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Ten Greek Castles That Will Take Your Breath Away

Castle of Molyvos
Castle of Molyvos. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 4.0

There are about 800 castles scattered all over Greece. These are castles that bring to mind impressive tales of their epic past. Some have been classified as amongst the most well-preserved buildings of Europe. Here is a list including ten of the most beautiful castles around Greece.

Monemvasia

cities of Monemvasia
fortress-cities of Monemvasia.  stefg74/CC BY 2.0

Monemvasia is one of the most important medieval fortress-cities in the country, and it is home to one of the most beautiful castles in the world. Located in the Peloponnese region, the building is of Byzantine origin and sits on a plateau one hundred meters above sea level.

The rock is connected to the mainland through a narrow road. Its particular location has always offered protection against pirate attacks. Both the town and the fortress date back to 583, and they were built under the reign of the Byzantine emperor Mauritius.

Castle of Rhodes

Palace of the Grand Master, Rhodes
Palace of the Grand Master, Rhodes. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 3.0

Also known as the Palace of the Grand Master or the Knights’ Castle, the construction is located towards the northern side of the medieval town of Rhodes in the Dodecanese.

The most important remaining monument of the Ioannite Knights was built on top of a previous Byzantine citadel which served as both military headquarters and a fortress.

The castle was constructed during the 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes, who occupied the island from 1309 to 1522. Once the Ottoman Empire captured the island, the palace was turned into a fortress.

The Kingdom of Italy took over in 1912, and Italians rebuilt the palace to transform it into a holiday residence for King Victor Emmanuel II. Later, it was also used as such by Benito Mussolini.

Nafplio

Castle, Nafplio
Bourtzi Castle, Nafplio. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 3.0

Located in the Peloponnese, the building belongs to the Venetian period, and it was built in 1714 over three years. Known as Palamidi, the Castle of Nafplio is an immense, well-maintained construction, probably the finest example of Venetian fortifications in the country.

Palamidi, with its typical Baroque style, sits on a 216-meter high hill bearing the same name. It offers obvious strategic advantages since the castle controls the city of Nafplion, as well as the port, the Fortress of Acronapflia, and the entrance to the Gulf of Argolis.

The Turks captured the fortress in 1715, and the Greeks reconquered it in 1822.

Mystras

Fortress of Mystras
Fortress of Mystras, built in 1249. Credit: Prof. Mortel/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Byzantine Mystras is a fortified town on Mt. Taygetos west of Ancient Sparta. It was built in 1249 by a Frankish prince. After the Turkish occupation, the most important Greek Byzantine monument was abandoned in 1830, when the population gradually started to move to the new town of Sparti.

Located on a steep hill and dominating the valley of the river Evrotas, the fortress presents three very distinct zones: The upper city (Pano Chora), the lower city (Kato Chora), and the outer side (Exo Chora). In addition, there is a Frankish acropolis dominating from the top. Inside the complex, there are several Byzantine churches that have undergone restoration and are open to visitors.

Mesta

Mesta villages on Chio Island
Mesta villages on Chio Island. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 3.0

Mesta is one of the Mastic villages of Chios, but it is also home to a medieval village and one of the most well-preserved fortified settlements in Greece.

Its architectural disposition is made of narrow alleys while the surrounding fortification offered shelter against pirate raids. The village has the shape of a pentagon while many of the roads look like a labyrinth.

The building belongs to the Genoan period of Chios which lasted from 1346 to 1566.

Castle of Molyvos

Castle of Molyvos
Castle of Molyvos. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 4.0

Also known as the Castle of Mithymna, this is the second most important fortress of the island of Lesvos. Its present shape is the result of work carried out by the Genoans during the 14th century; the Ottomans included more recent features.

Built on a hill, evidence proves that it sits on an ancient acropolis dating from the 5th century BC. The Byzantines built a fortress in its place, and the Genoans started reconstruction on the castle in 1373.

Kalamata

Castle of Kalamata
Castle of Kalamata. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 4.0

With its rich history and architecture, the Castle of Kalamata is located on a rocky hill on the north-west side of the city.

As with many other fortifications, there is evidence of an ancient acropolis existing on the hill before the Trojan war, as well as a later Byzantine fortress. Still visible today, however, are the remains of a castle rebuilt at the beginning of the 13th century during the Frankish occupation.

Inside the castle, there is a church dating from the 6th century AD devoted to the Virgin Mary. The icon of the Virgin Mary in the church became known as Kalomata (meaning ‘beautiful eyes’), a word that later evolved into Kalamata, after which the church, castle, and city are named, as well.

Ioannina

Castle of Ioannina
Castle of Ioannina . Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis/CC BY-SA 2.0

Located on a 480-meter hill, the Castle of Ioannina in Epirus overlooks Pamvotis Lake. Its current form dates back to the late Ottoman period while it still includes elements belonging to an earlier Byzantine fortification.

The castle was founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD. The city of Ioannina flourished after the Fourth Crusade when many wealthy Byzantine families fled there following the sack of Constantinople. Ioannina surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430. Between 1430 and 1868, the city was the administrative center of the Pashalik of Yanina. The most notorious figure during this period was Ali Pasha.

Castle of Lepanto

Nafpaktos castle
Entrance tower of Nafpaktos castle Spiros Vathis/CC BY-ND 2.0

The Castle of Lepanto, or the Castle of Nafpaktos as it is otherwise known, is one of the most well-maintained castles of Greece and a perfect example of Greek architecture in terms of fortifications.

The entrance to the Gulf of Nafpaktos was the battleground of one of the most important naval conflicts in history. The Battle of Lepanto (1571) represents the moment when the naval power of the Ottoman Empire was almost entirely destroyed by combined European forces.

The original walls of the building belong to ancient times, and their remains are still visible on the western side of the castle. The present shape and its levels date back to Venetian rule.

A circular wall surrounds the top of the hill while two arms come down, one towards the east and the other the west. Once they bend, both arms approach one another again, enclosing the entrance of the port with two towers. The castle protected the people of Nafpaktos during wars and was unique for its five defensive walls.

Castle of Astypalea

Castle of Astypalea
Castle of Astypalea. Credit: Wikipedia/CC BY 4.0

The Venetian Castle of Astypalea, also known as the Venetian Castle of Querini, dominates the magnificent Chora (main city) of the island from the top of the hill. It is constructed of rather darkish stones that clearly contrast against the whitewashed houses around the fortification.

The history of the castle is related to the struggle for power between Venetian, Byzantine, and Ottoman rulers. The building was constructed by Giovanni Querini, a noble Venetian who governed Astypalea after the siege of Constantinople in 1204.

Venetians ruled from the castle for over 300 years with each ruler adding modifications to the structure. Each one left a stone emblem with a family coat of arms. The castle of Astypalea was partially rebuilt after an earthquake hit the island in 1956.

The medieval settlement winds up the mountain, offering an unforgettable panoramic view of the Chora of Astypalea.

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