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Saronic Gulf

Physical Description

The Saronic Gulf is the arm of the Aegean sea separating Attica from the Peloponnese. The name is derived from a king of Troezen, Saron, who drowned in the gulf. Salamis, Aegina and Kalauria (now called Poros) are the three important islands in the Saronic Gulf. Salamis lies close to the mainland, and separates the bay of Eleusis from the the Saronic Gulf.

The largest of the Saronic Gulf's islands is Aegina. The climate of Aegina is mild and the volcanic soils are fertile, producing olives, vines, and grain. Much of the western portion of the island consists of plains which are cultivated. The interior of the island is mountainous and pine-covered, and the eastern portion of the island has the prominent conical peak of Mount Oros (528 m), sacred to Zeus.

Aegina holds a central position in the Saronic Gulf, being equidistant from Attica and the Argolid. The island controls all approaches of the Saronic Gulf, but possesses only one small, well sheltered harbor on the western side, where the ancient city of Aegina lies beneath the modern town.


Aegina has been inhabited since Neolithic times and was in contact with the Minoan civilization of Crete and the Mycenaean civilization. After 1100 B.C. Doric was the dialect spoken on the island.

Aegina is also the name of the chief town and harbor of the island. A sixth century B.C. Doric temple to Apollo (with 6 by 12 columns) sits atop a major Bronze Age city, called Kolonna. Excavated by Austrian archaeologists since the 1930's, Kolonna is the largest prehistoric city on the islands, with the exception only of Crete. The Classical city of Aegina was a powerful commercial rival of Athens, until it was reduced by the Athenians early in the Peloponnesian war. The best preserved remains are the commercial and military harbors.


The sanctuary and temple of Aphaia, a local goddess, sits atop a hill east of Aegina town. The late Archaic Doric temple is well-preserved and very beautiful. It overlays a prehistoric Mycenaean sanctuary.

The sanctuary of Zeus Panhellenios covers the conspicuous summit of Mount Oros. Well-constructed terrace walls, cisterns, and other buildings are preserved. The sanctuary was preceded by a Mycenaean sanctuary on the peak, rare on the islands and Greek mainland.

Kalauria (Poros) is a small island south of Aegina separated from the northeast Peloponnese by a narrow (250 km) strait. The island is about 10 km long from east to west. Its interior is made up of low rocky hills which are wooded, mostly with pine. The climate of the island is mild.

Kalauria's history dates back to Mycenaean times, but it is best known for being the seat of the Kalaurian League, a maritime confederation formed in the seventh century B.C. Its members included Athens, Aegina, Epidauros, Troizen, Hermione, Nauplion, Prasiai (in Attica) and Boeotian Orchomenos. At one time the island boasted a sixth century B.C. temple to Poseidon which enjoyed the privilege of sanctuary. It was here, on Kalauria, that Demosthenes (384-322 B.C.) poisoned himself while fleeing from Antipatros, a Macedonian general.

Curtis Runnels

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