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Castles

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The castle above is Methoni on the west coast of the Peloponnese.

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Paleokastro at Pylos

Paleokastro or Palionavarino is a medieval castle and an ancient acropolis, on top of a steep cliff overlooking the Gialova lagoon, on the north side of the bay of Navarino.

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It is a naturally defensible site which has probably been occupied since classical times. Although there are no physical barriers to access, the castle ruins have been declared "closed" because the structure is considered dangerous.

Its shape is a trapezoid with a total area about 50,000 sq m. The walls and many of its towers are still standing but inside there are only ruins. The interior of the castle is divided by a transverse wall in two parts. The north part, which is at the top, is the location of the ancient acropolis and maybe the location of the original Frankish castle.

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The south yard was added much later by the Venetians or the Turks. On the east side there are no walls, as the natural fortification of the rock gave ample protection. The present form of the castle is the result of the final changes in the late 16th century.

Below the walls of the castle there is the so called "cave of Nestor". According to the Greek Mythology, Hermes stole cows from the god Apollo and hid them in this cave.

On 20th October 1827 during the Greek War for Independence, Paleokastro took part in one of the most important naval battles in world history, the battle of Navarino. A combined Turkish and Egyptian armada was destroyed by an allied British, French, and Russian naval force. The Turkish canons were shooting against the ships of the European allies from Paleokastro as well as from Niokastro but within hours the Europeans' superior artillery completely annihilated the Turkish and Egyptian fleets. The Turkish defeat was so complete that in 1828, they began to evacuate Greece, and in 1832 Greece won its independence after nearly 400 years of Turkish rule.

Methoni

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The entrance to Methoni is on the north side and is accessed by a 14 arch stone bridge, that was built over the moat.

Methoni, on a small flat peninsula with a natural harbour has been occupied and fortified from the earliest times. It featured in the Peloponnesian wars of the 4th century BC, was taken by the Macedonians and Romans and was later an important port and fortress for the Byzantines.

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The castle of Methoni was actually a fortified city and is one of the most important and beautiful castles in Greece. It was built by the Venetians after 1209 at a strategic location, on a rock going out into the sea. It is separated from the land by an artificial moat.

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Following the collapse of the Byzantine Empire the town was captured by the Franks in 1205 then occupied by the Venetians the following year. They kept it as a trading port until 1500 when it fell to the Turks. It remained in Ottoman hands until a three-week siege in 1686 began the second period of Venetian occupation.

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By 1715 the Turks were back in control and remained so until the Greek War of Independence. During the first years of the Greek Revolution (1821), Methoni was one of the few castles that was not taken by the Greeks.

In 1828 it was briefly used by the French as a base.

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Inside the Castle are the ruins of houses where the Venetian lords used to live, a paved road leading to the Gate of the Sea, the ruins of a Turkish bath, the Byzantine church of Agia Sophia, parts of Doric columns and a monolithic granite column which is commonly known and called as "the column of Morosini", because either the winged lion of Venice or the bust of Morosini were believed to have stood there.

A causeway goes across to the small island of the Bourtzi which dates back to the time after 1500 which at various times has been used as a prison.

It has a two-floor octagonal tower and on each floor is a parapet with bastions. The tower finishes in a round dome whilst on the lower floor there was a cistern.

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During WWII the Italian forces built pillboxes around the site, now largely removed, and it was also damaged by two separate explosions.

Since the 1970s there have been intermitent campaigns by the Greek Ministry of Culture to restore the site, but despite this the area remains fairly untidy and the walls in places are in poor condition.

Koroni

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Koroni is a castle with impressive fortifications in the southwest Peloponnese. It has existed since the 7th century AD when it was completed. It was rebuilt by the Venetians in the 13th century. The city flourished in the following centuries, but it was constantly in the middle of the long conflict between the Venetians and the Turks.

An ancient acropolis existed at the location of the castle since before the Trojan war. Its name was Aisini and according to Homer it was one of the 7 cities offered by Agamemnon to Achilles to ease his anger.

In the 6th or 7th century AD, the Byzantines built a fortress there. The remains of a classic temple to Apollo can still be seen on the highest point of the headland, the ruins intermingled with an early Christian basilica and a small Byzantine Church.

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In 1205 the town was captured by the Franks but then in 1207 they were beaten by the Venetians who set about strengthening the walls. The town together with Methoni became a vital link in the chain of defended harbours which sustained Venetian trading and commerce.

In 1500 the fortress and town were captured by the Ottoman troops of Sultan Bayezid II, who personally led the operation. In 1532 Emperor Charles V ordered the Genoese to attack Koroni as a diversion to the Turkish war in Hungary. They managed to capture the city, and to lay waste to the surrounding coast.

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An Ottoman land army was successful in a siege of the city, forcing its surrender on 1 April 1534. In 1685 the Venetians under general Morozini returned and stayed until 1715.

After that, Koroni remained under Turkish occupation. The fortress suffered serious damages after a heavy bombardment during the Orlof events in 1770.

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At the highest level is the church of Agios Charalambos near what is left of the famous Byzantine church of Aghia Sophia (God's Wisdom), built in the 12th century on the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo. Next to it is the entrance to the nunnery of Agios Ioannis the Baptist, which has played an important role in the history of Koroni.

In the Greek revolution, the Greek fighters were unable to capture the city. Koroni was liberated in 1828 by the French General Nicolas Joseph Maison, after the battle of Navarino.

Considerable restoration work is underway here, the central bastion was badly damaged by an explosion during World War II when the Germans were retreating. A couple of families still live in the castle today and there is also a nunnery.

Kyparissia

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The Castle is Byzantine built around the 11th century, sited on top of a steep hill above the north-west end of the Old (Upper) Town of Kyparissia, probably at the location of the ancient Mycenean acropolis of Cyparissia.

The Castle of Kyparissia is also known as the Castle of Arcadia, which is the medieval name of the town as numerous Arcadians moved there.

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In mythology the citadel of Kyparissia was built by "Giants". Some of the stones with which the castle is built are enormous, some are 4m in length and 1.64m wide, others are 1.38m long and 1.80m wide.

Four walls were built at the four corners of the castle by the Byzantines, but only one is preserved today, which is named "Ioustinianos", after the great Byzantine emperor.

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During the first decades of the 13th century, the castle fell to the Franks who renovated it then it remained in their hands for the next 2 centuries.

In the following centuries the castle of Kyparissia had suffered a great deal of destruction and reconstructions by its conquerors, the Turks and Venetians. Evidence of the Ottoman influence is the square building next to the ruined gate of the inner enclosure which has been identified as a mosque.

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In 1460, the Castle of Kyparissia was conquered by the Turks who held it until the Greek War of Independence in the 1820's. The castle was seriously damaged during this war.

Over the centuries, the castle of Kyparissia has stood above the town , offering vistors not only a spectacular view of the town, but also the whole of Kyparissia Bay.

Kalamata

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The castle of Kalamata stands on a low rocky hill to the north- west of the city above the Nedonatas river. An ancient acropolis existed on the hill before the Trojan war, and later a Byzantine fortress, but the ruins we see today are the remains of the castle that was rebuilt there at the beginning of the 13th century, during the Frankish occupation.

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In the 6th century AD a church was built in the castle devoted to the Virgin Mary. An icon of Virgin Mary in the church became famous as 'Kalomata' (meaning 'beautiful eyes'). This later changed to 'Kalamata' which became the name of the church, the castle and the city.

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The ancient acropolis on the rock was founded by the mythological Faris from Argos. The city was named Farai or Fares and is mentioned in the Iliad as one of the seven cities that Agamemnon offered to Achilles to ease his anger. Fares never became an important city in the ancient world and archaeological excavations have proved that the city was on the hill and not in the surrounding area.

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It was inhabited during the early and middle Byzantine period but its growth started during the Frankish occupation.

Guillaume II de Villehardouin who later became the most notable ruler of the Principality (1246-1278) was born in the castle of Kalamata. Over the years the castle was occupied at various times by the Venetians, the Franks and the Turks.

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At the top of the hill, there is a tower shelter with a vaulted water reservoir where the ruins of a temple have been found. An inner fortification wall surrounds the top of the hill and there is a second wider one.

During the 18th century, although the city of Kalamata expanded, the castle was gradually abandoned and ruined. Kalamata was liberated on 23rd March 1821, in the first act of the Greek War of Independence.

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Inside the castle there is an amphitheatre with a permanent stage. During the summer a classic play of the Municipal Theatre of Kalamata is presented in this amphitheatre.

During the earthquake of 1986 the castle was badly damaged and many parts were listed as dangerous. The site has now been renovated and has been open to the public since 2010. An entry fee of 2 euros is charged (1 euro for seniors).

Mila

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Mila is a medieval castle north of the village of Mila in Messinia. It is at a strategic location for the control of the north plain of Messinia and can be clearly seen from the road from Tsakona to Kyparissia .

It was built during the Frankish rule in the Peloponnese during the 12th century to protect the residents of the area and control the mountain passes to Arcadia.

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This was most likely the Chateaunef castle that the Frankish Princess of Morea Isabelle Villehardouin (1297-1301) founded in order to repel the attacks of the Byzantines of the Despotate of Mystras.

The castle is not easily accessible, as when we visited we parked near the village and walked up the hill to it. The site is very overgrown and it is quite difficult to get around the outside and the inside of the castle. However, it was well worth the effort.

Larissa

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Larissa is one of the ancient castles of Greece. The site was fortified since prehistoric times and remained a powerful fortress through the classical period and the Middle Ages until the 19th century.

To the north of the town of Argos, there are two hills, one is Aspis and the other Larissa, the taller of the two at 289m. In antiquity, there was another castle on Aspis which did not survive. There was a wall between the two castles for the protection of the city from the north.

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A castle was built here in the 6th century BC. but there has been a fortification here since prehistoric times. The medieval castle was first built by the Byzantines in the 10th century.

During the Byzantine period, the fortress was of strategic importance. In 1203, it came under the control of the archon of Nauplion, Leon Sgouros. In 1212 it was captured by Othon de la Roche, the Bourgoundian Duke of Athens, and was controlled by the Franks until 1388.

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Between 1394 and 1463 it was occupied by the Venetians. In 1463 it was captured by the Turks and remained under their control until 1822, interrupted during 1686-1715, when Larissa came under the control of the Venetian admiral Morozini. The site was liberated by the Greeks in 1822.

The inside of the castle was not accessible when I visited in February 2106 as there is a tremendous amount of renovation and archaeological work being undertaken. This photograph shows the renovations in progress. The drive up to the castle is very beautiful and the views are tremendous. Hopefully the castle will be open to the public in the near future.

Androusa

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Androusa is a Frankish castle in the village of Androusa in Messenia 21km from Kalamata.

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Around the end of the 14th century, it was one of the most important castles in Peloponnese.

According to the Chronicle of Morea the castle of Androusa was constructed by the renowned Frankish ruler Guillame de Villehardoudin in the middle of the 13th century. Documents which date from the period in the Principality of Achaia (1205 - 1428) mention Androusa as the seat of the military commander of the castellary of Kalamata. By the end of the 14th century the castle served as a stronghold of the Navaresse Company in Messinia.

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From 1417 Androusa remained under control of the Despots of Mystras for a few decades. Later it was conquered by the Ottomans, as was the rest of the Peloponnese. During the next centuries Androusa became a bishopric and emerged as an important administrative centre in Ottoman held Messinia. It was also the seat of an administrative district during the second period of Venetian rule (1685 - 1715). From the beginning of the 18th century the castle lay in ruins.

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The ground plan of the curtain wall, only a small part of which survives today, is trapezoidal and generally follows the contours of the terrain. Its northern and eastern sections are better preserved. They are articulated with a series of blind arcades, on which rested the rampart-walk of the castle. The arches of the arcades are pointed and some of them are embellished with elaborate decorative brickwork. The walls are reinforced at regular intervals with towers of various shapes. The huge tower rising on th southeastern corner probable served as a keep and it is the earliest defensive building of the castle. The walls and towers were added in a later phase.

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A large section of the eastern side probably dates back to the 14th C while the northern curtain wall and its towers seem to have been rebuilt during the 15th C. This reconstuction took place in order to reinforce the castle with the innovative defensive techniques of that era that included gunpowder artillery as is indicated by the existence of small cannon embrasures in the northeast, north and southwest towers.

The project "Restoration of the eastern section of Androusa Castle walls", with a total budget of 550,000 euros was implemented by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Messinia via direct labour. The work commenced in April 2012 and was completed in October 2015.

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The restoration project included excavations for the uncovering of the curtain walls and towers, reconstruction of ruined sections of masonry, grout injections and pointing. Furthermore the walls and towers underwent waterproofing treatment and retaining walls have been built. Additionally in the northeast tower, the floors, the cistern and the interior staircase were restored. Finally a metal shelter covered with polycarbonate sheets was installed on the tower to ensure its protection.

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