The eastern side of Aegina is rugged and sparsely inhabited today, except for Ayia Marina, a former fishing hamlet now studded with hotels. The western side of the island, where Aegina town lies, is more fertile and less mountainous than the east; fields are blessed with grapes, olives, figs, almonds, and, above all, the treasured pistachio trees. Idyllic seascapes, quaint backstreets, and a number of beautiful courtyard gardens make Aegina town attractive.
Although it may seem hard to imagine, by the Archaic period (7th to 6th centuries BC), Aegina was a mighty maritime power. It introduced the first silver coinage (marked with a tortoise) and established colonies in the Mediterranean. By the 6th century BC, Egina—to use its alternative spelling—had become a major art center, known in particular for its bronze foundries (worked by such sculptors as Kallon, Onatas, and Anaxagoras) and its ceramics, which were exported throughout the Mediterranean. Testimony to its great glory is the Temple of Aphaia, one of the most extant of the great Greek temples and famed for its spectacular array of Doric columns.
As it turns out, this powerful island, lying so close to the Attica coast, could not fail to come into conflict with Athens. As Athens’s imperial ambitions grew, Aegina became a thorn in its side. In 458 BC Athens laid siege to the city, eventually conquering the island. In 455 BC the islanders were forced to migrate, and Aegina never again regained its former power.
From the 13th to the 19th century, Aegina ping-ponged between nations. A personal fiefdom of Venice and Spain after 1204, it was fully claimed by Venice in 1451. Less than a century later, in 1537, it was devastated and captured by the pirate Barbarossa and repopulated with Albanians. Morosini recaptured Aegina for Venice in 1654, but Italian dominance was short-lived: the island was ceded to Turkey in 1718. Its Greek roots were brushed off in the early 19th century, when it experienced a rebirth as an important base in the 1821 War of Independence, briefly holding the fledgling Greek nation’s government (1826–28). The first modern Greek coins were minted here. At this time many people from the Peloponnese, plus refugees from Chios and Psara, immigrated to Aegina, and many of the present-day inhabitants are descended from them.