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The old open cisterns and water supply

By Souzana Raphael

On all islands that lack an abundant supply of ground water, the inhabitants must develop ingenious means of diverting the ground water that exists, and catching the water that falls from the skies during the rainy season. This article deals with the natural cistern - like souvales (pronounced soo-VAH-less) that existed (and still exist) on Aegina island, with details drawn from the booklet entitled Ομβροδέχτες/ Οι Σουβάλες της Αίγινας - Cisterns/ The Souvales of Aegina, by the Environmental Education Team of the Second Gymnasio of Aegina in Kipseli (2009-10).

According to an early local woman researcher named Gogo Koulikourdi, Aegina has little rainfall because the winds push the rainclouds westward towards the Peloponnese. Running water is minimal and there are no streams. Though in past times travelers wrote of some creeks, the likelihood is that they were speaking of stream - bed torrents - that is, dry channels flooded from time to time during heavy rainfall. Aegina was dry in older times, and completely so in the mountains in the southern part of the island and in the southeast, but never entirely in other parts. The locals got their water from the souvales and, at lower altitudes, from wells. In some areas there were also covered cisterns. At Kolona (the Mycenean archeological site just north of Aegina town) and at the Markellos Tower, there were tanks like wells with three "mouths". Water was conducted from the ancient aqueduct to the city. Paleachora (the fortified hill town which was island capital from the 9th to the 19th century) was supplied water from cisterns that belonged to houses and churches. The newer city had wells with brackish water, adequate for household use. On the flatter areas of the island there were wells with good water, which seemed to have sufficed for the inhabitants. Koulikoudi refers to a writer named Boblaye who referred in 1828 to the existence of three public wells in the city, visited unceasingly by the local women. During antiquity, when Aegina had a very large population, the city water supply was from a large aqueduct which stored rainwater from the surrounding mountains and conducted it in large pipes to supply the city. During the earlier part of the 20th century a small aqueduct was constructed with rudimentary conduits, which was later completed. The city water supply from 1947 was via public taps, providing water once or twice a week. Artesian wells were opened in the same year. By 1948, water became available for two hours daily. In present times the city is supplied continuously from γεωτρήσεις (bore-holes), and from water brought by ship from Attiki/ Attica - from the sources that also supply Athens.

Three methods of water supply
Koulikourdi described the three methods of water supplied used in Aegina from ancient times up to the middle of the 19th century.

1. In the mountainous parts of the island, the inhabitants constructed δεξαμενές (dhex-ah-men-ESS), or storage ponds (the same word describes a water "tank"). The old Greek word for these ponds was ομβροδέχτες/ omvroDHEK-tess – literally, rain-water-receivers, the later name "souvala" having either a Slavic or Turkish origin. At many spots on the island there were natural souvales - like ponds - found below the surface of the ground and of irregular shape. Others were carved into the rocky ground as on Mount Oros, at the Chrisoleondissa Monastery and still others at the old village of Lazarides. Those which were constructed were plastered with a kind of cement mortar which was waterproof, and usually covered with a special rooflike structure made of solid brick, resembling those of the old ovens found outside of every village house.

2. In the villages the water supply was from wells, including many very ancient ones, with a depth of from 20 to 35 metres. All of the old wells had at least one underground passage or stoa (also called λαγόυμι/ lagoumi), which served as a water storage tank. In many cases the main well was connected within the stoa with another well which was known as a φεγγίτη/ fengiti - (a skylight).

3. Besides wells, there were also springs on the island, in places such as Fratsi, Kondo and Vrochia. The entire area of Souvala (the small port on the north central coast of Aegina), Vathi and Agii was supplied with springs from Kourendi and there was also a spring at Agiou Pantelimona in Mesagros on the road leading towards Alones. Thus ends Koulikourdi's description of the main water sources traditionally developed and exploited on Aegina island. Walkers frequenting the old mountain villages and mountain tracks of Aegina will surely come upon some of the old souvales lined with rocks and filled with rainwater.

The ancient aqueduct

Aegina had always a problem with water because it had limited rainfall and,at various times, a large population. During antiquity the island was supplied with water by underground tanks, natural sources such as springs, cisterns and wells, but also by a technically perfect aqueduct, which supplied the city of Aegina. It is speculated that it was constructed in either 528 or 520 BC. with a length of 5,500 metres. It began in the region of Kondos, in the southern part of the dry stream-bed, Marina, gathering rainwater from the surrounding mountains, which were then stored in the central reservoir of Meristos and channelled towards Kolona and the city. The entire island was full of underground passages from which water was channelled to the central reservoir, passages more than five feet in height, with skylights, from which craftsmen were able to enter and maintain the network. The floor and walls were built of brick and on the roof and the floor were paving stones. In the region where the Agricultural Cooperative was located, however, a water works of significant archaeological importance was discovered, with many chambers and wells. In an area known as "Farakla", traces of a second aqueduct were found, dating to classical antiquity, with a total length of 2,500 sq.metres. In the foundations of the ancient temple of Kolona a large reservoir of water was found which channelled water from the ancient aqueduct to the city.


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