Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Island of Aegina pistachios some of the world's best

By John Fisher

Aegina is the first of the islands in the Argosaronic Gulf out from Piraeus, the port city near Athens. It takes about 45 minutes to reach by boat or ferry.

With bright sunshine, warm clear blue sea, excellent weather and rich archealogical history, it makes the perfect place to stay not far from Athens. The climate is also perfect for agriculture, particularly growing pistachio nuts.

Pistachio trees were first planted on the Island of Aegina in 1860. Now they are found abundantly on the island and pistachio nuts are the major export. Throughout Aegina, the dominant variety is known by the name " Aeginis", or "koilarati" meaning " round."  The variety is high-yieding and one of the best quality nuts in the world.

We visited Aegina as part of a three island cruise offered by Hydraiki cruise lines. We arrived about 4 p.m. and took at bus tour of the archeological and historical sites of the island. As we traveled we saw pistachio trees along the way. At the Temple of Aphaia we bought our first pistachios for 3.50 euros for 250 kg.

The temple of Athena Aphaia is built in the northern part of the island in a place covered with pine trees and with a view of the beautiful blue sea. It's in a very good condition. Twenty-four pillars of the temple remain, out of a total of 34. It was built in 480 b.c. just after the naval battle in Salamina.

In front of the Temple of Aphaia

Pafsanias gives us more information about Aphaia from some traditions in Crete. According to those, Vritomartis was born from Zeus and Karmi and because she liked hunting very much, Goddess Artemis was fond of her. Minoas fell in love with Virtomartis and in order to get away from him, she fell into the sea where she got tangled up in some fishermen's nets and they took her with them on their ship.

But on the ship, a sailor fell in love with Vritomartis so she was forced to fall into the sea again in order to get away from him and she managed to swim to the island. The girl headed towards the forest of the island and the sailors watched her from the ship as she was vanishing with some kind of holy intervention and that's why they named her Aphaia from the word afandos which in greek means that someone has vanished into thin air.

When the atmosphere is clear, you can see Poseidon's temple in Sounio and the Acropolis of Athens. It is said that the 3 temples form a triangle (the holy triangle of ancient times).

After visiting the temple of Aphaia, we stopped at the Monastery of Saint Nektarios. Major construction on the Monastery of Saint Nektarios took place from 1904-1910 by the bishop Pentapoleos Nektarios. Construction continues even today. Scafolding was in the main sanctuary where artists are working on the ceiling paintings.

The Monastery of Saint Nektarios

Nektarios lived in the Monastery and died in 1920.  In 1961 he was declared a Saint because of his healing powers. His casket is in an annex to the central sanctuary. It is said that the faithful who put their ears to the casket and hear his heartbeat are healed. Many devout Orthodox Catholics visit the Monastery because of the many accounts of healing that have occurred there.

The Monastery is on the road to Saint Marina and is about 6 kilometers away from the town of Aegina. The church has two tall bell-towers and 4 rows of windows which all have red archs. Fourteen nuns live in this Monastery.  After visting the Monastery we stopped at a roadside kiosk and paid 5 euros for a half kilo of postachios. (California pistachios cost about $20 a kilo.)

Pistachio tree and nuts

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