Paleochora (translating to “Old Town” in Greek) is an abandoned medieval village and one of the most popular sites on Aegina Island. Located on a barren hillside close to the Monastery of Agios Nektarios, it is dotted with the remains of a Byzantine village and according to tradition with more than 365 churches – one for every day of the year - though this figure is not confirmed by research. Historical studies indicate the existence of around 50 churches, 38 of which have survived to date and are open to visitors. You can easily spend the day wandering the hills visiting every single one of them. The churches punctuate the rocky heights of the citadel and are linked by a network of paths. Some of the churches have been renovated and parts of their frescoes have been cleaned and reestored. The houses however have been turned into ruins and there is not much of it to see today.
The hill itself was blessed with natural springs of drinking water and small stone-lined reservoirs for its storage, known as “souvales”. The valley of Mesagros below was well-watered and fertile, providing the people living in the citadel with food. The castle at the top afforded an extensive view of the Saronic Gulf, allowing forewarnings of pirate raids. Moreover, the town was well-camouflaged due to its natural building materials, which blended with the rocky landscape.
Paleochora was Aegina’s Byzantine capital for nearly 1,000 years, from the 9th century through the medieval period and was only abandoned during the 1820s. The village was inhabited in the 9th century when Saracen Arab raids forced the inhabitants of coastal settlements to abandon their villages and seek new and fortifiable refuges inland to avoid pirate raids. Paleochora flourished until 1537 when notorious pirate Khaireddin Barbarossa destroyed and burnt everything but the churches which stand still today. Gradually, the inhabitants returned to the hill and rebuilt the town. However, they lived under the fear of the pirates and the only way to survive was to join them or leave the island. In order to give an end to piracy, Venetian Fransisco Morozini, besieged Paleochora for 8 days, took 600 inhabitants with him and left the castle completely ruined. From 1800, the residents of Paleochora began to abandon the hill in order to settle around the harbor area.
Today, on the hill there are the ruins of the castle built by the Venetians in 1654 and the 38 churches that still survive. Most of them are small, single-aisle and belong to the type of the basilica. But there are also some cross-in-square churches and others dedicated to two saints and different religious doctrines. The Metropolis during the Byzantine period was the church of Panagia Fortissa. Other remarkable churches of historical and religious interest, are the church of Stavros (Holy Cross) at the entrance of the citadel, the church of Metamorphosis with a beautiful wall painting at the altar, the church of Agios Nikolaos with its remarkable wall paintings of 1330 and the monastery of Agia Kyriaki with the church and the cells. The church of Agios Dionisios offers an amazing view of both the valley below and of the opposite hillside while the church of Agii Anargyri boasts a fabulous view to the east of Aegina’s pine forest. The icons of the churches are not all in good condition but are of exceptional art and represent the dominant art tendencies from the 13th to the 18th century.
Paleochora, the so called "Mystras of the Saronic Gulf», is one of Aegina’s most atmospheric places to visit. It is 6.5 km east of Aegina Town, very close to the Monastery of Agios Nektarios. Buses from Aegina Town stop at the monastery, and if you want to visit Paleochora, you will need to hike a short path. Entrance is free but bring plenty of water with you, wear hiking shoes and a hat. In Paleochora, you can also visit the cell of Agios Dionisios of Zante, where he lived from 1567 and throughout the three-year duration of his archbishopric in Aegina. The cell still exists today, next to the church of Episkopi along with the touching inscription which is a token of love and worship of the locals to his person.