “Society of Friends” (a society formed to encourage and facilitate the War of Independence) was formed on the island, under the leadership of the abbot of the Phaneromeni Monastery, Gregorios Kanellos. Kanellos, in turn, initiated the brothers Anagnostis and Antonis Virvilis into the Society.
During the revolution of 1821, the island took a vigorous part in the struggle for independence through the leadership of George Glistis, as well as George Mathessis, Jonh Kritsikis, Anagnostis Virvilis, Anagnostis Karnesis, John Viennas and others.
The Monastery of Phaneromeni supplied substantial and noteworthy assistance to the struggle for Independence. In 1823, the Provisional Revolutionary Executive and Legislative bodies were established on the island. Additionally, in 1824, the printing the facility of the “Athenian Newspaper”, published by G. Psillas, was transferred to the island. During the struggle, many leading members of the revolution enjoyed the island’s hospitality, especially those who participated in the military operation in Attika, Athens and Phaleron, such as Makriyiannis, Tsavelas, Demetrios Ypsilantis, Mavrovouniotis and others. The island also offered its hospitality to George Karaiskakis, whose most elite troops were a group consisting of fighters from Salamina. After his death from wounds received in the Battle of Phaleron in 1827, Karaiskakis was buried in the church of St. Demetrios, pursuant to his wishes. In 1996, his tomb was reconstructed and his marble bust was placed in the church’s courtyard. In 1830, the National Governor, John Kapodistrias, founded the first elementary school on the island, which remained in operation until 1981, and now houses the archaeological museum.
At the and of the revolution, the island enjoyed a blossoming of the maritime professions. In 1878, the establishment of the Hellenic Naval Base at Phaneromeni proved to be a significant event for the island of Salamina. In 1881, the naval base was moved to its present location.
This period in the island’s history produced several significant personalities such as the painter Polichronis Lembesis, the writer and folklorist Petros Fourikis, General Theodoros Pangalos, playwright Demetris Bogris, and later still, the bard of traditional song, George Papasideris, professor and archaeologist Demetris Pallas, and the Chief of Staff of the Hellenic Armed Forces, Spiros Avgeris, the hero of the Cyprus Liberation Fight (1955-59) against the British Rule, captain Evangelos Loukas (Koutalianos), among others.
During the German Occupation (1941-44), the island once again sacrificed the flower of its youth in its resistance against the invaders. Among them were George Begnis, Nikolaos Beris, Fhilip Toutsis, Stelios Nikoletos, George Elefsiniotis, and others, in addition to those sent to German concentration camps.
As the years passed, and the population of Athens and Pireas increased, the island slowly became a place for weekend excursions, a summer resort and, indeed, as a place of permanent residence for many. The island’s beautiful natural landscape, its recent archaeological discoveries, its rich historical heritage, its variety of sights, in addition to the biological purification of its surrounding sea, and its short distance from Athens, have turned Salamina into an appealing tourist destination.
Sights to visit.
In the center of Salamina, as well as in the northwest (Phaneromeni, Vasilika, Batsi), a visitor can find a lot of monuments and sightseeing.
Salamina Municipality Folk and Maritime Museum. In the City Hall at Konstantinos Karamanlis Avenue.
Archaeological Museum. (1st Elementary School also known as Kapodistriakon) at P. Lembessis street, in the Town center.
Euripides Theater, Panayia Eleftherotria Chapel. On Patris hill in the very center of the Town.
Windmills 18th c. On the top of St. Nicolas hill across Patris hill also in the in the Town center.
St. Demetreus church, 1806. (burial place of Karaiskakis, paintings by P. Lembesis and art work by Y. Halepas). Also in the Town center.
Cathedral St. Minas (paintings by P. Lembesis and art work by Y. Halepas). Also in the Town center.
St. Phaneromeni historic convent 17thc. (paintings by G. Markou – burial place of J. Gouras) North west of the island celebrating on August 23rd.
Residence place of our National poet Angelos Sikelianos. On the main highway on the coast of Phaneromeni convent.
Byzantine and Post – Byzantine Chapels. St. Gregory at Perivolia, St. Demetrius at Paliampela, St. George at the similarly named area, St. John at Loutsa – Karnaya, Kimisseos Theotokou (Panayia Boskou or Katharou) and St. Haralambus at Bosko, St. Nicolas at Batsi, St. Paraskevi & St. Eleftherios at St. Paraskevi area, Panayia Vrodou church at Vrodou area, St. Kiriaki & Zodohou Pigi at Loumithi – Vreto area, Prophet Elias at the similarly named hill in the town center.
On the south part of the island, and more specifically Aeantion (Moulki), Kaki Vigla, Kanakia, Peristeria, Kolones and Saterli there are also many places of interest as well as monuments and sightseeings.
St. Nicolas Lemonia Historic Monastery 17th c. – St. John Kalivitis Chapel 10th c. Situated in a pine tree forest, south the island towards Kanakia.
Euripides Cave – Dionysus Temple. In the south of the island, Peristeria district (area).
Stone Light House. In the south of the island, at the Licopoulo promontory, a little farther
from Peristeria South – westwards.
Cyclic Burial Monument 4th c. B. C. In the south of the island, at Kolones.
Kimisseos Theotokou Church 11th c. Near at the square of Aeantion (Moulki).
Metamorphosis Sotiros Chapel 11th c. Near at the square of Aeantion (Moulki).
Hypapanti Convent. At Flevariotissa – Menemeni area.
Ruins of the Homeric settlement of Salamina. In the south of the island, at Kanakia area.
Byzantine and Post – Byzantine Chapels. St. Demetrius at Saterli, St. George at Ginani, St. Nicolas at Halioti, St. Haralambus at Kaboli, St. George at the similarly named area, Isodia Theotokou at Perani, St. Marina, St. Zoni & Metamorphosis Sotiros at Kaki Vigla, St. Athanasios at Katsouli.
Also, on the east side of the island, at Ampelakia, Kinosoura, Selinia, Kamatero there are a lot of places to visit.
Ruins of the historic settlement of “Kolouris” and harbor dating from the 4th c. B.C. At the eastern and of the island, near the coast of Ampelakia.
Tomb of the Warriors of the Naval Battle of Salamina. At the eastern end of the island, at Kinosoura promontory.
The Stone Theater. Along the coast towards Selinia in the East.
Tower Part of Ancient Walls. Behind Kimisseos Theotokou Church on Kamatero Hill.
Isodia Theotokou Church ( paintings by P. Lembesis, D. Andrianou and art work by Y. Halepas). In the Town center of Ampelakia.
Byzantine and Post – Byzantine Chapels. Hypapanti, St. Peter, St. John, St. Trinity, at Ampelakia.
Carnival. The Municipal Authorities in Salamina are in charge of the Carnival Festivities and the organization of the traditional “Koulouri Carnival” during which, in accordance with the old customs, people are treated with sweet wine, cream pastry (known as galactomboureko or poupeki) and macaroni cheese.
Karaiskakia. Cultural and sport events are held at the end of May in honor of the national
hero of the war of independence in 1821 G. Karaiskakis.
The Fisherman’s Festival. A tremendous festivity is jointly organized by the Municipal
Authorities and the island’s Fishing Association. Grilled fish and plenty of wine are offered
to the participants. The festival takes place at the end of August.
The Phaneromeni Festival. A renown festival and fair is held annually at the convent of
Panayia Phaneromeni from August 23rd to 25th.
Aeantia. Festivities and events in honour of King Ajax (Aeantas) are held in June
Salaminia. The festivities which occur every September to commemorate the historic naval battle of Salamis.
Salamina Municipal Festival.Concerts, plays, folklore and cultural events are taking place throughout the summer at the Euripides Theater. During wintertime, all activities are held at the City Hall in the “D. Bogris” room. Concerts and plays, as well as other cultural events are held at the small Stone Theater in Selinia.
There are many beautiful beaches and little bays in the South coasts of the island like: NATO beach at Aeantion, Kanakia, Pirgiakoni, Lambrano, Saterli, Kolones, Peristeria, Aeas club, Kiriza, Limniona, Yala, and Selinia beach. There are also beautiful sea – side places which one may encounter in the North or West coast of the island like Psili Amos, Steno Phaneromenis, Resti, Heliakti, St. George area and at Vasilika.
Approaching them can be easily made by means of bus, car, or the local bus service or by sea.
The island contains two beautiful pine forests. One is the Forest of Phaneromeni, which is found at the northwest side of the island end which is available for jogging and camping. The other is the Forest of Kanakia located at the south end of the island and is the largest, nearest and only belt of green in Western Attica. This forest is suitable for camping, riding, jogging and has competitive mountain – bike paths available.
Whenever you visit the island, don’t miss the opportunity to taste the traditional “platetsi” (pie made of local olive – oil), “kuguluari” (red pumpkin pie), “mustocouloura” (rolls made of must), pan – cakes, and bread baked on fire – wood. At the fish market you can always find fresh fish straight from the local fishing boats. You can also find at some tourist – shops, puppets dressed in clothes knitted with golden threaded traditional costumes of the island and other souvenirs.
There are many eateries that capture the heart of the visitor and the bon vivant both in the town’s center and at other venues such as: Selinia, Aeantion and Kaki – Vigla. Don’t miss sitting at one of the traditional, sea-side “Ouzeri” to sample fresh fish, other seafood and most especially the charcoal – grilled octopus. The island has many sea – side Cafés where one can enjoy a coffee, or a drink, while viewing a magical sunset. In addition, the island’s night life is intense. There are numerous night clubs not only for the young, but for those that are young at heart, many of which feature live music till the early morning hours.
Aliki: Melina Resort +30 210-4640562, 6937489414
Aeantion: Gabriel Hotel +30 2155003555, 6944283393
Selinia: Votsalakia Hotel (+30) 210 – 4671334, 210 – 4671432
Akrogiali Hotel +30 210 – 4673263
The main connection of the island with Attica consists of the boats and ferries between Perama and Paloukia. Departures for the island occur every fifteen minutes during the day and every thirty minutes at night. Boats for Paloukia depart from Piraeus every thirty minutes in addition to other locals on the island such as Kamatero and Selinia. Finally, there is the regular boat line between the coast of Megara and Phaneromeni, which departs every sixty minutes. The trip to the coast of Megara is quite short if one uses the Attica Highway.
For transportation within the island’s interior, if you do not have an automobile, you may use the KTEL local buses, taxis, or rental vehicles available on the island.
Text: Maria Boutsi
Translation: Stavroula Kyriakou