Part I: Nafplion the first capital of Greece
Nafplion is one of my favourite towns in Greece. I fell in love with this town the very first time I visited it many, many years ago. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, I have visited it during all seasons and each season is equally attractive and beautiful.
This post is long due but rather late than, I would like to guide you through what I have captured with my lens over the past years.
On the 25th March, Greece’s will be celebrating its Independence Day, so before my post I would like to make a short historical reference to what lead to Indpendence Day and making Nafplion as the first capital of Greece.
“After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, most of Greece came under Ottoman rule. During this time, there were frequent revolts by Greeks attempting to gain independence. In 1814, a secret organization called the Filiki Eteria (the Society of Friends, was founded by Greeks living abroad at Odissos, Russia (now Ukraine) and expanded rapidly with Phanariot Greeks of Constantinople and local chieftains from Greece), with the aim of liberating Greece. The Filiki Eteria planned to launch revolts in the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. The first of these revolts began on 6 March 1821 in the Danubian Principalities, but it was soon put down by the Ottomans. The events in the north urged the Greeks in the Peloponnese in action and on 17 March 1821 the Maniots declared war on the Ottomans. By the end of the month, the Peloponnese was in open revolt against the Turks and by October 1821 the Greeks under Theodoros Kolokotronis had captured Tripolitsa. The Peloponnesian revolt was quickly followed by revolts in Crete, Macedonia and Central Greece, which would soon be suppressed. Meanwhile, the makeshift Greek navy was achieving success against the Ottoman navy in the Aegean Sea and prevented Ottoman reinforcements from arriving by sea.
A contributor to this success was Laskarina Bouboulina, a member of Filiki Etaeria, who was a wealthy woman from Hydra. She organized an army, which she paid out of her own money and by the end of the revolution she had spent all her fortune. She sailed from her island with eight ships (3 of them her own) to Nafplion and began a naval blockade. She led her own troops until the fall of the fort on 30 November 1822.
After their victories, tensions soon developed among different Greek factions, leading to two consecutive civil wars, until 1829. Following years of negotiation, three Great Powers, Russia, the United Kingdom and France, decided to intervene in the conflict and each nation sent a navy to Greece. Scores of non-Greeks volunteered to fight for the cause, including Lord Byron.
Following news that combined Ottoman–Egyptian fleets were going to attack the Greek island of Hydra, the allied fleet intercepted the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet at Navarino. Following a week long standoff, a battle began which resulted in the destruction of the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet. With the help of a French expeditionary force, the Greeks drove the Turks out of the Peloponnese and proceeded to the captured part of Central Greece by 1828. As a result of years of negotiations, Greece was finally recognized as an independent nation in May 1832.
During the Greek War of Independence, Nafplion was a major Ottoman stronghold and was besieged for more than a year. The town finally surrendered because of starvation. After its capture, because of its strong fortifications, it became the seat of the provisional government of Greece.
The Russian minister for foreign affairs, Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, himself a Greek, returned home and became the first head of state of newly-liberated Greece. He 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 Nafplio on 9 October 1831. After his assassination a period of anarchy followed and that republic disappeared when the European powers helped turn Greece into a monarchy; the first king, Otto came from Bavaria and the second, George I from Denmark. Nafplion remained the capital of the kingdom until 1834, when the new Kingdom of Greece was established and King Otto decided to move the capital to Athens.
The Greek Revolution is celebrated on 25 March by the modern Greek state, which is a national day.”
Source: Wikipedia and other information from The Encyclopaedia of Helios,.
Nafplion is the capital of the prefecture of Argolis and the province of Nafplion.
Nafplion is about 150 km to the South-West of Athens and enjoys a very sunny and mild climate, even by Greek standards. As a consequence it has become a popular day – or weekend road trip destination for Athenians all over the year.
The high prices in Athenian real estate near seashore suburbs and its proximity from Athens, only an hour and a half drive, has made it a very popular destination to the Athenians who are buying summer houses in Nafplion and the nearby villages.
Nafplion is a small town of about 20.000 inhabitants but during the peak period a few millions of tourists visit the area and the town becomes overcrowded.
The closest International airport to Nafplion is Athens, Eleftherios Venizelos. From there you can travel by bus, train (presently, March 2011, canceled till further notice) or rent a car or take organized tours by travel agents.
The city was named after Nafplios, son of Poseidon and Amymonis, and was also famous as the birthplace of Palamidis, the local hero of the Trojan Wars, was the son of Nafplios (5th decendant of first Nafplios and Clymenis . The fortress was named after Palamidis and commands an impressive view over the Argolic Gulf, the city of Náfplio and the surrounding country.
In ancient Greek, the city was named Nauplia Ναυπλία (mentioned by Herodotos as Ναυπλιή). During the Byzantine era, several variants were used, including Nafplion, Anaplion, Anaplia – Anapli Ναύπλιον, Ἀνάπλιον, and Ἀνάπλια.
In Latin, the town was referred to as Nauplia. In modern Greek, the town is now called Nafplio Ναύπλιο. This name can be transliterated in several ways, as usual with Greek names. According to the majority, it derives from ναύς (ship) + πλέω (navigate ) which means a safe place for ships to anchor. According to Greek Mythology Nafplios was from Evia and was an astronomer (he discovered the constellation of ursa minor) and also an excellent navigator. He sailed from Evia where he decided to build his town on the rocks now called Acronafplia (edge of Nafplio) and the town was named after him. According to others (ναύς + πόλις ) the town of the sailor.
In modern English, Nauplia, Navplion or Nafplio/Nafplion are the most frequently used spellings.Slightly different forms are found in other modern languages influenced by Latin, including Anapli, Nauplia (in Spanish), Nauplie (in French), and Nauplio. Some of these variants were also used in English during the periods of Venetian and Ottoman domination.
In Italian, the town is known as Napoli di Romania. They wanted to name it Napoli, after the Italian city (Naples) but in order to distinguish the two cities, they called it Napoli di Romania, as Romania was used to define the eastern Roman territories which later became the Byzantine Empire or Empire of Rhomania.
The Turkish name of the town is Mora Yenişehri. Mora is derived from Morea, the old name of the Peloponnese. Yenişehir means “new city”
The old town is around the port and is one of a few Greek towns which has preserved its old style.
By following the signs to the port you will find one of the biggest parking lots I had ever seen in Greece, starting from the edge of the port, down the Train Station and ending up to the Promenade road.
View of Nafplion from Palamidi (2011)
It would be quite difficult to walk around each part of the old city in one day but you can take the tourist train by which you will pass from most parts of the old town or for a more romantic ride, take a horse carriage.
You will find the tourist trains where the promenade road starts. At the same point you can take a boat for a tour at Bourtzi and opposite the cafeterias you will see the horse carriages.
Walking from the beginning of the port within the parking lot you will have a lovely view of Bourtzi and sailing ships. On the opposite side of the road between palm trees, there are lots of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and near the school you will see the statue of Bouboulina.
If you are staying in Nafplion for a few days, you can take one day cruises to Hydra and Spetses. The boats are in the main port.
On the seafront starting from the train station and walking to the end of the promenade you will find lots of seafood restaurants, tavernas, cafeterias and souvenir shops. Fresh fish are displayed outside of each restaurant for you to choose and be cooked right away in order to enjoy a fresh seafood meal.
Continuing on the seafront road, the road on the left continues towards the Church Genesiou Theotokou (birth of Holy Mary) & Agios Anastasios and straight ahead starts the promenade.
Church Genesiou Theotokou (birth of Holy Mary) & Agios Anastasios
The promenade is a nice place to walk any time of the day and walk or just visit the many cafterias and restaurants between palm trees.
As you leisurly stroll along the waterfront you can see the hotels on the top of Acronafplia or the Boutzi fortress, the mountains of Peloponese and the blue-turquoise sea on the other side.
At the end of the promenade are part of the Walls, with wonderful view of the hotels and on the other side the light pole for the ships entering the harbour.
Hotels on top of Acronafplia
View from Acronafplia
The ascent to Acronafplia can be a leisurely stroll through the upper city but you can either take a taxi or the elevator from Koustouros Street.
View of Acronafplia and Arvanitia Beach from Palamidi
The Acronauplia (Modern Greek: Ακροναυπλία, Akronafplia, Turkish: Iç Kale, “Inner Castle”) is the oldest part of the city of Nafplion in Greece. Until the thirteenth century, it was a town on its own. The arrival of the Venetians and the Franks transformed it into part of the town fortifications. Later, part of it was used as a prison until the Greek government decided that the view provided from its location would benefit the local tourism and built a hotel complex which still stands there today.
The Cyclopean Walls are mentioned in Greek mythology but archaeological findings have shown that the city was inhabited since the Mycenean civilization (between 1600 – 1100 b.C.).
From any part of the seafront or up on Acronafplia it’s even pretier in the evening watching the sun set in mountains of Peloponese.
After the the history reference which lead to making Nafplion the first capital of Greece and a tour from one side of the port to the other, which ends at the Promenade we shall continue our walk in the old town.
The castle of Bourtzi (Greek: Μπούρτζι, from Ottoman Turkish burc meaning “tower”) is a fortified islet and is located in the middle of the harbour of Nafplio. The Venetians completed its fortification in 1473 to protect the city from pirates and invaders from the sea. Built in 1471 by Antonio Gambello, an architect from Bergamo. The Greeks regained it from the Turks on June 18, 1822, from where they assisted in the siege of Nafplio. Until 1865 it served as a fortress. It was then transformed into residence of the executioners of convicts from the castle of Palamidi. From 1930 until 1970 it was run as a hotel.
At the end of the parking place there are boats which make tours to the islet that leave from there frequently during the summer.
In Part II, we will explore the old town which was created by the Venetians. We will pass from many narrow streets with beautiful old houses, balconies and stairs with pots of flowers, window sills with geranium flowers, beautiful bougainvilleas in many colours unite from both pavements, forming tunnels to walk under and we shall see the most important buildings and monuments of the old town.
Returning from the promenade and returning back to the seafront road, just opposite is Philellinon Square (meaning friends of the Greek) with the monument dedicated to the French soldiers, who fought and died during the liberation from the Turks.
At the entrance of the square is the statue of Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek Revolution. She was a rich woman who spent all her fortune for the Hellenic cause. Under her encouragement, her European friends contributed money and guns to the revolution.
We shall leisurely walk around and find about some of the places to visit and see some of the historical buildings.
Grande Bretagne Hotel (1878)
On one side of the square is the Grande Bretagne Hotel where many famous people stayed there. To mention a few, the Swedish King Gustav Adolf, the couple Sophia and Eric Sleeman, who discovered ancient Mycenae, the American novelist Henri Miller, etc.
On the same road you will see the Club for members of the Greek army.
Church of Agios Nicolaos, on Philellinon Square
Continuing the sea front road, turning at Philellinon Square, the first church we encounter is the church Genesion tis Theotokou (17th century), known as “Panagitsa”. (Photo of the church posted in previous post)
The church is just behind the Archaeological Museum but instead of going towards the Museum, we shall continue the road and see some antique shops and return back to Syntagma (Constitution) Square, on our way back.
At the end of the road you can go to the right to enjoy the view but there is nothing much to see. Going left on Staikopoulou Street, you will keep seeing small narrow streets an sometimes stairs which lead up to higher parts of the old town. The street is full of souvenir shops, restaurants, shops with local products and many more.
On your left you will encounter Vouleftiko, the old Parliament House, which was built as a mosque during the second Ottoman Occupation. In years to follow it became a school, a prison, a court house. Today it houses cultural events.
On your left at No. 25 Staikopoulou Street, is the Komboloi Museum, a unique museum all over the world with over 1000 “komboloia” (worry beads) from different cultures dating from 1700 – 20th century, made of amber, sea shells, horns, elephant tusks, coral, crystal, etc.
The museum is on the first floor of a building on 25 Staikopoulou Street. The ground floor is a workshop making, repairing and selling worry beads. Some well-made copies of these can be purchased.
At the end of Staikopoulou Square we reach the church of Agios Spyridonas, where the first governor of Greece, count Ioannis Kapodistrias was assassinated. On the wall of the church is a sign showing the place he was murdered and the hole where the first shot missed him, framed.
Anywhere you look up, you will see the beautiful balconies on the houses.
The Constitution Square is just a block below, so you can head towards that direction and turn left or go back taking the same route. Any narrow street on your right will lead you to Syntagma (Constitution Square).
Looking up towards Acronafplia, we can see the Clock Tower. It stands where in antiquity used to be the Acropolis of the town. The clock came from Bavaria during the rule of King Otto. During World War II it obstructed the view of the German machine guns, so they blew it up. The mechanism of the clock was was put away and after the war the tower was built again. The clock started ticking again on the 14th September 1949.
Syntagma (Constitution) Square is the biggest square in Nafplion with the richest history. On one side the Archaelogical Museum, which was built by the Venetians in 1713.
There are so many interesting things to see in the Archaeological Museum, which you can see in a separate post.
Exactly opposite, on the other side Trianon, which was built as a mosque during the first Ottoman occupation, during the Venetian occupation it became a Catholic Church, later a school and in recent years as a conservatoire (music school) and a threatre and later as a cinema from which it took the name Trianon. Today it is used for cultural events and art exhibitions.
On the other two sides there are beautiful buildings, which used to be the houses of the heroes of the revolution. Today on the ground flour they operate mainly as cafes or restaurants.
Very close to Syntagma Square, at the end of Amalias Street is Palamidis Municipal Library.
Further down at 22 Amalia’s Street is the War Museum. This was the First Military Academy in Greece, built in 1829 but also the first Higher Education Institution in the country.
At the beginning of Vassileos Constantinou Street, which ends at the mosque on Syntagma Square, you will find the Town Hall which used to be the first High School (1833), further down the first Pharmacy and opposite in the Trion Navarchon Square (Three Admirals’ Square) the Statue of King Otto and another monument.
The Courthouse – A Neoclassical building of 1911 with the busts of Polyzoides and Tertsetis, two figures of the judicial system. Just opposite the Courthouse is the KTEL (long distance) Bus Station.
From the Square of Trion Taxiarchon, crossing Syngrou Street, just opposite is Kapodistrias Square.
There are two ways to reach the Fortress of Palamidi (216 m. height). One is by car and the other is a challenge to climb its 999 steps (or 874 to others) up to the top.
The Fortress to the east of the Acronauplia, was built by the Franks and completed by the Venetians, during the Second Venetian Period (1686-1715)
The fortress was a very large and ambitious project, but was finished within a relatively short period from 1711 until 1714. It is a typical baroque fortress based on the plans of the engineers Giaxich and Lasalle. In 1715 it was captured by the Turks and remained under their control until 1822, when it was captured by the Greeks.
The fortress commands an impressive view over the Argolic Gulf, the city of Náfplio and the surrounding country.
On your way to Palamidi or going towards Tolo, you can make a small detour and visit the Bavarian Sleeping Lion. Follow the signs to the police station, it is a right turn, and follow the road down. At the end of the road turn left towards the small park, the Lion is carved into the rocks in the park. It is near the church of Agion Panton (All Saints church) and the old German cemetery.
Many of King Otto’s soldiers died of a typhoid epidemic disease. As a tribute to those dead, King Otto’s father Ludwig of Bavaria commissioned Christian Siegel, a German professor of sculpture in the Athens Polytechnic, to encarve this sad, sleeping lion similar to the Lion of Lucerne, in Switzerland, on a rock near the cemetery. The men were buried in this cemetery of Aghii Pantes (all Saints) but later their bones where exhumed and now lie under the crypt of the Nafplion Catholic Church.
The locals call this monument “Aggouroon” as according to them the Bavarian soldiers died after eating some kind of wild cucumbers.
Below the lion there is an inscription in German. Although I do not know German from what I make out of it, I think it says “In memory of the officers and soldiers of the Royal Bavarian Brigade of the period of 1833-1834 who died of an epidemic disease. This monument was founded by King Ludwig of Bavaria”.
Walking in any part of the town you will notice that Nafplion must be the town with the most bougainvilleas, making the narrow streets and renovated old houses look even prettier.
Narrow streets and stairs from various parts of the old town. As you may see, some restaurants have their tables on the streets.
If you want to go swimming and don’t have a car, you can go by foot to the beach of Arvanitia. However, if you do, going towards the direction of Palamidi, you will find the sandy beach of Karathonas, which is only about 3 km away.
There are also lots of other beautiful beaches to the east of the town within a range of 10 km such as Assini, Tolo, Drepano etc., and to the west Nea Kios, Myloi etc.
Other relevant posts:
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,