The city of Aigio is the second largest city of Achaea, called Vostitsa during the Byzantine period, the word meaning "City of Gardens" from a Slavic term. Today, it is an industrial centre and an important trade port of the area; for many years it was a raisin export nexus. It sits on the northwestern part of Peloponnese, built amphitheatrically and taking the nickname of the "balcony of the Cornithian".
The tales that explain the name Aigio are many. According to the prevalent one, it comes from the sacred goat (aiga in Greek) that fed her milk to Zeus while he was a baby; another supports that it comes from the verb "aisso" and it means the city of waves.
The city itself extends on three levels: the seaside part, called Kato poli (Low city), the Galaxidiotika or Agios Antreas' area, called Mesi poli (Middle city) and the Ano poli (High city), where is the historical centre. The greater area of Aigio, called Aigialeia, is well-known for its historical churches and its many monasteries.
One of its most popular customs are the "Anthestiria-Elikeia", the first week of July, where floral floats parade around, and the Festival of Zoodochos Pigi, the first Friday after Easter.
According to mythology, the city was founded in the middle of the 16th century BC from the Ionians of Attica, one of the four major tribes of ancient Greeks; according to another, the founders were the Aegialian Pelasgians, a part of the Pelasgian population who are thought to be ancestors to the Ancient Greeks, and they made the city into an important political and religious centre.
In the 12th century BC, the Achaeans drove the Ionians away and remained in the area, giving it their name: Achaea. In 800 BC, they founded twelve cities, the famous Dodekapolis (meaning, twelve cities) of the Achaean League. After the end of the Macedonic rule, initially of Cassander and then of Demetrius the Besieger, in 287 BC the Achaean cities ousted the Macedonic guards, creating the first nucleus of the Achaean League. In 281 BC, Aigio became the capital of the Second Achaean Leageu.
In 145 BC, the city fell in the hands of the Romans and a second period of growth begun. Then, during the Byzantine rule, it was renamed to Vostitsa and passed through a period of obscurity after the descent of the Slavs to Peloponnese, which took place around 800 AD. It retained its Byzantine name during the Frankish rule, when it was the seat of the Barony of the area. In 1420, it was taken by the Despotate of Mystras, and then it was briefly under Venetian rule for a while before finally succumbing to the Turks. Under the Turkish rule, it knew another growth, again thanks to its geographical position.
In January of 1821, the Filiki Etairia (Society of Friends, a secret organisation whose purpose was to overthrow the Ottomans) of north Peloponnese met in Vostitsa, still retaining its Byzantine name, to decide when the Revolution would begin. This meeting is known as the Secret Assembly of Vostitsa or the Conference of Vistitsa, and many leading people of the Revolution took part in it, such as Germanos III of Old Patras and Papaflessas. Aigio was one of the first cities to be liberated.
Aigio's most important sights are:
- The well-known Plane Tree of Pausanias, an old plane tree in the city's beach, declared a preserved natural monument in 1976. It takes its name either because the Roman wanderer planted it, or because he mentions the tree in his book about Arcadia, impressed by the tree's size. The plane tree was also mentioned by Heinrich Schliemann, a German pioneer in the field of archaeology and also the one who excavated the ancient city of Mycenae; he declared that the tree must be about 1450 years old. Today, scientists believe that the tree is more than 600 years old, and is one of the oldest trees of the world. Its circumference is more than 12 metres. Nearby are the 12 Founts, one of the most popular places of the city, with many taverns and cafeterias. The water of the founts comes from twelve springs that Pausanias wrote about.
- The Stairs of Philopoemen, one of the most picturesque sites of the city. They are 172 wide, stone stair steps, built in 1901 to connect the High city with the Low city. They are named after the great general that strengthened the Achaean League. A huge bazaar used to happen right on them.
- The Psila Alonia Square (High Alonia), in a wonderful place, is one of the most beautiful "balconies" of the Mediterranean, offering a panoramic view to the sea and the surrounding mountains. It is full of flowers and palm trees, and an imposing tower of Neo-Gothic style stands in a prominent spot, its ground floor used as a public canteen. Right by the square is a beautiful park and a small pond, as well as a War Memorial (Monument of the Unknown Soldier, or Mnimio tou Agnostou Stratioti in Greek).
- The Agia Lavra Square, the most important square in the centre of the city, full of life at all times. After the liberation from the Turkish rule, the square was used as barracks and the king's stables. It is framed by preserved buildings, and procession of the icon of the most important cities of the city, such as that of Panagia of Trypiti, always sets off from this square. The square is also used for parades during national holidays, the Anthesteria and the Carnival.
- The Tempelorachi, another picturesque part of the city that offers a great view. One reaches this place by ascending many stairs, though it rewards the industrious visitor with a view of the sea and the shores of Mainland Greece, right over the blue sea. Cobblestoned paths called "kalnterimia" have their beginning here, reaching the Stairs of Philopoemen and the Plane Tree of Pausanias, connecting the High and the Low city.
- The Folklore Museum, a great museum that is housed in nine chambers in Londos' manor. The visitor can see many interesting exhibits of local tradition, dating back to the times of the Turkish occupation.
- The Archaeological Museum, housed in a part of the building of the old Public Agora. The Public Agora is a unique architectural monument, one of Ernst Ziller's great works, made in 1890. The museum exhibits findings dating from the Neolithic to the post-Roman period.
- The Church of Faneromeni (the Revealed), the metropolitan church of the city. It is an imposing church built in the 20th century, with a great dome in the renaissance style. It has a beautiful iconostasis, taken from an older church.
- The Church of the Presentation of the Virgin (Eisodia tis Theotokou in Greek), built where used to be the "Panagia of the Foreign" (Panagia ton Xenon), which in turn was built on an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Hera. It was built in 1849 based on plans by Ziller, and its style is a mixture of Roman, Byzantine and Renaissance styles. It has a great marble iconostasis. Unfortunately, the church isn't in a good condition.
- The Church of Agios Antreas, that seemed to exist even before 1700 since it is marked on a Venetian map. The older and smaller church was converted to a mosque during the Turkish occupation. The church as it stands today was built on Ziller's plans in 1893. It is a cross-shaped church, with an ornate bell tower and decorated with magnificent murals and pictures, made by renown artists.
- The Church of Panagia the Trypiti, trademark of Aigio. It is a church built by the beach on a forbidding rock 30 metres high. According to tradition, the shipwrecked sailor who found the miraculous picture of Panagia the Vrefokratousa (Holy Virgin, Holder of the Baby) in the 16th century, was an ascetic in the rock. In the pronaos is a spring from which flows holy water. The church as it stands today was built in the 19th century.
- The Preserved Buildings, beautiful manors and jewels of the city, made by well-known architects. Examples include the Town Hall, the Public Library, the Old Hospital (today serving as a cultural centre), the Gateio Klirodotima (building of early 20th century by Ziller, today used as a post office), the Manor of Chrisanthopoulos and the Mansion of Messinezi.