A team from the Piraeus and Islands Antiquities Inspection and the Swiss Archaeological School in Greece has been exploring the summit of Mount Hellanion, the highest mountain in Aegina, since 2021.

Where the Church of the Ascension now stands overlooking the Saronic Gulf, there once was a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, whose main buildings are located further down on the north slope of the mountain and were previously investigated by the German Archaeological Institute.

However, the presence of a defensive wall and dwellings at the summit indicates that this promontory was also used as a refuge in times of danger. As demonstrated by previous excavations in the early 20th century, there are remnants of human activity spanning almost four millennia at the summit.

The fortified enclosure and the remains of the settlement on the summit of Mount Hellanion
The fortified enclosure and the remains of the settlement on the summit of Mount Hellanion. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The aim of the new research has been to record and date the remains, both from prehistory and those related to the sanctuary of Zeus. Some findings, such as a Mycenaean ceramic figurine with wheels, displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Aegina, suggest a religious use of the mountain summit since the Bronze Age.

In 2023, a Mycenaean building approximately 4.5 by 3 meters was excavated, delimited by three walls and a large rock. Inside, around thirty vessels (cooking pots, storage containers, storage jars, and others) were found, preserved because the space was covered by the large stones from the collapsed walls.

The vessels date back to the period of destruction of the Mycenaean palaces and the post-palatial period. The insecurity prevailing at that time led some inhabitants of Aegina to settle in higher lands, specifically on this summit, which was already known as a place of worship.

The Mycenaean building with some of the vessels during excavation
The Mycenaean building with some of the vessels during excavation. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

In deeper layers, on the rock, ceramics from the Geometric to Roman period were found, demonstrating the continued use of the area over a long period.

The worship of Zeus on Mount Hellanion is known from ancient sources, such as Pausanias. The church is built on ancient foundations. The discovery of Corinthian ceramic tiles documents the existence of an ancient building at the summit, possibly a small temple.

Sacrificial remains were found north of the church, in a dark layer with thousands of small fragments of burnt animal bones. Ceramics from the geometric period to the Roman period attest to the prolonged use of the site.

The summit of Mount Hellanion during the 2023 excavation periods
The summit of Mount Hellanion during the 2023 excavation periods. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

To better understand this unique place, the same Greek-Swiss team is conducting surface exploration around Mount Hellanion.

This area, which is almost uninhabited today, is full of traces of human presence, dating from prehistory to the mid-20th century, such as fortifications, terrace walls, an ancient tower, quarries, ancient rock inscriptions, pens, and fields, cisterns, abandoned settlements, and a dragon cave.

The research will continue for two more years, according to the five-year program, as the region holds significant new findings. The sanctuary of Zeus Hellanios adds to the significant archaeological interest presented by the island of Aegina. In 2023, the Antiquities Inspection began an effort to highlight, secure, and restore the island’s monuments.

Mycenaean tripod and cylinder
Mycenaean tripod and cylinder. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Starting with the temple of Apollo at the maritime entrance of the island, the only remaining column of the temple was reinforced. At the same time, efforts are underway to improve the Archaeological Museum.

At the sanctuary of Aphaia, a prominent site in antiquity that completes the imaginary triangle of the Parthenon and Cape Sounion, work will immediately begin to enhance the visitable archaeological site with artwork inside, as well as the lighting of the temple.

A similar effort will be made with Mount Hellanion, where the father of the gods, Zeus, was revered on a rugged promontory that must be made accessible to the public.


Greek Ministry of Culture

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