Naviplating Navglion. Or, Nafigatin’ Nafplio.
Oh, it’s all so confusing when you travel the world and things just don’t seem to be the way they’re supposed to be. Like the spelling of the name of the place you’re visiting, for one. And, writing the letters differently so they look like, well, Greek and you won’t even have a clue anyway unless you pledged some college fraternity or sorority way back when. Zow, what’s a traveler to do!
In this case, you’ve got two choices. You can lay low, so to speak, by staying at sea level exploring the waterfront haunts and footpaths that circle the hills. Or, you can literally take the high road and scale the peak that looms menacingly overhead.
A Quintessential Resort
There are those who regale the glories of Navplion and recommend you spend your precious hours here, especially if you have only one Greek destination to visit. Why? Well, for starters, because the seafront collection of Venetian villas and stately mansions whisper sotto voce of an elegant past. Add to that a jumble of comfortable walking streets, the obligatory seafood eateries, a smattering of tasteful boutiques, a sunny beach or two, and a fortress like no other towering above. History, as well as those who wrote the chapters, left a long tale to tell. Just ask any of the 14,000 worry-bead-clicking Greeks who call Navplion home.
A Thumbnail Sketch
Geography played an important role in Navplion’s history. It lays a mere four miles across the Argolic Gulf from Argos, all in the Peloponnese. For the record, this port has enjoyed a major role in sea trade since the Bronze Age. The more contemporary story relates that late in the 14th Century Navplion fell to the Venetian leaders. It was the Turks, however, who ruled the area from 1540 until 1686. For the following quarter century, the Venetians returned to power. It was during that time that Navplion was called Napoli di Romania (adding more confusion as alluded to in the opening paragraph). Never mind. The Turks returned to rule until 1822 when the Greeks seized the reins of power yet again cementing their position by naming Navplion the Kingdom of Greece’s first capital.
As a result of this tumultuous power-grabbing scenario, the tiny town was reinforced with three, count them three, fortresses. First and foremost, the mighty citadel of Palamidi. If your calves resemble Lance Armstrong’s you might wish to climb the 857 (some say 999) steps up for an up-close-and-personal inspection of Palamidi. Completed in 1714, after three backbreaking years of labor, the Venetians saluted Palamidi as their military masterpiece. See for yourself the meters-thick walls, bastions, prison cells, and cobbled walkways. Thankfully, taxis stand at the ready to take you to the top should a Herculean trek not be in your game plan.
For the record, Palamidi served as a prison and until 30 years ago was still garrisoned.
Itching for more? There’s the Akronafplia Fortress, Navplion’s oldest of the trio of castles. Guidebooks point out portions dating back to the Bronze Age. For the record, during two decades ending in 1956, the castle served as a prison for political prisoners.
If you’ve still got energy, there’s Bourtzi, a tiny island fortress approximately 600 yards offshore. It, too, was the work of the Venetians. Called the Sea Castle (Castel da Mar), it dates back to 1472 and was the work of Bergamo architect Antonio Gambello. When the Turks held this fortress, they strung a chain to the pier from Bourtzi to further strengthen their position.
It Screams “Ice Cream”
The sun shines tirelessly in Greece and your day ashore should be no exception. Part of the joy of exploring exotic destinations is, let’s be honest, eating. Staikopoulou is a shady street resembling something like a gourmet eat-a-thon. Fish fresh from the sea, vegetables from local farmers, herbs from the countryside, and chilled wines from regional vintners are displayed for all to see. The aroma of grilled meats wafts on a sea breeze. And the gelati recipes left behind by the Venetians provide the finest, creamiest ice creams this side of Venice. Be sure to order a triple scoop, especially if you made the climb up to Palamidi. For the others, a single scoop will have to do.