Journey through Ancient Greece


Naúplio, (pronounced Náfplio) is a pretty and rather elegant sea side resort, a popular week- end retreat for Athenians, the most Italianate of mainland Greek towns, with parks and squares, streets lined with orange trees and Turkish wall fountains dotted around. The beautiful neo-classical buildings in the old town cling to the steep lanes and are often only accessible by flights of steps (scalas); many of the houses have balconies over which the brilliantly coloured bougainvillaea tumbles.
The lively waterfront (Aktí Miaoúli) is lined with cafes and restaurants where you can linger with a coffee or glass of wine and watch the world go by, a particularly popular spot in the evening for watching the sunset over the Bourtzi.

In the centre of the old town is Plateia Sýndagma (Constitution Square) a beautiful, marble paved square, lined with ice cream parlours, restaurants, an excellent bookshop(Odyssey), a bank with cash point machines, a former mosque on one side, now a cinema and theatre, and opposite it the museum. (Here in the early evening you can watch small children playing on their bikes and, later, older children playing football, all watched indulgently by adults enjoying a drink or meal).


Naúplio, the port of ancient Mycenae and Argos, got it's name from Nauplios, who was, according to legend, a son of Poseidon, a descendant of his was Palamedes who, having invented the lighthouse, scales, dice, measures and 11 letters of the alphabet, fought and died in the Trojan War.

For hundreds of years Naúplio had a somewhat 'yo yo' life. In 1210 it was taken from the Greeks by Frankish Geoffrey de Villehardouin who gave it to Otho de la Roche, the Duke of Athens. It was bought in 1388 by the Venetians who resisted several attempts by the Turksto capture it until they finally succeeded in 1540. The Venetians got it back in 1686 and the Turks retook it in 1715. In 1822 the Greeks finally succeeded in regaining the town.

Naúplio was the first capital of Greece from 1828 to 1834 and site of the assassination of the first president Kapodístrios, (you can see where the bullet went in the wall of Agios Spyridou ).

The sights

The town boasts three castles, the Palamidi, the Frankish-Venetian fortress which dominates the town, the Akronauplia, a smaller Turkish fortress originally dating back to the Bronze age and the Bourtzi.

The Palamidi Legend has it there are 999 steps up to the Palamidi, or Citadel, (in reality, I'm told, there are 'only' 857!). The last fortress built by the Venetians in Greece, between 1711 and 1714, it had a large central fort and eight smaller ones. In spite of this after only one year it was captured by the Turks. During the War of Independence the Greek Commander Kolokotrónis besieged the fortress for over a year before the Turks surrendered. After Independence he was imprisoned in the citadel by the new government.

The fortress is open from 8 a.m. to 6.45 p.m. We will take the coach up if there is time. A taxi from the town to the entrance costs about 3.

The Bourtzi, a picturesque small fortress built by the Venetians in 1471, is set on the tiny island of Agio Theodore just off the shore. It was used to control the harbour entrance with cannons east and west of the tower and a chain extending to the breakwater. (Naúplio was known as Porto Cantena, Harbour of the chain) The Bourtzi was the retirement home of executioners during Turkish occupation! A small boat does trips to the island from Aktí Miaoúli.

sunset over the Bourtzi

Church of Ay Giorgos In the square of the same name off Plapouta. A very elegant Venetian Church with an arched colonnade at the front. The inside is gorgeous with three aisles, a large brass chandelier beneath the dome, two side chapels and some fine early 18th century frescoes including the Evangelists and a copy of Da Vinci's Last Supper.

The Folk (popular) Museum open 0900-1500 closed Tuesday. On corner of Sofroni and Vasileos Alexandrou opposite pension Omorphi Poli. A really wonderful collection of costumes and domestic items from 18th to 20th centuries in a beautiful old house (they serve a free cup of coffee).

Komboloi Museum 25 Staikopoulou, Closed Tuesdays, Open Mon - Fri 0930-1400, 1800-2130 Sat/Sun 1000-2130 A shop and museum with an amazing collection of komboloi, 'worry beads '. Well worth a visit. Entrance €1.5

National Gallery, Naplio annexe. near hotel Elena in, I think, Bouboulinas Tuesday closed. Open Mon, Thurs, Sat 10-1500, Wed, Fri 10-15, 17-2000 Sun 10-1400. Entrance free on Monday. (Haven't been here so reports welcome!)

Church of Ay Spyridon This church in a peaceful little square at the new town end of Kapodistriou was built in 1702. It was outside here that the first President of modern Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias was shot in 1831; the bullet hole is visible just to the right of the doorway, and a photo of the assassins inside. Do go in, it is lovely with a fine dome around which are the four Evangelists. There are shrines to St Spiridon and St Barbara. Don't miss the Turkish fountain opposite.

The Catholic Church of the Transfiguration This is up a scala between Ay Spiridou and the Byron Hotel. Originally a Venetian Church it was turned into a mosque by the Turks. Later King Otho gave the building to the Catholics of Nauplio. In the summer Mass is said (in Latin) here on Sundays. There is a memorial to philhellenic freedom fighters including Byron.

Plateia Syndagma This elegant square with its marble floor is surrounded on three sides by cafes and restaurants and is where the locals, and at weekends, visiting Athenians gather, especially in the evening, to sip a coffee and watch the children play. The first Greek Parliamentwas housed in the mosque in the top right hand corner, the other mosque on the left hand side is now a cinema.

The Archaeological Museum is housed in a large 18th century Venetian building in the 'marble square' (Sýndagma). The building was originally used by the Venetians as a barracks and naval arsenal.

A super small museum with large airy rooms up a grand stone staircase, and beautiful exhibits from Tiryns, Asine, the Argive Heraion and Naúplio, (not always very clearly labelled.)

Go round anti-clock wise for chronological order.

First Floor

To the right of the entrance are pots and jugs from Asine and Tiryns from 2,600-2,000 BC and a huge terracotta cooler vase from Tiryns from the same period.

On the end wall are some nice decorated jugs and amphorae from Naúplio, including one showing a procession with a horse drawn chariot and a lovely amphora found at Asine.

Next to this is the museum's pride and joy, the bronze suit of armour found in the tomb at Dendra. It dates from the end of the 15th century BC (Mycenaean) and has a helmet made of boar's tusks. (these helmets were mentioned by Homer and we will also see one at Olympia). The suit of armour is unique of its kind consisting of strips of bronze joined together, an early attempt to give some flexibility.

Next you come to some squat pots and necklaces from Midea 1500-1400 BC and jugs and terracotta animals from Asine.

The famous 13th century BC terracotta head called 'Lord of Asine' is much smaller than I expected (only about 4 inches tall). He is thought to represent a noblemen, hence the name. He is very charming.

To the left of the door don't miss bits of a fresco from Tyrins and also some nice jugs and vases also from Tyrins, and wonderful, charming terracotta female figures.

Finally do not miss the hydria, a two handled jug, from the classical period (440 BC) with its dramatic depiction of Orestes killing Klytemnestra; she is pleading for mercy (her bared breast emphasising her motherhood) and Elektra is running away.

Second floor (You get a super view of the Palamidi and Syntagma from here.)

Up another long flight of stone steps you will see facing you a large (5 foot?) amphora (no label)

Look out for many lovely finds from Tyrins including:

A reconstruction of a helmet and the remains of one found at Tyrins. Geometric and protogeometric pots from Asine and Tyrins. Terracotta figurines of people and animals. On the end wall two cases of terracotta votive offerings. Unusual votive clay shields (700 BC), one showing a dual between heroes and one showing Achilles and Penthesileia.

Wonderful 8th century BC terracotta grotesque masks.

There are also some fine 6th to 5th century BC black figure vases from Boeotia (Thebes or Orchemenos?). Be sure to see the fine panathenaic amphora (44.5cm high), dating from the second half of the 6th century. This was a prize to the winner of the games in honour of Athene, note the scene of the victorious athlete on his horse being led by an older man. It would have contained olive oil from the sacred olive trees.

In the next arch is a splendid red figure vase (with no label), a handsome young man, a woman wearing a chiton and ?Mercury and on the other side two men in conversation.

grotesque mask 8th century BC

Eating and shopping

Old Naúplio is a lovely place for both eating and shopping as there is a multitude of good tavernas and many shops selling hand made goods from pottery to clothes, at reasonable prices. Most shop keepers and taverna waiters speak good English.

Restaurants, tavernas, ice cream parlours and bars are found in three main areas in the old town:

Along the waterfront: In Bouboulinas (the port) there are lots of fish restaurants, and in Aktí Miaoúli (the water front) are ice cream parlours and bars (Napoli Di Romania is a favourite).

If you continue round the waterfront you will come to Agnánti, an excellent restaurant on the water's edge.

In Plateia Sýntagma, the 'marble square', are three ice cream/patisserie cafes, all with tempting 'naughty but nice' goodies! There is also a restaurant, 'Ellas' where the food is good but the 'patron' a little pushy. (Many famous people including Mick Jagger have eaten here!)

Staikópoulou (the narrow street just up from Syntagma, go up by 'Dodone' ) is touristy but lively, with a long line of tavernas all of which are good. O Vassílisis one of our favourites and the Old Taverna near Avli, and Fanária, down the alley opposite Vassilis, are also good.

Down a very narrow street leading to Plateia Spyridou is To Kastro Karíma, an excellent small taverna run by a charming Egyptian. The food is good, prices modest; you need strong nerves to eat outside as chairs often have to be moved to let cars past!!

Shops: Here is a selection of shops we know and like.

Odyssey is an excellent shop, in Syntagma, owned by Dimitris Hountalas who speaks fluent English and is a fount of knowledge, (he has published and sells an excellent guide book to the town and region). He also sells books, postcards, films, stamps, newspapers, maps, telephone cards, and tapes and CDs of Greek music.

Byzantine Coin on the corner of Syntagma near the museum has lovely semi-preciousstone necklaces and bracelets (coral, garnet, peridot) and unusual 'objets d'art'.

Komboloy (worry beads) again in Sýndagma beyond Byzantine Coin sell Greek handicrafts including worry beads, also very nice wooden toys, games, 'arty things' and jewellery.

Genesis 10 Kapodistriou (Up the scala to the left of O Vassilis). You can watch Panayotis making ceramic pots and his wife Maria decorating them. (The pots are put out in the sun to dry). A wide choice of nice jugs, bowls, mugs etc at modest prices. They will proudly explain the process to you and will wrap goods safely for the journey home. Panayotis speaks good English and enjoys 'putting the world to rights' with his customers.

Avlí at 10 Staikopoulou is run by a couple who design and make lovely, unusual women's clothes, all in natural fabrics (lots of linen), mostly neutral colours and with bold designs. Best of all they are not expensive! They have also started making unusual jewellery.

Near Avli is a good leather goods shop with a wide choice of bags, briefcases, wallets etc at good prices.

At 19 Staikópoulou is a shop with hand painted silk scarves, cushion covers and children's T shirts. Not cheap but very nice.

Genesis Pottery

H XOPAMA at 31 Staikopoulou (pass all the restaurants away from the Plateia) is a little shop with a huge collection of CDs and tapes and a helpful young owner who speaks good English and will advise you on Greek music.

Agnythes 10 Siokou (corner of Alexandrou) Here you can see Maria Gonidou at her l loom weaving lovely woollen shawls, cushion covers etc all with natural dyes.

Beaches There are three possibilities for swimming:

We have had a good swim at Náftikos Omilos. Plastic shoes are a good idea here as there are sea urchins! There isn't a beach here but there are two excellent restaurants where you can have a drink or coffee.

Arvanitía (or Town) Beach can be reached on foot by going round the sea front and along a rather nice paved path lined with pine and cactus, or by going up past the Catholic Church and Marianne's Pension.

If you get there early (before 10.00) you will find the local 'matrons' swimming and avoid paying for a sun bed!

A short taxi ride or 45 minute's pleasant walk away is Karathóna Beach, a long sandy beach with good swimming.


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Mainly Peloponnese Itinerary