Poros is located in the western part of the Saronic Gulf, very close to the Peloponnese coast, at a distance of 31 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus and covers an area of 23 sq. km. According to Pausanias (II, 33, 1-2), Poros consists of two islets since the antiquity: Sferia and Kalavria. Sferia (also Sfaeria or Sphairia), a rocky triangular islet of volcanic origin (where today’s port and city are located) near the Argolic coast, was created by the eruption of the volcano of Methana, during the prehistoric era, about 100.000 years ago. Kalavria (also Kalaureia or Calauria) is an islet covered by sedimentary rocks with limestone and shale; it is much older and larger than Sferia. The islets were united over the centuries due to deposits of streams, and because of that, in 1890, a canal bridge was built. Sferia is separated from the opposite Peloponnesian coast by a narrow passage (pore -poros in Greek-). The port of Poros has been a source of inspiration for men of letters. One of them was George Horton, member of the United States diplomatic corps, poet and philhellene, who was impressed by the narrow and picturesque anchorage.
Small Spheria was named after Pelops’ charioteer, Spherus, who helped him defeat King Oenomaus (also Oenamaus) in the chariot races and marry the king’s daughter. Those scholars, who consider the name "Kalavria" as Greek, interpret it as the "place of good winds" or the place of Poseidon Kalavros (god of tail wind).
Poros is made up of pine-covered hills, the highest of which is Vigla in the east, at a height of 390 metres. It has idyllic beaches that attrack a lot of visitors during the summer. In the northern part of the island is the unique fertile valley of Fousa, where there are vineyards, while the opposite Peloponnesian coast is also intensively cultivated. The island also produces citrus fruits, olive oil, olives and flowers. In addition, its inhabitants are engaged in tourism and fishing.
The Municipality of Poros, established in 1941, includes the double island of Poros and the nearby islets. Within its boundaries are the settlements of Poros, Perlia - Settlement, Askeli, Neorio and Fousa. The Municipality of Poros remained unchanged during the implementation of the "Kapodistrias" plan (1997) and the "Kallikrates" plan (2010). The total area of the municipality is about 49 square kilometres, as, in addition to the two islands, it includes an area of 26 square kilometres in the Peloponnese, from the border of Galata to the coast opposite Hydra. The island is the seat of public services and organizations. Its population is 3,993 inhabitants (2011 census), and increases dramatically during the summer months.
Built amphitheatrically on the hill of Sferia, the preserved settlement of Poros charms with its island architecture, picturesque squares, cobbled streets and stately neoclassical houses right next to the port, which give the island a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Its trademark is the famous clock of the town, which dominates the hill in its centre; it was built in 1927 at the expense of Ioannis Papadopoulos, a member of the Trizinia Parliament. Opposite Poros, the green Kalavria -its ideal complement- harmoniously combines the forest with the sea, creating a magical setting.
The charm of Poros landscape has been praised by painters, poets and writers. The poet George Seferis, who was fascinated by the charms of the island, writes (Imerologio, 13/8/1946): "Poros has something of Venice: canal, connection between houses by boats, opulence, idleness, sensual temptation, a place for international lovers"
Mythology - Prehistory
The early history of the island can be traced back to Greek mythology. According to Pausanias (II, 33, 1-2), Aethra traveled to the island of Spheria in order to pour a libation for Sferos, after receiving a dream from the goddess Athena urging her to do so. There she slept with the god Poseidon. For this reason, Aethra established there the temple of Athena Apaturia and named it "Iera" (island). To honor goddess Athena, the Ionians celebrated the "Apaturia", an ancient Greek festival of "homopatrias" (relatives), during which adult boys and girls were registered in the phratries, the lists of relatives. Pausanias notes that originally Kalavria belonged to Apollo, while Delphi was the sanctuary of Poseidon. One day, these two gods exchanged their sacred places, but in the 2nd century AD, the following verses were still remembered: "It is the same to make the most of Delos and Kalavria and the most sacred Pytho and the windswept Taenaro".
Archaeologists have identified evidence of human presence on the island, probably since the Neolithic period, in the area where, much later, the sanctuary of Poseidon was founded. During the Early Helladic period (3rd millennium BC), the population of the island increased; the island’s settlement became more concentrated in the northern, central and eastern parts of Kalavria, on the hills of Fousa and Skarpiza, on the Variarnia hill, on the Bisti peninsula, on Kavos Vasilis, on the Kokorelli hill and on the rocky islet of Modi. In addition, there was probably another settlement at Agios Stathis, on the north-western slope of the hill of Prophet Elias. These numerous prehistoric locations create an interesting “early Helladic period” map, which is part of the great development of maritime trade during this period; they are located at strategic points, on or near the sea routes connecting the Argolic and the Argosaronic Gulf, crossing the passage between the Peloponnesian coast and the islands of Hydra and Dokos. The settlements in the northern and eastern part of Poros had easy access to the coast of Attica, Aegina and the western Cyclades- with which they had trade relations. Archaeological data attest to the long-lasting inhabitation of Foussa throughout the Bronze Age, which probably continued during the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. On the peninsula between the bays of Small and Big Bisti (Megalo and Mikro Bisti), which form two natural, safe anchorages, there was a settlement where andesite tools and millstones (similar to those from the cargo of the Dokos shipwreck) were unearthed. Of particular importance is the large settlement at Kavos Vassilis, which covered 15 hectares and has been described as a “medium-sized town” of the Early Helladic period; it is located on a steep rocky hill overlooking the entire Argosaronikos Gulf, as far as the coast of Attica.
View of Poros waterfront
As there is no fertile arable land in the area, it is certain that the inhabitants had turned to the maritime economy. Among the archaeological findings, the seals stand out, reflecting an organized management of commercial products in a hierarchically structured society. The existence of numerous tools made of andesite suggests that the settlement had an important role in the trade of this material during the Early Bronze Age (Poros has several andesite rocks, as well as Aegina, which had a leading role in this trade). On the rocky hill Kokorelli, to the east, opposite the islet of Modi, traces of surface mining of talc (is a clay mineral composed of hydrated magnesium silicate) from the local grey-green rock 'ophiolite' have been found.
Inhabitation of Poros continued in Mycenaean times. Archaeologists have unearthed extensive settlement remains of this period at Modi- as well as in the area of the sanctuary of Poseidon.
In addition, near the north-western coast of the islet of Modi, a shipwreck of the Mycenaean period, dating back to the 13th-12th century, has been identified and investigated by the Institute of Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology in the last decade. After the shipwreck of Iria (region of Argolida), this important finding constitutes the second known example of a Late Bronze Age shipwreck discovered in Greek seas, specifically in the Argosaronikos Golf.
Remains of the sanctuary of Poseidon
Written sources provide valuable information about the island, which was inhabited from the Hellenic to the Roman period. According to the historian Anticlides (FGrHist 140), Poros was initially called Irene. However, the geographer Strabo (VII, 6,14) notes that Poros in antiquity was called Kalavria, while Apollonius of Rhodes (II 1243) preserves the similar type “Kalavreia”. On an inscription (Syll 3 359.1-2), the island is also referred to as “Kalavrea”.
In the center of Poros dominated the sanctuary of Poseidon, which was the seat of the great Amphictyony (or amphictyonic league) of Kalavria. The geographer Strabo (VII, 374) mentions that seven powerful cities participated in the league: Ermioni, Epidaurus, Aegina, Athens, Prasies, Nafplia and Minyan Orchomenos. Later, according to the same source, Argos took the place of Nafplia in the Amphictyony (the Argives destroyed Nafplia in the second half of the 7th century BC), and Sparta took the place of Prasies (when Prasies was conquered by Sparta shortly after 550 BC); its main goal was to defend the expansionist aims of the powerful king of Argos Pheidon. However, over time the Amphictyony evolved into a simple religious union, which did not play a significant role in the course of history.
The exact period when Amphictyony was founded has been of particular interest to archaeological research, but the majority of the researchers agreed it was in the Archaic times. As archaeological evidence confirms human presence in the sanctuary since the Late Bronze Age, many scholars have searched for league’s roots in this period.
The sanctuary of Poseidon had a hyper local character; it was like a cohesive link uniting different areas, because, apart from being the seat of the Amphictyony of Kalavria, it was also an asylum for persecuted people. The sanctuary extends on a plateau, at an altitude of 190 meters in Palatia, between Vigla and the top of Prophet Elias. From this point, the view to the Vagionia bay is excellent. Excavations of this area began in 1894 by Swedish archaeologists and this was the first Swedish excavation in Greece. Archaeological findings confirm human presence during the Early Helladic Period (perhaps even earlier, in Neolithic times), which continued into the Late Bronze Age. In the Geometric period, the area became a place of worship. The archaic temple of Poseidon was built at the end of the 6th/ beginning of the 5th century BC. At the end of 4th century BC, the area of the sanctuary was extended to the south, through the construction of new buildings and the propylon, too. Worship continued in Hellenistic and Roman times. Archaeologists have also found Byzantine pottery, which suggests that there was activity even during this late period. However, it is not known exactly when the ancient sanctuary was abandoned. In 1997, the Swedish Archaeological Institute of Athens started a new round of excavations in the area.
Today, the scattered architectural remains of the sanctuary are illegible to the visitor; they include the temple of Poseidon with its enclosure to the northeast, as well as an open space to the southwest defined by galleries. The inscriptions certify that the sanctuary was adorned with numerous glorious votive offerings and that, from time to time, the area of the sanctuary was expanded in order to meet the needs of the gathered believers. On the west of the galleries was the propylon of the sanctuary and in front of it a circular platform. The buildings were built with stones in antiquity and in modern times, and as a result they are preserved today at a level of their foundations. It was a Doric temple, with 6 columns on the narrow sides, 12 on the long sides and a simple porch with two columns between pillars; very few architectural remains of the superstructure have come to light, while only the foundation trench of the building survives. Western travelers inform us that, in the PreRevolutionary years, the building material of the temple (even the substructure) was transported by boats to the nearby islands in order to be used for their reconstruction and it was intended for the construction of a monastery. Only the precinct survived, because it was made of small rough stones, which had no value as a building material.
The ancient sanctuary became the setting for the tragic end of Demosthenes. The orator had been sentenced to death after the Lamian War (323-322 BC), on a proposal of the orator Dimadis; pursued by Antipater’s men, he escaped arrest and arrived in the ancient city of Kalavria, where he sought asylum in the sanctuary and eventually committed suicide by poisoning himself with conium inside the temple of Poseidon, in 322 BC. The death of this great man sealed, in the most painful way, his struggle against Philip of Macedonia. Giannis Ritsos mentions to these dramatic events in his poem “Memorial in Poros” (1969).
To the southwest of the sanctuary was the ancient city of Kalavria. Public buildings have been excavated in the marketplace (agora); one of them was probably the parliament building of Hellenistic times, while close to it there is a “heroo” (memorial structure). Archaeologists have also located houses’ ruins, while at several points of the settlement whole pieces of the fortification of Hellenistic times are preserved. The port of the city was probably located in the Vagionia bay, in the north, where the remains of ancient port have come to light. In ancient times, the protected bay was probably a very safe anchorage for ships – from there was a road leading to the temple of Poseidon, through the propylon of the sanctuary.
Middle Ages - Venetian and Ottoman Rule
In 396 AD, Goths raids completely destroyed Trizinia and Kalavria. A few years later, a powerful earthquake almost flattened the island. Probably that was the reason the facilities of the ancient port of Vagionia were submerged in the sea. In fact, Poros did not manage to recover from these catastrophic events. During the Middle Ages, Poros was uninhabited and become a lair of pirates who preyed on the Saronic islands and the coast of the Peloponnese by using its northern coast as a base. The name 'Barbaria', which is still used today for Vagionia bay, eloquently reflects the long presence of the corsairs on the island.
By the 13th century, the Saronic islands were under Venetian rule. However, Sferia was colonized later, in the early days of Ottoman rule. As part of the internal migration under Ottoman pressure in the 15th century, Orthodox Arvanite populations settled there, arriving from the conquered areas of the Peloponnesian mainland while searching a safe place (there are still place names with Arvanite roots on the island). Then the medieval settlement of Kastelli was created around today’s Clock Tower, in a fortified position, which offered protection from pirates. Scholars believe that these first inhabitants were few and created a small village. Their houses were protected by the large and steep cliffs that rose around them.
Later, the island came again under Venetian rule - from 1688 until the end of the Sixth Venetian-Turkish War (1684-1699), Admiral Francesco Morosini used it as a naval base for his powerful fleet. With the Treaty of Passaurovic (1718) between Austria, Venice and the Ottoman Empire, the Westerners were once and for all expelled and Poros was once again under Ottoman rule. Gradually more settlers (Greeks and Arvanites) came to the island, creating in this way a mixed population that lived peacefully in this small place and shared their orthodox faith. During the revolution of 1770 (Orlovika), Alexis Orlov established his admiralty on the island.
The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, a unique example of island monastic architecture, was built in 1713- 1716. The imposing building dominates a green hillside, four kilometres from the centre of Poros. The name of the monastery comes from the island's only spring, which, according to tradition, has miraculous healing properties. As described in Literature, the imposing building complex looks like a castle rooted in the rocks from a distance. The dome of the church of Panagia Zoodochos Pigi stands out among the cypress trees, while the cells’ long windows remind the visitor of the battlements in the past. Of particular note are the remarkable carved wooden iconostasis of the church and the icon of the Virgin (as the Life-Giving Fountain), the work of the Italian painter Raffaello Cecoli. The artist gave the sacred figure the features of his daughter, who died at the age of 21 and was buried in the courtyard of the monastery. The church also houses three precious icons of the Zoodochos Pigi: two of them were created by the famous Cretan painters Theodoros Poulakis and Emmanuel Tzane in the mid-17th century; in addition, there is a sacred relic from the 1821 struggle, namely a silver-plated icon that Andreas Miaoulis had on his ship, which he dedicated to the monastery in 1830. There are also the graves of the great fighters of the Revolution, Manolis Tombazis and Nikolaos Apostolis.
The Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi
During the last quarter of the 18th century, Poros experienced a remarkable boom. It was the time of the rapid development of Greek mercantile shipping, following the Russian-Turkish Treaty of Kiouchuk Kainarji (1774), which created conditions for free navigation in the Mediterranean. In 1806, the famous Russian Naval Base was built, which today stands half-ruined in the idyllic landscape of a picturesque bay where a small pine-clad valley ends. During this period, after the end of the First Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774), Russian ships sailed freely in the Greek seas and sailed to Greek ports. Commercial activity increased after the next war - also victorious for Russia - of 1787-1792, when the Russians chose the safe port of Poros to build a supply station for their fleet. The complex included a large number of buildings for the manufacture of galleys and the storage of materials, foodstuffs and coal, which were used to supply the ships. At the beginning of the 20th century, when Russian navy was declined, the Greek ambassador of Russia, Alexandros Tombazis, originally from Poros, told the Tsar that the Greek State should be given ownership of this location for the benefit of the Greek navy. However, the buildings remained unused and began to fall into disrepair, while their building material was used in new constructions. Over the years, the site was sold to private owners and the monument was left exposed to the ravages of time. In recent years, the Municipality of Poros has taken initiatives to save it, while at the same time using the homonymous bay of the Russian Naval Base as a venue for important cultural and nautical events.
Remains of the Russian Naval Base
Just before the Revolution of 1821, the Saronic islands faced a major naval crisis. Napoleon's defeat dramatically changed the situation in the Mediterranean region: the Western Europeans took over again the control of maritime trade, and as a result the islands’ economy was hit. The crisis hit mostly the islands of Hydra and Spetses, because their inhabitants had large ships sailing across the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. The impact on Poros was less painful, because its merchant ships were smaller and covered shorter distances. The consequent economic impoverishment of the crews caused social strife in the small island communities, for which the Revolution was to be the only way out.
The Greek Revolution
On the eve of the Greek Revolution of 1821, several locals had already been initiated into the secret organization of Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends), setting the stage for the armed uprising. For the needs of the Struggle, Saronic islands’ merchant ships were converted into warships and were crewed by skilled sailors, ready for battle. Poros became the anchorage of the Greek navy while a three-member committee was responsible for the provision of ship’s supplies. Additionally, in the island’s storages were stored the supplies sent by Philhellenes abroad in order to be distributed to the civilians, who lived in absolute poverty.
After the Third National Assembly of the revolutionary nation (National Assembly of Trizina), convened from March to May 1827, the Antigovernment Committee, which exercised power temporarily until the arrival of Ioannis Kapodistrias, set Poros as its seat by the end of June. Then, when the civil conflict that had broken out ended, it was established in Nafplio which was voted as the capital of Greece by the National Assembly.
In the same year, the first naval base of independent Greece was founded on the island and, in 1831, its new position in the Poros military training centre (Κ.Ε. Πόρος) was officially announced. The “Naval Office of Poros Naval Base” kept this name until 1833, when King of Greece Otto established the Directorate of Navy. In 1878, the activities of Poros naval base were moved to Salamis Naval Base and the one left in Poros was used as a training center for sailors. By the beginning of World War II, the Navy School Complex, the Senior School Administration and the Training Squadron Headquarters had settled there.
Until 1952, Poros Naval Base operated again as a Training Center and Naval Academy for naval personnel. Then, until 1991, the facilities housed the Naval Officers’ School and, since 1992, operate as a training center called “K.E. POROS”, while there are guesthouses hosting naval officers during their island vacation.
The famous Conference of Poros (September-December 1828) took place in the island, during which the ambassadors of the three great powers (England, France and Russia) made recommendations to their governments concerning the borders of Greece; taking partially into account the memorandum presented by Ioannis Kapodistrias, they suggested that the territories of Central Greece, south of the Amvrakikos-Pagasitikos line, should be included in Greek territory. Before the conference was even completed, the Protocol of 4th /16th November 1828 was signed in London, according to which only the Peloponnese and the Cyclades were included in Greek territory. However, a few months later, the recommendations of the three ambassadors were accepted and the border line between Amvrakikos and Pagasitikos was ratified by the London Protocol (10/22 March 1829).
Women's costume of Poros and Hydra (from Otto’s work Magnus von Stackelberg, Costumes & Usages des Peuples de la Grèce Moderne, Paris 1828)
In July 1831, Poros became the scene of a bloody event of modern Greek history, included in the civil unrest that prevailed in the country after the struggle for independence: Andreas Miaoulis had a conflict with Ioannis Kapodistrias because the governor did not fulfill the requirements of shipowners in Hydra, who demanded preferential treatment in return for their decisive contribution to the struggle. Kapodistrias decided to exclude the ships of Hydra from the Greek fleet moored in Poros. When Miaoulis heard about Kapodistrias’ intentions, took the command of the frigate "Hellas" and then burnt the two most valuable ships of the Greek fleet. This unprecedented action triggered a national outrage, as well as a strong reaction by the government troops, leading to loots, arsons and extensive damages in the whole island.
Part of the facilities of the Training Centre «POROS»
During the modern times, medieval Kastelli was the centre from which today’s settlement of Poros developed. Starting from its hills, the houses progressively increased and reached to the beach and towards the edge of the peninsula. Around 1862 the neoclassical town began to develop, resulting in the gradual formation of the idyllic landscape of Poros with its timeless magic.
Chatzopouleios Municipal Library (Facebook photo of the library)
In recent years, Poros has developed remarkable tourism infrastructures and as a result it has become a popular summer destination for both Greek and foreign visitors. The sights of the island, such as the traditional settlement with the picturesque waterfront, the Sanctuary of Poseidon, the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, the Clock Tower, the Archaeological Museum as well as the Chatzopouleios Municipal Library (donated by a couple of local benefactors, George and Helgas Kanellakis) with the only Seashell Exhibition in Greece housed in it, combined with its unique natural landscape and idyllic beaches, create a seductive scenery. From 1957 to 1983, the battleship “Averoff” was moored in Poros and then was transported to Faliro.
Over the recent past, the island has hosted great people of literatutre and arts. The ‘Red House’ (named Galini), an imposing stone mansion designed by the architect Anastasios Metaxas on the coast between Poros and Galatas, hosted important people in summer, such as Eleftherios Venizelos in 1931 and the famous painter Marc Chagall, who was enchanted by the unique light of Poros and inspired by the beauty of its landscape. Galini was also the residence of the great Greek poet George Seferis from 1946 to 1949. "Galini, that Victorian house, red Pompeii, gave me for the first time, after many years, the feeling of a solid house, not a temporary camp: this thing that I got used to thinking it was no longer constructed", says the poet in a letter included in his prose work ‘Dokimes’ (Essays - 1962). In Galini he also wrote the poem ‘Kichli’ (The Thrush), borrowing the title from a small ship moored in front of this romantic house.
Among others, Henry Miller, George Horton, Greta Garbo, James Merrill, Kimon Friar, Peter Gray, and the British painters John Lee Craxton and Lucien Freud were some of those who spent their summer in Poros. John Lee Croxton painted “The Lemon Harvester” in the Lemon Forest, while Lucien Freud depicted the local fruit trees on canvas. Visitors of Poros were, also, the distinguished literary figures of Yannis Ritsos, Georges Sarri and Vassilis Rotas, as well as the popular singer-songwriter Dionysis Savvopoulos.
Today, Poros is major cultural hub in the region, thanks to events organized by its municipality throughout the year, but also due to major private initiatives such as the innovative Citronne Gallery and the International Piano Academy. In addition, its natural port is a popular destination for thousands of boats every year and, due to its easy road access from major urban centers, visitors increasingly prefer it outside the summer season to explore its beauty, participate in sporting events and witness unique customs such as the Epitaph crossing in the fairway at Easter.
The island is an attractive microcosm, combining the picturesque natural and residential landscape with an interesting history and unique atmosphere. In recent years, the Municipality of Poros has been at the forefront of nationwide actions to protect the marine environment, with an emphasis on tackling pollution from transported plastic waste and the removal of fish farming activity from the coastal areas they occupy, in conflict with the priorities of local communities for the preservation of the natural environment and sustainable development.
Since 2014, the mayor of Poros has been Giannis Dimitriadis, who won the elections on May 2014 by getting 56% of votes and was re-elected on May 2019 with 58%.
The Archaeological Museum of Poros
The Archaeological Museum is located at the square of Alexandros Koryzis (Prime Minister of Greece, who was originally from Poros and, according to the official historical record, committed suicide in April 1941 after refusing to accept a German ultimatum to surrender the country), in the centre of which there is his marble bust. It was built during 1967 and 1968 on the place of the old mansion of Koryzis, which was donated by his heirs to the State for this purpose.
Partial view of the museum interior
The museum has two spaces, one on the ground floor and the other one on the first floor, where antiquities from the sanctuary of Poseidon, excavation findings in Hermione and Trizina (Poros has always had very close contact with this region) are kept.
Among the exhibits of the ground floor, special mention should be made of the plaster cast of the Trizinian inscribed column with the text of the Athenian resolution proposed by Themistocles in 480 BC to deal with the Persian invasion, (the original of this column is currently in the Epigraphic Museum of Athens), the statuettes and tombstones of the 4th century BC, classical sculpture’ s representative samples, the capitals of the sanctuary, which briefly presents the evolution of the three main ancient architectural styles from the Archaic period to Roman times, the architectural parts of buildings of the Early Christian period, as well as the architectural terracotta from the sanctuary, ancient Trizina and Methana.
Before the staircase, the first acquisition of the Archaeological Collection of Poros is exhibited, which was founded by Christos Fourniadis, a French professor and lover of antiquity: a marble foot from a supernaturally sized Roman statue. The way it is presented, with its old showcase along with Fourniadis' handwritten sign, refers to the first years of the collection.
On the first floor of the museum there are mainly ceramic archaeological finds, certifying the long human presence in Trizinia and Ermioni from the Prehistoric period to the Paleochristian and Byzantine times. Additionally, even more impressive are the grave goods from the Mycenaean vaulted tombs in Magoula at Galata, including a bronze sword with silver-plated nails, which demonstrates the power and wealth of the local rulers of those times.
The museum building
* The above texts and photos are an excerpt from the album "Islands of Attica - aspects of history and culture", which was published in 2021 by the Cooperation Network of Municipalities.