Though close to Athens, Salamis is large and of unruly enough a shape to offer unexpected corners of tranquillity and relative beauty, especially along its south coast. In the 4th millennium BC when human habitation first began on Salamis at several identified sites, the island may have been a peninsula of the mainland, joined where there are now the shallow straits below Megara. At the beginning of the Mycenaean Age, one site emerged as the principal urban centre on the island: this was based around the citadel above the bay of Kanakia. It appears to have had wide-ranging commercial connections, which included Cyprus; it reached its zenith in the 13th century BC, but was destroyed and deserted by 1150 BC. It is probably the “ancient city” referred to as the island's capital by Strabo (Geog. IX 1, 9). In the Iliad, Salamis contributed 12 ships to the Greek forces, led by Ajax, son of Telamon.
In historic times, the island first belonged to the city of Megara; but its control became the object of dispute between Megara and Athens in the time of Solon. It was annexed to Attica as a clerurchy by Peisistratos in the latter half of the 6th century BC, with the Athenians citing a forged line of Homer to support their claim. It was at this time that the capital was moved from the southwest to the east coast of the island – today's bay of Ambelakia. In the late summer of 480 BC, the Athenians evacuated their city in the face of Xerxes's push south after Thermopylae and made Salamis their base, trusting to the ‘wooden walls' of their ships. The battle fought in the straits between the east coast of the island and the Attic mainland was the most significant naval victory of early Greek history, and one of the most decisive for the course of Western history. The island later became a battleground twice during the course of the Peloponnesian War in 429 and 405 BC, but remained in Athenian hands through the 4th century BC, until it surrendered to the Macedonian commander, Cassander, in 318 BC. The island was restored to Athens again by Aratus in c. 230 BC. The Aianteia, a cult festival in honour of Ajax, continued to be celebrated on the island into the Roman period. Byzantine churches and spolia from the 12th to 15th centuries on Salamis suggest an intermittent continuity of habitation, but there is a lack of written notices of the island in this and subsequent periods.
The ancient city of Salamis lay 1 km to the south of Paloukia, beneath the modern settlement of Ambelákia, reached by taking the coastal road south from the point of disembarkation. The city overlooked a deep bay formed by the pensinsula of Pounta to the north and the long, straight projection of land called the Kynósoura (‘dog tail') to the south. In the northwest corner of the bay can be seen the partially submerged moles of the ancient harbour. On the southern slope of Pounta (to the north of the bay) a section of the ancient fortification wall, made in mud-brick on stone, can be seen underneath a protective roof. The city has not been fully explored; but an agora framed by porticos, an altar to the Twelve Gods, a temple of Artemis, a theatre, and a Sanctuary of Ajax, are all referred to by Pausanias or in other written sources and inscriptions. Though vestiges of the town's Hippodamian plan have been revealed by scattered excavations, most of it still remains to be uncovered. [A combined Greek-Finnish team has been clearing-recording past excavations, including a sanctuary of Bendis in 2017]Chronique des Fouilles linkWikidata ID: Q202422
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)