Nafplion, a gem of a town by the sea, was modern Greece’s first capital and its old town, dominated by the ruins of Palamidi castle, still has a 19th century feel but with great sea and acres of smart open-air cafes. Not far away is the ancient theatre of Epidavros (also referred to as Epidaurus), which still hosts plays and retains its matchless acoustics, perhaps the best active example of ancient Greek culture.
Whatever the name or how you say it Nafplion is the historical Jewel of the Peloponnese.A history full of myth, occupancy and revolutions. The name is in honour of Poseidons son Nauplis and the Palamidi Fortress is named after Palamis the local hero of the Trojan War. Palamis was also known for supposedly inventing weights and measures and the Greek Alphabet. The actual area of Nafplion has been inhabited since ancient times, but not much is know from then although Palaeolithic and Neolithic objects have been found near by. Nafplion during the Greek Classical era again seems not to have played a part of any significance and even Pausinas the famous traveller didn’t have anything to say about the town. It does though come into it’s own during medieval times and played a major part in the history and making of today’s Greece. During these times different occupying forces have left marks of culture and architecture in Nafplion giving it a cosmopolitan atmosphere. In 1377 the Venetians arrived and during this time, in the mid 1400’s the Bourtzi Castle was built.The Turks captured the town from the Venetians in 1542 AD and turned Nafplion into a major port for the Greek mainland in the import and export industry. Nafplion was retaken by the Venetians once again and during this time the Palamidi Castle was built and the Acronafplia fortress reconstructed. Their hold over Nafplion though only lasted for a few decades and was then put back into the hands of the Turks. Over the next few hundred years Nafplion flourished under Turkish rule until the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Nafplion was liberated a year later and due to its strong participation during the revolution was named as the first capital of the newly liberated free Greece in 1823. Kapodistrias was the newly appointed Prime Minister until his assassination in 1831. King Otto arrived in Nafplion and decided to move the capital to Athens in 1834.Over the next century Nafplion begins a calm and unobtrusive era until the next major event which was the arrival of tourism in the 1960’s.
The small islet named the Bourtzi can be found resting in the harbour of Nafplion. The fortress was first designed as a fortified stronghold in the 1400’s by architect Antonio Gambelo, who was from Bergamo. He had canons placed around the fortress to protect the entrance to the Nafplion harbour from all sides.
After the venetians the Turks took over turning the Bourtzi into a prison to hold convicts awaiting execution and of course the executioners themselves who were thought to be bad luck and weren’t welcome on the mainland. A strong chain pulley was attached from the harbour to the castle where food and supplies where transferred. Remnants of the chain holdings are still visible.
In more recent times the fortress has been used as a variety of tourist attractions including a casino and a hotel.
Small taxi-boats will carry you over for a visit to the Bourtzi leaving and returning frequently from the harbour front.
On one side of Nafplion descending down to the sea are the remnants of Akronafplia.
A walled castle fortification dating back to pre-classical times. Over the years it was added to by the Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Ottomans.
Akronafplia is the oldest of the towns’ three castles and played a crucial part in the security of Nafplion from sea invaders.
Canons were placed around the fortifications for external and internal use and five of these, called “the five brothers” still remain today.
Unfortunately in the 70’s the wonderful old Venetian buildings were demolished making way for modern luxury hotels.
A very short distance out of Nafplion is the famous archaeological site of Ancient Tyrins. Not as impressive as Mycenae, Tyrins though does share the same billing on the World Heritage Site and is definitely worth the visit. Its a Mycenaean built citadel perched on a small hillock. The large boulders used for the walling were thought to have been built with the help of the Cyclops therefore the name Cyclopean Walling comes into use. Tyrins dates back to early Greek Bronze Age and came to its full glory 1400 to 1200 BC.
The site is easily accessible either by local transport from Nafplion or a short 7 min journey by car or taxi.
First Parliament Building
On to one side of Constitution Square is the Parliament Building. Originally built in 1730 for use as a Mosque.
After the Victory of the Greek War of Independence in1821 it was to be the housing for the 1st Liberated Greek Parliament.
When the capital was moved to Athens, so followed the Parliament.
Since then the building has been used as many things including a school, dance hall and a court where the trials of the Generals Kolokotronis and Plapoutas were held.
Today the 1st Parliament Building has been restored and is used for conferences and cultural exhibitions.
Over taking one side of the Constitution Square is the Arsenal building.
A Venetian building constructed in 1713 was used as its name implies.
Even though it’s closed to the public now it’s still a beautiful simply shaped building and is a monument to 18th century venetian architecture.
The building is also the home of the Archeological Museum.
Karonis Distilleries are situated in a privately owned area of Agia Paraskevi, Nafplion (on the road leading to the Palamidi Castle), two minutes from the centre of the town.
A family run business, Karonis is a distillery that has been continually operational for the last 140 years, and is now run by Fotis and Yiannis Karonis (4th and 5th generations of the original establishers of the business).
The products made at Karonis are Ouzo, Tsipouro, and Masticha all distilled in modern copper stills. At Karonis Distilleries they also produce distinguished cherry extract (cherry liqueur) made with cherries from the Arcadia region.
Also, don’t forget to visit:
• Worry Bead Museum
• Toy Museum
• Military Museum
• Folklore Museum
• National Art Gallery
• Art Room
• Atelier GM
• The Art Shop
Arvanitia Beach is the closest to Nafplion Town. Only a short distance either from the beginning of the 999 steps of the Palamidi or along the Arvanitia Walk, this is an organised rocky beach with changing rooms, sun loungers and a cafeteria. With aquamarine clear crystal waters and a back-drop of the Palamidi Castle this is a wonderful and relaxing spot.
Karathona being continually awarded with the Blue Flag, is probably the most popular beach in the area. A ten minute picturesque car, taxi or bus journey or even a short distance along the Arvanitia Walk, Karathona is a 1km stretch of sand. With plenty of cafeterias and tavernas opening from early in the morning till late at night, Karathona Beach is always bustling with tourists and locals alike and loungers and umbrellas are available as are water sports.
How to get there
Νafplion is located 148 klm.SW of Athens. By car, use the national road Athens – Tripoli, and turn left by the time you see the signs Argos – Nafplion.
Useful Phone Numbers
Municipality: (+30) 27520 23332, 24874
Hospital: (+30) 27520 27309
Tourist Police: (+30) 27520 28131
Bus Services: (+30) 27520 27327
Here is a useful website for a virtual tour of Nafplio: www.nafplio-tour.gr
Sources: nafplio.gr, nafplion.gr