In 2014 we had flown to Greece via Hong Kong and Dubai, getting us in at 2pm in the Athens’ afternoon. We found our hire car and drove towards the Isthmus of Corinth and took a left turn down towards Nafplio on the Gulf of Argolis. We had decided to do a tour of the Peloponnese and, given we had spent an hour or so in Nafplio on a bus tour the previous year, we decided we liked the look of it. It would be a great base from which we could access Corinth as well as some of the other famous sites from Greek history nearby such as Tiryns and Mycenae.
We were booked into a lovely small hotel called Kyveli Suites and this was a very comfortable place to stay over our three nights, two days in the area. Given that we had booked a guided tour of the Corinth Archaeological site for our second full day, we had a fair bit to do in the one afternoon and one day left to us. Our first evening was spent strolling the lower town and we were up early the following morning exploring the Acronauplia, the high ridge above the modern town that sits on the edge of the coastline. In the 13th century it was fortified by the various empires striving to control this strategically placed town. The image below left is of the Acronauplia and its fortifications taken from one of the town squares in the late afternoon. The image on the right was taken early the next day as we wandered along the harbour walkway looking for the stairs to take us up the hill to have a look at Palamidi Castle.
It is a long hard walk up the hill to the fortress but the views out over of the Gulf of Argolis are extensive. The image on the right below was taken as our path took us up hill but below the parapet of the Castle, looking out to the island Fortress of Bourtzi. The view sweeps on to the other side of the bay where the archaeological site of Tiryns, home of Hercules, can be seen at the top of the small mountain near the edge of the coast. The Island fortress Bourtzi was completed by the Venetians between 1471-73 when the whole city was fortified as a defence mainly against pirates.
We did not get to do a ferry trip out to the Fortress of Bourtzi due to lack of time during our visit. These days, one of the highlights of the year in Nafplio are the music festivals that take place on this island. During the Venetian rule of Nafplio, a huge metal chain linked the headland to this island and this was a barrier to surprise attacks by pirates and other jealous rivals of the Venetians entering the harbour.
Nafplio sits on the coast of an area called Argolis, a part of Greece that is associated with so many of the ancient stories of this country. The main city of the area is Argos, only 10kms from Nafplio. It is from this area that the story of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ arose where the young hero Jason is sent on a journey to the Black Sea to find the Golden fleece. It is from the Gulf of Argolis that many Greeks set sail for Troy…in fact in the story of the destruction of Troy, the Greeks are often referred to as ‘Argives’. But Nafplio doesn’t have the Neolithic or Bronze age remains that its neighbours such as Argos and Mycenae have. As a promontory out into the sea, it is in fact believed that the founders of Nafplio may have been trading strangers from Egypt. In classical times, Nafplio is the seaport of Argos and by the time our old friend Pausanias arrived at this part of the coast in the second century CE, the area was generally uninhabited. He writes…
“Of the walls, too, ruins still remain and in Nauplia is a sanctuary of Poseidon, harbors, and a spring called Canathus. Here, say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and recovers her maidenhood.”
Like the rest of Greece and Asia Minor, Nafplio was subject over the last two millennia to international colonial demands of the Byzantines, the Frankish Crusaders, the Venetians and eventually the Ottoman Turks. All these folk added fortifications to this strategic coastal town and by the second millennium CE, it had become a significant port in the Peloponnese. It became a major Ottoman stronghold so was a significant prize in the Greek War of Independence. It fell to the Greeks in 1822 and became the seat of the Government of Greece for a time, mainly because of its legacy of strong fortifications.
It was these fortifications that we inspected on our first morning in Nafplio. The walk up the hill, via 999 steps, taking us to a height of 216m, was arduous but worth the effort. The fortifications overlooking the gulf and the city of Nafplio are an extensive and complex site and one that would need a decent guide to make sense over a couple of hours touring. It is in fact three separate fortress walled together over the centuries. It was mainly built by the Venetians and added to by the Ottoman Turks before falling to the Greeks at the end of the War of Independence.
On the previous afternoon we had taken the long slow walk around the promontory to the ocean side of Nafplio, the Arvanitia Walk, and what a beautiful stroll it was. The next morning we were able to look down from the Fortress and the cliffs above to see many of the locals swimming here, often well out to sea, floating in these tranquil waters.