By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
Nafplion is on the Pelopennesus Peninsula of the mainland of Greece. Technically it is an island because it is separated by the short and narrow Corinth Canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.
We arrived to a near-perfect day, and even better our small ship brought just about the only tourists to town. My wife and I live on a tourist island and we understand the collective sigh or relief that arrives when the season is near its end, and we get back our beautiful place to enjoy. We saw that here today.
Photos by Corey Sandler.
The small town of Nafplion—today the population is just under 14,000—was the first capital of modern Greece, from 1829 to 1834.
The most significant pre-classical site is the Acronafplia (the Inner Castle), which incorporates some ancient walls. Until the thirteenth century, Acronafplia was a town on its own. When the Venetians and the Franks and then the Venetians and the Ottomans arrived, they made it part of the town fortifications.
Then in 1388 was sold to the Venetians, who held it for a century and a half. The city was surrendered in 1540 to the Ottomans, who renamed it as “Mora Yenişehri” (“New City of Pelloponnes”).
The Venetians retook Nafplion in 1685, and among the first things they did was build the castle of Palamidi. Actually it was possibly the last major construction of the Venetian empire overseas.
Palamidi is located on a hill north of the old town. It was a fairly ambitious project, a Baroque fortress. Only 80 soldiers were assigned to defend the city, and in 1715 back it went to the Ottomans, who held it until 1822 when it fell during the Greek War of Independence.
The fortress commands an impressive view over the Argolic Gulf, the city of Náfplion and the surrounding country. There are 857 steps in the winding path from the town to the fortress and a few hundred more to the actual top of the fortress.
After its capture by the modern Greeks, Nafplion—with its substantial fortifications—was made the seat of the provisional government of Greece, and then in 1829 the first capital of modern Greece.
Syntagma Square in Navplion. Photo by Corey Sandler
Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, first head of state of the newly-liberated Greece, set foot on the Greek mainland for the first time in Nafplio on January 7, 1828. But three years later, in October of 1831, he was assassinated by local warlords on the steps of the church of Saint Spyridon in Nafplio.
In 1832, Otto, prince of Bavaria, was made the first modern King of Greece.
Greece was a new independent kingdom under the protection of the Great Powers (the United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). Nafplion remained the capital of the kingdom until 1834, when Otto decided to move the capital to Athens.
Bourtzi Castle. Photo by Corey Sandler
The castle of Bourtzi is in the middle of the harbor; we should have a good view of it as we pass by on ship’s tenders. It was completed by the Venetians in 1473 as part of its fortification against pirates and invaders.
It served as a fortress until 1865, and then as the residence of the executioners of convicts from the castle of Palamidi.
Inside Agios Nikolaos church in Nafplion; it was built in 1713 and little has changed since. Photos by Corey Sandler
About 45 minute east of Nafplion is the ancient city of Epidaurus, called Epidavros in modern Greek. This was one of the most popular Greek spas, a place with special baths and secret rites.
People in need of cure would come to Epidaurus and spend their first night in the enkoimitiria, a sort of dormitory.
After the introduction of Christianity and the silencing of the oracles, the sanctuary at Epidauros was still known as late as the mid-5th century, recast as a Christian healing center.
There’s not a lot left of the old city except for foundations—with one exception: the spectacular Greek theater. It has survived through the ages because it was built into the ground and not above it. Designed in the 4th century BC, the original 34 rows were extended in Roman times by another 21 rows. It seats as many as 15,000 people.
Epidauros. Photos by Corey Sandler
As is usual for Greek theaters (and different from Roman ones), the view of the lush landscape behind the stage was considered part of the theater itself and was not to be obscured. The theater has exceptional acoustics, attributed in part to the limestone seats which amplify sounds from the stage and absorb extraneous noise from the audience.
Just over an hour north of Navplion is the once-great city of Corinth, on the narrow isthmus that leads to the mainland of Greece; from here, Athens is about 48 miles to the east.
The city was founded in the Neolithic Age, about 6000 BC. According to one legend, the city was founded by Corinthos, a descendant of the god Helios (the Sun).
Before the end of the Mycenaean period the Dorians (an ancient Greek tribe) settled in Corinth. It seems likely that Corinth was also the site of a Bronze Age Mycenaean palace-city, like Mycenae, Tiryns or Pylos.
In the 7th century BC, when Corinth was ruled by the tyrants Cypselus and his son Periander, the city sent forth colonists to found new settlements: Epidamnus (modern day Durrës, Albania), Syracuse in what is now Italy, and Corcyra (the modern day town of Corfu) among them.
It was during the reign of Periander that there was the first to attempt to cut across the Isthmus to create a canal to allow ship traffic between the Corinthian and the Saronic Gulf. It was way beyond their abilities, but they did create the Diolkos, a stone overland ramp to haul small ships or freight.
Then came the Romans, who destroyed Corinth following a siege in 146 BC. The Roman Lucius Mummius put all the men to the sword and sold the women and children into slavery before he torched the city.
The city was all but abandoned for the next century until Julius Caesar refounded the city as Colonia laus Iulia Corinthiensis in 44 BC shortly before his assassination.
The ruins of Corinth. Photo by Corey Sandler
The apostle Paul first visited the city (AD 51 or 52), and presided for eighteen months. It’s all right there in the Book of the Corinthians. It was during his second visit, about 58, that Paul is believed to have begun his “Epistle to the Romans” and then the several Epistles to the Corinthians.
The first serious consideration of a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth was in 602 BC by Periander, Tyrant of Corinth and one of the Seven Sages of Antiquity. He was not sage enough to figure out how to dig the ditch.
In 307 B.C., about three centuries after Periander, work actually began on excavation. In 66 A.D., the Emperor Nero sent war prisoners from the Aegean islands and six thousand Jewish slaves to work on the canal.
It was the success in 1869 of Ferdinand de Lesseps’ Suez Canal that gave rise to the modern effort. (The Suez also helped bring about the Panama Canal and the Cape Cod Canal and many others at the end of the 19th century.)
The modern pathway follows—almost to the inch—the plans mapped out by Nero.
Sixteen million cubic yards (twelve million cubic meters) of earth had to be removed to cut out the entire passage.
A tight squeeze through the Corinth Canal. Photos by Corey Sandler
The Corinth Canal was completed and opened on July 25, 1893. The Canal cuts the Isthmus of Corinth in a straight line just short of four miles long.
The canal is 80.7 feet wide (24.6 meters) at sea level. Consider: Silver Cloud is 70.6 feet wide, although like many of us she carries her weight around the middle and higher. Ships of our size and a little larger can easily get through, though. But extra-wide megaships cannot.
But our ship will NOT be making a crossing. Not this time. But in 2016, Silversea will return to the Corinth Canal and I hope to be aboard. See you there?
All photos copyright 2014, Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution copy, please contact me.