And where there’s a castle, there tends to be the important settlements, harbours, monasteries, catacombs, barracks, baths, libraries and valuable natural resources that inspired historic defence… A skyline with towers, ramparts and bastions signals a wealth of romance to discover.
It is hard to imagine a more mystical setting than Monemvasia. Carved from the limestone of a small island-rock cut off from the east coast of the Peloponnese by an earthquake in 375AD, this medieval castle town is linked to the mainland by a causeway.
The name comes from moni emvasi, meaning “one entrance”, and previous occupants include the full roster of Minoans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Ottomans. Streets are cobbled and suitable only for donkey traffic. Sites to see include Christos Elkomenos Square and the 12th century Agia Sophia church. The town walls and Byzantine churches remain intact from medieval times.
In Messinia on the Peloponnese, the castles of Methoni and Koroni tell of the strategic importance of Greece as the ancient crossroad between Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Koroni, a gem of Venetian fortress architecture, ushers you back to ruthless times when people regularly had to seek refuge from pirates. Methoni, built on a rocky promontory 18 miles further west, is notable for the arched stone bridge that connects it to the shore.
Its well-preserved gates decorated with the Lion of Saint Mark and fortified prison-tower remain symbolic of nigh on 1,000 years of Venetian marine dominance. Combine a visit with a trip to the island of Sapientza where you can swim and scuba dive in crystal-clear waters.
Known as the “floating palace” thanks to its soaring hillside presence, the castle-turned-prison of Palamidi in Nafplio makes a great base from which to explore the north end of the Argolic gulf. It looks a challenge but a walk up the 857 steps to the top rewards the effort: the well-preserved architecture includes a covered road and the views towards Bourtzi castle in the harbour are amazing. Nearby lie the beaches of Tolon and the Unesco heritage sites of Mycenae and Epidaurus.
Rhodes is synonymous with its legendary Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, but the medieval citadel of the old town is a surprise that earns five-star reviews from visitors. From 1309, the Order of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers, transformed the ancient Greek site into an impregnable fortified city and today it has Unesco World Heritage status as one of the best-preserved Gothic towns in Europe, with later Islamic mosques, baths and houses.
In the mountainous northwest of Greece, the castle of Ioannina, the oldest Byzantine fortress in Greece, sits atop a ridge jutting into Lake Pamvotis in a corner of the modern city.
The castle is dominated by its two citadels, already established by the late 11th century, though much of the existing fortification today owes its construction to the colourful 18th-century brigand Ali Pasha. Three remarkable museums inside the castle immerse you in its various phases with exhibitions dedicated to the Byzantine era, municipal ethnography and military history.
Get inspired in Greece
Greece is a country of rich culture, fine cuisine and natural beauty.
While the mainland offers surprises at every turn, its many picturesque islands are dotted with the monuments and relics of past millennia – secluded but accessible, mysterious but enlightening.
This inspiring and diverse destination provides opportunities of adventure of all kinds.
To find out more and to begin planning your trip, visit www.visitgreece.gr