Set in one of Greece’s most diverse and vibrant regions, the Peloponnese, the historical seaside town of Nafplion, near the north end of the Argolic Gulf, is the perfect destination for those who wish to experience traditional Greek life, immerse in Greek history and relax amongst splendid unspoilt landscapes, and centuries-old traditional villages.
Unlike the seasonally driven, incredibly popular Greek Islands, elegant and enticing, Nafplion is a prosperous city of 40,000 inhabitants all year round and has a tourist industry that never sleeps.
Ancient walls, medieval castles, monuments and statues, Ottoman fountains, Venetian and Neoclassical buildings mesmerise the visitor with their unique architecture and beauty.
According to mythology, Nafplion was founded by Náfplios, the son of Poseidon and Danaida, whilst the town’s history traces back to the ancient times, when soldiers from this region participated in the Argonautic expedition and the Trojan War.
The town declined during the Roman times and flourished again during the Byzantine era. Frankish, Venetian and Turkish conquerors also left their mark on Nafplion’s culture, architecture and traditions throughout the centuries.
Divided into the medieval and the new town, Greece’s first capital city (1823) has known tourism since early last century.
The twisting labyrinthine streets, heritage buildings, multi coloured flower beds and a sophisticated atmosphere that’s a million miles from a typical tourist destination, entice Athenians to flood the place on weekends and wander around the narrow cobbled alleyways amongst cascades of bougainvillea, palm and pines trees, before heading down to the beach.
Concealed amongst historical and Neoclassical buildings, charming squares and majestic forts, visitors tend to follow an enjoyable dream trail which leads to numerous places of significance such as the place where Ioannis Kapodistrias, first head of state of newly independent Greece, was assassinated in 1831 (a bullet hole in the wall of the Agios Spyridon church marks the spot), the magnificent equestrian statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis, one of the most revered commanders in the Greek War of Independence and the country’s first pharmacy, whose owner embalmed Kapodistrias’ body to lie in state.
A few metres down, the main Syntagma Square, also harbours an array of great buildings: a mosque from the first Ottoman period, now a theatre, a mosque from the second period that became the parliament building, the Venetian Arsenal, a Mycenaean pastiche.
Towering with an impressive view of the Argolic Gulf, the Palamidi Castle (east of Acronauplia), remains the symbol of the city, standing proud at 216 metres above sea level. Visitors that choose to climb all of its 999 steps carved into a rock, vouch that the view from above is more than rewarding.
Palamidi is not only an excellent example of Venetian fortification; its historical significance traces back to when Nafplion’s revolt against Ottoman rule was launched.
Drenched in history, the town is also incredibly picturesque and renowned as one of the most romantic places in Greece. At sunset, couples, families and children stroll around the charming bay area enjoying views of the lighthouse, fishing boats, and the beautifully lit Palamidi fortress, standing on a rocky islet in the middle of the harbour.
A romantic stroll along Arvanitia Promenade, the town’s pedestrianised seaside road, leads to secluded sandy beaches and the infamous church of Panagitsa, known as the Santa Maria della Grotta which served as the town’s secret school during Ottoman rule and offers an uninterrupted view of the Argolic Gulf. According to locals, Panagitsa is the perfect place to exchange vows of eternal love.
Further east is the stately Orthodox Cathedral, and the Catholic Cathedral, serving as a memorial to foreign fighters in the War of Independence.
A less obvious feature of Nafplion is the town’s wonderful museums (The Archeological Museum, The War Museum, The Komboloi (worry-beads) Museum and the Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation Museum) and art galleries (The National Gallery, The Nafplion Art Gallery, The Municipal Art Gallery, The Palamidi Public Gallery), which have plenty to offer visitors who wish to immerse themselves in art and history.
Apart from all the aforementioned, Nafplion can also be used as a base for excursions to the northern towns of Mycenae and Nemea, where the great archaeological sites of the north Peloponnese stand proud, as well as the infamous ancient theatre of Epidavros a few miles further east.
Drenched in history, culture, green landscapes and crystal clear beaches, Nafplion seems to have it all; therefore, make sure you include this irresistible destination in your travel plans, next time you wish to tick a bucket list-worthy trip, off your list.