Modern Greece’s first Capital City, from the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 until 1834, is picturesque, neoclassical Nafplion. Lying on the north end of the Argolic Gulf in the Peloponnese is the Old Town: lovely, green, with spectacular mansions and paved paths. And best of all, only two hours of leisurely drivetime from Athens.
If you want to explore a cocoon of tumultuous history from which has emerged modernity and music to boot, then read on.
Carefully maintained villages, archeological sites and imposing fortresses dating back to the Byzantine Era make for imposing sightseeing in and around Nafplion. Elements of Venetian, Neo-Classical and Islamic architecture can be found in the town’s churches, mosques, museums and buildings. The Venetian architecture is also visible in the town’s two famous fortresses, Palamidi and Bourtzi.
The waterfront sidewalk leads to the beautiful harbour. It it to this bright spot that my legs deliver me in order to witness the spectacular Mediterranean sunset. And it seems myriad others have done similarly over the course of history with the Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Turks taking turns at stamping their territorial mark upon Nafplion.
Talk about being pushed and shoved about: In 1212 Nafplion was taken by the French crusaders, then in 1388 was sold to the Republic of Venice. During the subsequent 150 years, the lower city was expanded and fortified, then surrendered to the Ottomans in 1540, who renamed it Mora Yenişehri.
The Venetians retook Nafplion in 1685 and strengthened the city by building the castle of Palamidi, which was in fact the last major construction of the Venetian empire overseas. However, only 80 soldiers were assigned to defend the city and it was easily retaken by the determined Ottomans in 1715.
During the Greek War of Independence, Nafplion was a major Ottoman stronghold. Starving the town was the Ottoman’s tactic for ensuring its surrender. But once liberated in 1822, Greece’s first head of state, Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, set foot on the Greek mainland for the first time in Nafplio on 7 January 1828 and made it the official capital of Greece in 1829. He was subsequently assassinated by members of the Mavromichalis family on the steps of the church of Saint Spyridon in Nafplion.
Anarchy followed this assassination until the arrival of King Otto, Royal Prince of Bavaria, (then Othon, King of Greece), and the establishment of the new Kingdom of Greece. Nafplion remained the capital of the kingdom until 1834, when King Otto decided to move the capital to Athens. (It was under the Convention of London of 1832 that Greece became a new kingdom under the protection of the Great Powers – United Kingdom, France and the Russia Empire).
From my vantage point yon high, the fortress at Palamidi commands an impressive view over the Argolic Gulf, the city of Náfplion and the surrounding country. There are 857 steps in the winding stair from the town to the fortress. However, to reach the top of the fortress there are over one thousand. I walked them all.
Although I did not visit it, let me tell you a little of the fortress of Bourtzi on the small island pictured in the fourth image, above. Bourtzi’s citadel still goes by its Turkish name, meaning “the Tower”. Antonio Gambello, an architect from Bergamo, built the castle in 1471 on this tiny islet in front of the port of Nafplion, and its completed by the engineer Brancaleone. The entire city was fortified in 1473 by the Venetians, mainly to provide protection against pirates. The castle, with entrances to the north and south, has three floors connected by movable stairs.
Later on, the entire town came to a consensus and in 1821 turned Bourtzi into the residence of the executioner for the convicts of the Palamidi castle. From 1930 to 1970, after alterations by the German architect Wolf Schaeffer, the Bourtzi Castle was used as a hotel. Today the island hosts its Summer Music Festival.
Clearly fatigued by all this pushing and shoving through its chronicals of history, this town knows how to celebrate liberation! Party on, Nafplion. I salute you.