Visit Nafplio! The fist capital of Greece and one of the most beautiful cities in the country, Nafplio – is a must place to visit!
Located only 120Km away from Greece capital, Athens – Nafplio is 1 hour and 30 minutes away from the International Athen airport. Known for its amazing architecture, its picturesque old city downtown with the small pedestrian streets and the Venetian small classic buildings next to the port. Nafplio is very known as well because of its location – it can be a great base to explore the main places in Peloponnese region and the Argosaronic gulf islands.
Let’s start first of all with the city and explore together why Nafplio is a place that deserves your time to visit.
Nafplio has 2 castles, Palamidi castle and Acronafplia castle, 1 fortress – Mpourtzi fortress standing in the entrance of the port, 3 museums and also, Nafplio is located on a short distance from the 2 well known archeological sites – the Ancient Epidaurus archeological site (and ancient theatre) and the Mycenae Archeological site.
One of the most well-known landmarks of the city of Nafplio is the main fortress in the city, the Palamidi Fortress. In the old times where there were not cars and gps people who wanted to reach Nafplio were using Palamidi as the point of direction in order to know how to reach the city. Built in the highest point of the city, on top of the 216m hill, Palamidi is visible even from many kilometers away.
So, Palamidi is the final important fortress that was built from Venetians’ outside of their own country. They started the construction in 1711 and by 1714 the massive fortress was already built. One year after the completion of the Fortress the Turks defeated and took control of the castle. During 1822, when Greeks won their independence, in one night they were able to take control of the city by controlling the Palamidi fortress.
The Palamidi, which takes its name by the Homeric hero Palamidis, was built based on the design of Giaxich and Lasalle and was based on a system of mutually supporting and mutually defending bastions, which are all connected each other and were built in different levels and with different directions in order to protect the city.
The Aghios Andreas bastion that was the best equipped was the headquarters. Each occupant of the fortress was changing the name of the bastion with heroes or important people form their nation. Nowadays the names of the bastions come from Geek people that are directly connected with the Greek history. To the North of the fortress there are the Leondias and Miltiadis bastions, to the North-West the Robert one, to the South the Themistocles and to the East side is the Achilles bastion. All the above bastions were constructed by the Venetians while the last one, the Epameinondas was completed during the Turkish occupations and the Fokion one was entirely built by the Turks.
In the 29th November of 1822, Staikos Staikopoulos lead a unit of Greek rebels and within one night was able to take control of the Palamdi fortress with a surprise attach that started from the bastion of Achilles.
Some of the bastions of Palamidi were used as a prison later on the history. In 1833, Theodoros Kolokotronis, one of the leaders of the revolution, was imprisoned in Palamidi, during the time of the regency, when King Otto was still a minor. The Miltiadis bastion was converted also as a prison from 1840 till around 1926.
There are two ways to reach the top of the Palamidi hill, either by car driving around the hill or by the staircases that are located at the West of the fortress and lead to downtown Nafplio. Locals still support that there are 999 steps and the last one was destroyed by Kolokotronis’ horse. Some support that this story was created by some people who wanted to emphasise how greedy was Theodoros Kolokotronis. Once you are in the Palamidi fortress you can see the impressive water tanks that are used even today to collect rainwater.
If you watch Nafplio from distance you will see that there are two main Hills in the city. The one at the East is the Palamidi Hill while the other one at the West is the Acronafplia one, meaning the edge of Nafplio. This is one of the most romantic places that you will find in the city. You can go there either driving from downtown or walking from different places across the old city of Nafplio.
The most Romantic place in the Acronafplia is the clock. It is located at the very top and from there you will have an amazing view at the city and the suburbs and the Romantic Palamidi Castle as well.
The best time to visit Acronafplia is either early in the morning where it will be very quiet and the only sound that you will hear is the birds singing or during the evening to enjoy the romantic sunset. The main advantage that you have from Acronafplia is that you can enjoy the view both at the North where the main city is located and at the South.
There are different places that you can stop while walking to the top in order to enjoy the amazing view and take some of the best photos you ever had! Natural Balconies, Castle Walls, Natural Windows, Paved Path, Natural Tunnels.
It 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.
Mpourtzi (or Bourtzi) Fortress
Another very well-known and important monument of the city of Nafplio is the Bourtzi castle located right in the middle of the harbor of Nafplio. It was built from the Venetians during their first reign in 1473 in order to protect the city from the pirates and invaders from the sea. The Bourtzi fortress alongside with the five cannons that are located at the edge of the harbor of the city were a major defending point of the city from invaders from the sea. The Bourtzi castle was captured by Greek troops during the Greek War of Independence and served as a fortress from 1822 until 1865.
Later it was transformed as the residence of the executioners of convicts from the castle of Palamidi and from 1930 until 1970 it was transformed into a hotel with 12 rooms and a restaurant but after 1970 the license as a hotel was not extended. After 1970 it is one of the main attractions of the city of Nafplio with a lot of tourists visiting it with boats starting from the harbor of the city.
The old city downtown of Nafplio
The “Five Brothers” is the only bastion that survived until today. It was constructed on the 15th century by the Venetians and was named “Five Brothers” because there are five cannons exactly the same that combining with the Bortzi Fortress were defending the city from the sea invaders. It is located at the North West side of the Acronafplia Fortress.
Syntagma Square is the heart of the old city of Nafplio. All the city is full of paths and all of them lead to the Syntagma Square. According to a law of the country the landlords at the old city of Nafplio are responsible to maintain the Venetian style buildings and are not allowed to make major changes, so at all the paths there are buildings with different colors and nice architecture.
At Syntagma Square is located the Archaeological Museum of Nafplio. It is the stone built Venetian Structure building, on the West side of the square. The Archeological Museum of Nafplio was built in 1973 in order to be used as the navy’s depository. It is known as one of the best well-presented Venetian structures of the whole Greece. The exhibition into this two storey building presents stone & bone utility tools, shells & bones of animals and fish, jewelry made of shells. At the Archeological Museum of Nafplio there are findings from the early period of the Bronze Age or Early Helladic Period (3300-2100/2000 BC), from the Middle Helladic Period (2100/2000-1600 BC) from the settlements of Assini, Nafplio-Pronoia, Epidaurus and Tirynth. One of the most famous items that someone can find at the Museum is a bronze armor worn by a Mycenaean aristocrat around 1200 BC, the Mycenaean armor of Dendra.
The Three Admirals Square, or the “fountain Square” as it was named until 1854. The name of the square was given in the honor of the three admirals, the Englishman Kodrington, the Russian Eiden and the French Derigny, where they defeated Ibrahim’s fleet at the naval battle of Navarino in 1827. To the West of the square is the statue of Otto, the first King of Greece. Next to Otto’s statue there is the first pharmacy in Greece where the pharmacist Bonaphin tanned Kapodistria’s pile. At the Three Admirals Square you can find the most important historical buildings of Nafplio, such as the the first high school, the Town Hall and the most well-known street of the old city of Nafplio the Grand Street or King Constantine.
Nafplio is for sure a place that you will not visit only once!
Close to Nafplio, there are two very well known and top listed archeological sites. Ancient Epidaurus and Ancient Mycenae. Both are located on 20 minutes drive distance from the city.
Ancient Epidaurus (and Ancient Epidaurus Theatre)
In the ancient Greece Epidaurus was a massive healing center for all the ill people. The healing had procedures in order for the people to reach a calm mentally state after daily activities around Epidaurus with the Theater and the Stadium and in the night would “meet the god” who would advise them on the treatment that they had to do in order to regain their health.
Epidaurus, with its supporting territory, formed the small territory called Epidauria. It is said that Epidauria was found or named by the Argolid Epidaurus and to be the birthplace of Apollo’s son Asclepius the healer. Epidaurus was known for its theater, that is used even today for live performances, and for its sanctuary situated about 5 miles – 8 km from the town. The cult of Asclepius at Epidaurus is attested in the 6th century BC, when the older hill-top sanctuary of Apollo Meleatas was no longer spacious enough.
Asclepius was the most important healer god of antiquity. The asclepeion at Epidaurus was the most celebrated healing center of the Classical world. It was the place where ill people went with the hope of being cured. There was a guest house with 160 guestrooms, where ill people would spend their night in the enkoimeteria, and in the night the god would advise them what they had to do to regain their health.
The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus
The ancient theatre of Epidaurus was designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC. The original theatre had 55 rows. It was originally 34 rows and then it was extended by another 21 rows in the Roman times. It seats up to 14,000 people. The theatre is very well-known for its exceptional acoustics, which permit almost perfect intelligibility of unamplified spokes words from the skene of all the spectators, regardless of their seating.
The Ancient Stadium of Epidaurus
The Ancient Stadium of Epidaurus is 180m long and is the classic example of stadium that the ancient Greeks were using for the athletic festivals used to take place to honor the gods. The Stadium of Epidaurus was constructed in the 5th century BC to host the athletic games that were taken place every four years to honor Asklepius. In the beginning there were not seats for spectaculars but in the late 4th century the seats that you see today were constructed from limestone.
The Sanctuary of Apollo Meleatas
The sanctuary of Apollo Meleatas is located on a low hill on Mount Kynorton east of canctuary of Asklepios. At the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, an open-air altar was used where animals were sacrificed and votives deposited in the ash. Dedications include votive bronze double axes, bronze swords, and clay animal figurines. There is evidence for cult activity in the Geometric period.
Most of the structures on the site belong to the 4th century BC or to the 2nd century AD, when there was a major building campaign paid for Sextus lulius Major Antoninus Pythodorus, and aristocrat from Nysa, Anatolia and a Roman senator.
The Sanctuary of Asklepios
Asklepios was the protector of human health and personal happiness. It is said that more than 200 healing centers worked under Asklepios’ authorization throught the Easter Mediterranean area. Asklepios, who was the son of Apollo and Koronis, was established in the 6th century BC.
The two sanctuaries, one dedicated to Apollo Meleatas and the other one to Askepios, were subsequently known under the common name of Sanctuary of Apollo Meleatas and ASklepios.
Temple of Artemis
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and was worshipped in the Asklepion of Epidaurus.
The Temple of Artemis is in the central area of the Sancuary of Asklepios. The temple was constructed of poros stone and limestone. On the outside was a Doric entablacture. The roof tiles , the simas and the acroteria were of Pentelic marble. There were also waterspouts in the form of a dog’s head, because the hound was Artemis’s sacred animal-companion.
The Archeological Museum of Epidaurus
In the museum you will find numerus reconstructions of temples and architectural components mainly form the Asplepion. A reconstruction of part of entablature and Doric columns dated 380-375 BC, and reconstruction parts of the entablature of the Temple of Artemis 370-310 BC.
The museum has a substantial collection of inscriptions and Greek and Roman sculptures. The main collection of inscriptions has been housed in the special hall to the northeast of the main building since 1958 as has a storeroom for the sculptures, a pottery room and a restoration workshop. The museum has a plaster cast statue of Asklepios with a sacred snake curling up on his stick. Also is a marble headless statue, believed to be of the health goddess Hygeia, dated to the Hellenistic period and a statuette of a child.
The Ancient Mycenae
Mycenae name was given to one of the greatest civilizations of Greek prehistory, the Mycenaean civilization. In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centers of the Greek civilization Mycenaean, a military stronghold which dominated much of the southern Greece, Crete, the Cyclades and parts of the southwest Anatolia.
Perseus is considered as the mythical founder of Mycenae. Perseus was son of Zeus and Diana, daughter of Akrisios, king of Argos. It is said that Perseus named the city Mycenae after the pommel of his sword that felt there, or after the Perseia spring, discovered there under the root of a mushroom (mykes). Perseus’s descendants reigned at Mycenae for three generations until the last of them, Eurystheas died childless. Then the Mycenaeans choose Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaos as their king.
Lion Gate – Cyclopean Walls
The Lion Gate was the main entrance of the Citadel of Mycenae. It was erected during the 13th century BC in the northwest side of acropolis. The lion Gate is named after the relief sculpture of two “lions” in a heraldic pose that stands above the entrance.
The Lion Gate is the largest monumental sculpture of Mycenaean that survived from the prehistoric Aegean. It is the only monument of the Bronze Age of Greece to bear an iconographic motif that survived without being buried underground.
The Lion Gate is surrounded by the Cyclopean Walls, huge limestone boulders, which have been fitted together rather roughly. The ancient people, considering impossible for a human being to build these massive walls, believed that the Cyclops had moved these rocks.
The Cyclopean Walls are the characteristic example of the Mycenaean architecture with the big rocks fitting very roughly together and in between the gaps being filled with smaller limestone.
In Argos, Mycenae and Tiryns, the archeologists have noticed four different styles of the Cyclopean architecture. The Cyclopean walls in Mycenae match with the third style were there are unequal size of stones but exactly the same height.
Grave Circle A – Circle B Graves
South from the Lion Gate is the Grave Circle A, a royal cemetery from the 16th century BC. West from the Lion Gate and outside from the Citadel of Mycenae you will see the Grave Circle B, total diameter of 28 m, 92 ft, with total of 26 graves, 14 of them shaft graves and the other 12 simple cists. The six of the shaft graves were family tombs. There were found total 24 bodies buried.
Both Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B represent one of the major characteristics of the early phase of the Mycenaean civilization. The Circle A is a big grave that has six shaft graves and total diameter of 27.5m or 90 ft. Nineteen bodies were buried there and in addition there were found gold death masks, full sets of weapons and gold and silver cups.
Citadel of Mycenae
The Mycenae Citadel is the main attraction of Mycenae, as the place from where the King Agamemnon led the Greeks to fight the Trojans. This Citadel dates from 16th to 13th cent BC.
The Underground Cistern is accessible by the steps and is 18m deep. It was created because at the Acropolis of Mycenae, that is at the top of the hill, it was very difficult to find water.
Tomb of Agamemnon
Tomb of Clytemnestra
Mycenaean Lion Tholos Chamber Tomb
In Mycenae you will find a lot Tholos Tombs as well. These Tombs were constructed in order the latest Kings and Queens at Mycenae to be buried. All of them are similar in design. They were built out of stone blocks and then covered with earth. The Tholoi were created by laying the stones so that each horizontal course slightly overlapped the one below it until the distance was small enough so a single slab could be used to close the gap at the top.
Agamemnon was one of the kings of Mycenae. He was son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope. His wife was Clytemnestra and they had four kids, Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes and Chrysithemis. When Helen the wife of his brother Menelaus was taken to Troy by Paris, Agamemnon commanded the united Greek armed forces in the ensuring Trojan War.
On the one version of the story, upon Agamemnon’s return from the Troy he was killed by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife Clytemnestra.
Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus and Leda, rulers of Sparta and sister of Castor, Polydeuces and Helen.
Another version of the story says that when her husband Agamemnon returned from the Troy, Clytemnestra killed him because she was angry with him deciding to sacrifice their daughter Iphigeneia and having killed her first husband and taken her by force.
Clytemnestra was killed by her son Orestes as a revenge for his father’s death.
Let’s go back to Nafplio! Nafplio has a few monuments which deserves the time to visit!
Monuments in Nafplio
One of the oldest neighbourhoods in the old city of Nafplio is called “Psaromachalas”. It is the part of the old city underneath the Acronafplia hill to the street called Staikopoulou. Psaromachalas was a very popular area since the end of the Byzantine times, in 13th century. The name comes from the people who were living in this district that were fishermen and were using the west part of the port as a parking for their boats. The first component of the word Psaromachalas comes from the Greek word meaning fish.
The ground is inclined due to the Acrnafplia hill that allows almost all the houses having an amazing view to the Argolic gulf. Psaromachalas is a district full of paths with staircases, with some very old houses with different colors and small balconies.
In Psaromachalas district you can find the first hospital of the country, the Agia Sofia church and the first Greek parliament. Agia Sofia is the only Byzantine church in the old city of Nafplio. It was built aprox. In the 11th to 12th century AD. During the periods that Turks had control of the city they had converted the temple into a haystack. The church was renovated in 1825. In terms of its architecture, the church follows the pattern of the small tiled, octagonal dome-shaped basilica with an inscribed cross and has a west-facing two-storey façade. The sanctuary is semicircular with a double window.
The first Greek parliament is one of the oldest buildings from the Ottoman architecture. The parliament originally was a mosque that was built back in 1730 during the second Turkish occupation, the “Agha Pasha Mosque” that was built in order to atonement Agha’s soul after a cruel crime that he had committed, by killing to young men and stealing from them the treasure that they had found. In the same building during the years 1824-1825 and 1827-1828 it was operating the first Parliament of the modern Greece. Over time the Parliament was used for different purposes, such as Greek school and prison.
Today the historical building hosts the Municipal Gallery of Nafplio with a collection of paintings by Greek artists.
Another historical building connected with the history of Nafplio is the building located in the South East corner of the Syntagma Square called Trianon. The building had different uses over the time and originally was built from Turks during the Turkish occupation in the 16th century as the Grand Mosque in the city of Nafplio. The Trianon was a simple rectangular plan covered by an almost octagonal dome of provincial style. During the second period of the Venetian occupation in 1687, the building was converted into a Christian Roman Catholic church, dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, donated by the Venetian commander Francis Morosini to the Franciscan battalion.
In 1828 it was used by the Greeks as the first interdisciplinary school for males. In 1893, after the necessary repairs, it was transformed into a conservatory and a theater, and in 1937 it became the Trianon Municipal Cinema, a brand that is still known and maintained in very good condition. Since 1993 it has been the seat of the Nafplio Municipal Theater.
If you are lucky to visit Nafplio during the end of Spring time or during Summer, you can enjoy the city’s amazing beaches!
Beaches in and close to Nafplio
Agios Nikolaos (Kondili) Beach
Nafplio is also a great place to be your base if you want to explore the Peloponnese region, both during winter or summer! You can find all the places across Peloponnese region which deserve your time to visit HERE.
You can find our custom-made Nafplio city guide – HERE.