Walking at Eleonas of Aegina – a sacred place
Text by Souzana Raphael
Eleonas/ Valley of Eleonas/ Ελαιώνας Αίγινας, is a high mountain valley with ancient olive trees. It can be reached from the waking path that starts opposite the beach of Marathonas B (2 km 50′). Alternatively, you can drive/ walk up to the top of Aeginitissa above Moondy Bay Hotel and take the path from there (30 minutes), or walk from Sfendouri (2.5 km 1:20′) or Pachia Rachi (1.3 km 45′). The slideshow below includes some photos of shepherd, Panagiotis Apostolopoulos (Panagas) who was the last occupant of the valley of Eleonas, now deceased. The deserted white-washed stone house with blue fences, close to the little church located at the north side of the valley was his house.
In the mind and heart of this author (and of many others who have visited Eleonas, whose name means “olive grove”), this mountain basin in the interior of Aegina island with its ancient olive trees is a place that should never be opened to building or other ‘development’. It is a place little known to many visitors to the island and even to permanent residents. Accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicle from Aeginitissa or on foot, it is a destination most sought by those who love wild, out-of-the-way places, and for such seekers, is well worth the effort.
Οne of the largest trees measures 13 metres (42.64 feet) around its trunk, with an internal cavity 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) in diameter. The age of the older trees has been estimated at 1500-2000 years. Eleonas belongs, for the most part, to the Monastery of Chrisoleontissa, which supported some of the shepherds and their herds of goats, sheep, and cattle. There are also a few private owners. The trees, though they still give forth new shoots, are not exploited for oil production. Whether the area is to be exploited in future for other purposes is a question occupying the minds of many who would like to see it designated as a natural ‘monument ‘— a place of sacred heritage.
I have gone to two gatherings at Eleonas, both in autumn, with a generous spread of picnic food brought by everyone to the area by the little chapel there, whose small courtyard with its stone walls provides a place for some to sit, while others spread blankets on the ground nearby. Low hills surround the grove, and the serenity and quiet are remarkable.
Pictures by Diana Snabilié
Watching the DVD entitled O Ελαιώνας της Αίγινας/ Eleonas of Aegina, a 2010 documentary dedicated to the last occupant of the area. I am awed by the diversity in appearance of the olive trees, some with gnarled, deeply grooved trunks and huge cavities that allow views of yet other trees beyond them, others with slender trunks with masses of green-leaved branches atop them, and the stones near them are also beautiful, some of them large boulders, and many dappled with colorful designs.
The last occupant of the area, Panagiotis Apostolopoulos, now deceased, is seen speaking with an intense local advocate for preservation of Eleonas, Dr. Georgos Bogris, in front of the occupant’s house, which resembles the old stone houses found in Cycladic villages, with white-washed stone walls and teal-colored shutters on the windows. He has a very bushy mustache and sidewhiskers, a floppy hat from which his hair protrudes, and his deep-blue shirt is open, revealing a naked chest. His legs are also bare. He draws on a hand-rolled cigarette during pauses in the conversation. A crooked staff is seen next to him, leaning against the wall of the house.
Bogris speaks of the monopatia/ paths that lead to Eleonas from the nearby mountain villages of Sfendouri (inland from the fishing village of Perdika), from Pachia Rachi, from Marathonas and Aeginitissa on the island’s west coast. He remarks that some of those paths have been ‘lost’ (but rediscovered by Evangelia Rekleiti & friends), and I remember my ascent of a year ago up the steep, rain-gutted, stony dirt road from Marathonas, a road that all but disappears once one gets up to the top near Eleonas, requiring much careful stepping over rocks to get to firm ground.
There is a point midway through the DVD where the cinematographer captures some amazing images of the trees, with many close-ups of ancient bark, with simultaneous comments by the narrator as to the phantasmagoric shapes, faces, and figures suggested by these trees, which are the stuff of primeval archetypes, fairy tales and art.
Animal life found in Eleonas includes rabbits, partridges, insects, tortoises, horses, along with the occasional passing herd of goats … A goat-herd passed through with his goats during the second gathering I attended at Eleonas this year, most of them with wonderful curving horns.
Untill the late 60’s, the stones of this area were quarried nearby and made into mill-stones that were shipped by boat to many parts of Greece.
Perhaps my favorite moment in this wonderful DVD dedicated to this last occupant of Eleonas, shows him riding side-saddle with the hills behind him, then a close-up of his face as he sits on his beautiful white horse, and then a close-up of the horse munching dry grasses. I wish that I had known him.
Eleonas is also spelled as Elaionas / the valley of Elaionas / the valley of Elaiona / Ελαιώνας Αίγινας
O Ελαιώνας της Αίγινας/ Eleonas of Aegina
2010 – documentary on DVD
Made by ironick
For sale at local bookstores for €10
“The Olive Grove of Aegina, unknown to most, is situated on a mountainous basin, invisible and desolate. The monastery – to which the area mostly belongs – has managed to maintain the olives trees which are considered ancient as they are estimated to have a life over 1,000 to 1,500 years. The documentary traces the life of the place, describes its wild fauna and abandoned flora, while presenting those images that these strange trunks awake in us all. The one and sole inhabitant of the grove tells strange stories about the area. What remains to be seen is whether the municipality will manage to preserve the grove or allow it to become yet another summer tourist camp for nearby Athenians.” – Ironick 2011