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Exploring Nafplion, the First Capital of Modern Greece

Nafplion from above. Credit: Mtale /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Known by almost every Greek citizen as the first capital city of modern Greece, but inexplicably remaining relatively unknown to the rest of the world, Nafplion is a small city with thousands of years of eventful history and a unique character full of style and beauty.

Nafplion’s long and storied history

The area of modern Nafplion has been inhabited since the earliest years of antiquity.

According to the ancient geographer Strabo, the ancient city’s walls were built by the massive Cyclops, who came from the region of Lycia in Anatolia. The city is located near the ancient site of Mycenae, which was the center of Mycenaean civilization.

For a great deal of its ancient history, Nafplion played the role of a port city to the neighboring city of Argos, which is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on the globe.

It is believed that the area took its name from Nauplius, the son of Poseidon, the God of the sea, and his Queen, Amymone.

The city saw numerous rulers throughout the ages. From the Argives to the Romans and from the Byzantines and Franks to the Venetians and Turks, Nafplion was always at the center of attention due to its vital location as a port in the Eastern Peloponnese.

The iconic Bourtzi castle in Nafplion. Credit: Georgios Karabelas/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

First years as modern Greece’s capital city

The city of Nafplion became the base for the revolutionary Greek government on January 18, 1823 less than two years after the revolution against Turkish occupation broke out.

Four years later in 1827, the third National Assembly of Trizina designated the city of Nafplion as ”the Cathedral of the Government,” officially making the ancient port Greece’s first-ever capital city.

However, this was at a time when the Greek revolutionary forces continued to fight against each other, as the nation was embroiled in a devastating civil war even before it could be liberated from the Turks.

Due to the civil war and the ongoing confrontations between political factions of the Greek forces, it was decided that the base for the Greek government would be transferred to the island of Aegina since Nafplion was no longer safe.

This unfortunate situation lasted for two years, so between 1827 and 1829, Aegina served as the de-facto capital of the nascent Greek state.

However, Nafplion remained the ”Cathedral of the Government,” and played the role of Greece’s capital until 1834, when Athens became the country’s new capital city.

Modern-day Nafplion

A cafe in Nafplion’s old town. Credit: DimitrisP67 /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The city of Nafplion has managed to retain its beautiful and traditional character despite the architectural frenzy of modernism in Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the country’s beautiful buildings were demolished to make room for monolithic concrete tower blocks.

Heavily influenced by the Venetians, the architecture of Nafplion has maintained a colorful palette, with many traditional styles and neoclassical elements still seen throughout the city.

The economic boom of post-war Greek society offered the opportunity for Athenians to leave the boundaries of Attica more often in search of new seaside resorts to enjoy.

Nafplion, a lovely city in an already exceptionally beautiful region, with a particularly sunny and mild climate even by Greek standards, has become one of the most popular escapes for millions of Athenians.

Its great beauty and its climate along with its popularity among northern Europeans, including Germans and Scandinavians, has justifiably made Nafplion one of the Greek mainland’s most renowned vacation destinations.

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