Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Nafplio: Jewel on the Argolic Gulf

 Greece’s first capital, with three imposing fortresses, exudes history, tradition, superb views
By Haris Argyropoulos
Nafplio, on the Argolic Gulf in the eastern Peloponnese, is one of Greece’s most beautiful historic towns, close enough to Athens (147 kilometers) to be ideal for a weekend or a day trip.

Noted for its Venetian and Turkish buildings, neoclassical mansions and the three fortresses of Palamidi, Acronafplia and Bourtzi -- the city’s landmark on a small island in the bay -- it combines Italian-influenced architecture with ample places of historical interest, while also offering proximity to beaches and a number of important archaeological sites, such as Mycenae, Tiryns and Epidaurus.

The town, which was taken by the Greeks from the Turks early in the War of Independence in the 1820s and was the new state’s first capital, might have well served as the setting for a historical film on the events of that period.

Palamidi is the highest of the three fortresses and perhaps the most impressive in Greece, built by the Venetians in 1714 but seized by the Turks a year later. It has 999 steps to climb to the summit and the view is absolutely worth the slog.

Divided into the new and old town, Nafplio is built around the rock fortress. The neighborhoods of the old quarter, with imposing neoclassical edifices that served as government buildings and old mansions with their lush courtyards and quaint streets, is the best place to start a stroll. The old town stretches along the northern side of the Acronafplia hill, while the new town extends east of Palamidi.

Capodistrias Square, named after Greece’s first governor, who was assassinated here in 1831, is the watershed between the two quarters. The road traversing the old town east to west begins at the point of the restored Land Gate and it is worth the walk to acquaint yourself with some of the city’s most important sights.

Nafplio has impressive churches. Its Cathedral of Aghios Georgios, on Plapouta Street, was built in the 16th century and was used as a mosque by the Turks. In the 17th century, it was decorated with frescoes by the Italian School, including a copy of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” Not far from there is the Church of Aghios Spyridon, which still bears the mark of the bullet that killed Capodistrias. Aghia Sophia, Nafplion’s oldest church, from the 13th century, lies further west.

The heart of the city beats in Platanos (or Syntagma) Square, where, according to local lore, the Greek chieftains conferred under the huge old plane tree to thrash out plans during the War of Independence.

The sights here include the Bouleuterion, an impressive building that was originally a mosque and housed the first Greek Parliament as well as Capodistrias’s residence. This is the most popular area for tourists, with many shops, cafes, restaurants and bars among the impressive Venetian mansions, one of which houses the archaeological museum.
Another historic place is Plateia Trion Navarchon -- or the Square of the Three Admirals (British, French and Russian, whose united fleet defeated the Turks at Navarino and sealed Greek independence). The country’s first pharmacy and high school, as well as the present Town Hall are located here.

The three forts are must-sees, although all three may be too much in one visit. Besides, there are five interesting museums: the Archaeological, War, Folk, Children’s and one on the Greek "komboloi" (worry beads). The latter has a collection of about 1,000 sets of worry beads from the 18th to 20th century, made of a variety of materials and gems, from amber, seashells and coral to crystals.

After a tour of the town, sit at one of the seaside cafes and enjoy the view. Or head for the restaurants in the old town, where the fare is generally above average.

A number of beaches, including Tolo, Karathonas, Asini, Drepano, Plaka, Kadia and Iria, are situated a short drive away from Nafplio.

Getting there & basic info

By car, via the Athens-Corinth national road; follow the left diversion to Nafplio once past the Corinth Canal. The journey takes 2 hours, 30 minutes in normal traffic conditions. By intercity bus from 100 Kifissou (tel 1440 or 210.513.4588). Buses leave on average every 90 minutes. Nafplio bus terminal: 27520.27323. For the details of all intercity and local bus schedules, visit By train (some journeys take 4 hours) from the Peloponnese station (210.513.1601). Area code: 27520; Nafplio train station: 26400; radio taxi: 24120; hospital: 27309; info center: 156; police: 98705/7.

Where to stay

Nafplio has plenty of hotels of two stars or more. 5*: Nafplia Palace, inside the Acronafplia castle: 28981; Amphitryon, on the seafront: 27366. 4*: Amalia, a complex with extensive facilities in the nearby village of Nea Tiryntha: 24401; Grande Bretagne: 96200; Ilion: 24497. 3*: Agamemnon, on the seafront: 28021; Latini Family: 96470; Rex: 26907. 2*: Aspasia: 61183; Athina 27695; Byron, best value for money in a four-story traditional building with fine views and excellent service: 22351; Dioscouri: 28550; Argolis: 27721. Greek National Tourism Organization office: 24444.

Where to eat

Some Athenians come on day trips just for Nafplio’s cuisine. Highlights: Hellas, on Syntagma Square -- one of the town’s older restaurants. Theodoros Angelopoulos filmed scenes of “The Beekeeper” here, fine traditional home cooking. On Staikopoulou St: Vassilis, good home cooking; Palia Taverna, authentic atmosphere. On Bouboulinas St: Kanaris, known as “Karamanlis” and favored by the late statesman and local gourmets; Katsehamou and Savouras, right next to each other, for fish. Also, Epi Skenis has great food and atmosphere and a super collection of rebetika and Greek popular CDs.

What to see & cafes

The Archaeological Museum in Syntagma Square includes exhibits from Mycenae, Tiryns and Asini (tel 27502; open Tues-Sun, 8.30 a.m. - 3 p.m.,); Palamidi Fort (28036); Peloponnesian Folk Museum (1 Vas. Alexandrou, 28379; open March-January, Wed-Mon, 9 a.m. - 2.30 p.m.), with more than 16,000 exhibits and a good museum shop; War Museum (Tues-Sun, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m., 22 Amalias, 25591); Komboloi Museum (21618). The best coffee is served on the seafront, along Bouboulinas and Miaouli streets (Kafeneio, Kontogiorgos, Pantheon). The nearest beaches are Arvanitia, behind Acronafplia, and Karathonas.

No comments:

Post a Comment