Nafplio, Greece’s first capital

After two rainy days in Pylos, I decided to head closer to Athens and check out Nafplio. Of course, it took three buses (Pylos to Kalamata, Kalamata to Korinthos, Korinthos to Nafplio) to get there but there weren’t any other major transportation woes. I arrived in the late afternoon, settled into my hotel and headed out to explore Nafplio.

Nafplio’s main claim to fame is that it served as the first capital of newly independent Greece, from 1821-1834. Over the history of the area, it was controlled by the Venetian Empire, the Ottoman Empire (1540), back to the Venetians briefly (1685) before being retaken by the Ottomans (1715) and then finally the Greeks during the Greek War of Independence (1822). Despite all this back and forth, the town has maintained a very Venetian/Italian feel. The streets are dotted with gelaterias and Italian restaurants, and the town is in the shadow of the Palamidi Fortress, a great Venetian castle. This was actually the last overseas construction project that the Venetians undertook before their empire collapsed.

Nafplio from Palamidi Fortress somewhere around step 700.
Nafplio from Palamidi Fortress somewhere around step 700.

I had a wonderful dinner of Italian gnochi (potato dumplings) and limoncello (lemon liqueur). And of course, gelato. I had a wonderful chili-dark chocolate gelato from what Lonely Planet says is “the best (yes, best) traditional gelati outside Italy.” While I haven’t had a lot of gelato outside of Italy, this was pretty good. In fact, it might have been better than what I had in Italy (blasphemy, I know).

The next day I got up early in order to see some of the sights before heading to Athens. The main sight, of course, is the Palamidi Fortress. According to people who know lots about Greek castles (there’s a whole website!), it is a “huge, well-maintained and probably the best castle in Greece and the finest sample of the Venetian fortifications in Greece.”

Palamidi Fortress
Palamidi Fortress

Another reason that I got up early was to tackle the stairs leading up to the top. Legend has it that there are 999 steps from the town to the castle, but most counts vary from this convenient number. I didn’t count but I can tell you it felt like at least a thousand. These steps cover the 216 meters to the top, so they are pretty steep as well. However, the view during the climb and from the top is worth the effort! The fortress consists of a number of bastions from which guards kept watch for enemy ships (there were a lot of them) and other intruders.

After exploring the bastions and the rest of the castle, I climbed back down the 999 (ish) steps back into town. After a quick lunch, I grabbed my stuff and headed for the bus to Athens.

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