Above is a photograph of the keep of the Fortress of Chlemoutsi Castle
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Chlemoutsi or Claremont Castle is built on the summit of a hill at the westernmost promontory of the Peloponnese with an extensive view to the plain of Elis and the Ionian Sea. It is approximately 6km south of the Port of Kyllini.
The location chosen for the castle was a strategic site. From the top of the hill Chlemoutsi protected the commercial port of Glarenza (now the port of Kyllini), and the capital of the principate, Andravida.
The castle was built between 1220 and 1223, during the rule of the Prince of Achaea Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, as a result of a dispute between the Prince and the clergy of the Principality.
Geoffrey had asked the clergy, which owned almost a third of the Principality's lands but was not obliged to render military service, for additional donations to help defend the realm. When the clergy refused, claiming that they owed allegiance only to the Pope, Geoffrey confiscated Church property, and began construction of Chlemoutsi with the new funds. The fortress was set on a new foundation, with no previous structure identifiable on this site.
The troubled period that began with the death of William de Villehardouin and lasted throughout the entire 14th century led to the gradual decline of the Frankish principate and Chlemoutsi became a prize of contention between different nobles.
At the beginning of the 15th century the castle passed into the possession of Carlo Tocco, count of Kephalonia and despot of Epiros. In 1427 it was acquired peacefully by Konstantinos Palaiologos as result of his marriage to Tocco's daughter, and was used by him as a military and administrative centre in his preparation for his attack on Patra.
The castle continued to function down to the time of the Greek National Uprising in 1821, passing through the hands of the Turks (1460-1687, 1715-1821) and the Venetians (1687-1715). Beginning as early as the end of the Frankish period, however, it appears gradually to have lost its important role in the defence of the region.
The Greeks and Venetians carried out no work on the castle, while the Turks engaged in only minor projects to reinforce it.
There were no later modifications to the original form of the fortress and Chlemoutsi still retains a distinctly Frankish character; it is one of the most important and best preserved castles in Greece.
The castle was well suited for a princely residence: its halls, arranged around the inner courtyard, were spacious, comfortable, and well-lit, cool in the summer and provided with several fireplaces for the winter months.
Chlemoutsi therefore preserved its strong Frankish character almost intact. Today, it forms a striking example of fortress architecture of the Frankish era in Peloponnese.
The history of the castle's construction survives in the Chronicle of Morea. The castle is located on the top of an irregular plateau, whose southern, eastern and northern slopes are abrupt, with the softer western slope, towards the modern village of Kastro, offering the easiest access.
The heart of the fortress consists of a large hexagonal keep, complemented towards the west, where the terrain is more accessible, by an additional outer wall , again of irregular polygonal outline, enclosing a second, much wider courtyard (the outer ward).
The keep itself features just two round towers of 5 m diameter with square bases, both located on the western side and within the outer ward. The more southern of the two is almost totally ruined, probably as a result of Ibrahim Pasha's destruction. The more exposed eastern and southern sides featured no towers.
Plan by Ramsay Traquair (1874-1952) - R. Traquair, "Mediaeval Fortresses in the North-Western Peloponnesus, pp. 268-284 in The Annual of the British School at Athens, No. XII, 1906-1907, London 1907
However, the architectural characteristics of the main keep are out of the ordinary for its supposed period of construction, and more in line with 15th century structures, which has led to uncertainty over its exact dating.
Along the course of the enceinte are preserved building remains that belong to the original construction of the 13th century and inside it survive traces of a number of structures, the best executed of which is a Turkish mosque.
The outer gate of the fortress lies in the northwestern side of the outer ward, originally within a small recess in the outer curtain wall, protected by a portcullis. The recess was later filled by the Turks with a smaller set of walls, so as to preserve unbroken the outer wall's frontage.
The Ottomans also added additional buttresses to the junctions of their wall with the original curtain wall, while the space between the original gate and the new Ottoman entrance was left without a roof. From the gate, the outer wall continues east and then south, in three distinct stretches of walls, to the keep.
The southern wall shows evidence of later, probably Turkish, repairs, with broken tiles alternating with stone courses. It is in this stretch that the cannons of Ibrahim Pasha effected the breach in the wall in 1825.
Windows, fireplaces etc. display a uniformity of style that points to their construction at the same time as the fortress itself. At the point where the outer wall joins the keep, a small postern is located, as well as a stairway leading up to the outer wall.
The keep is of an irregular hexagonal shape, measuring about 90 metres from east to west and 60 metres from south to north, with its six walls enclosing an inner courtyard of 61 metres by 31 metres. Its walls hold a series of two-storeyed halls, forming a ring of rooms around the central courtyard.
The lower storey, separated from the upper by wooden floors - now mostly collapsed with only the niches for the support of beams testifying to their existence - has arches opening into the courtyard. The upper storey features large galleries with barrel vault roofs supported by side walls of limestone blocks and by regularly spaced transverse arches every 7-10 metres.
The entrance to the keep was on the northern side, with a vaulted passageway between two gates leading from the outer courtyard to the inner rooms of the keep.
The roof of the keep appears to have originally been sloping with a parapet on its outer face, but was latter rebuilt with the outer wall raised and the roof replaced by the current, platform-like terrace. Access to the roof is via a staircase from the courtyard, immediately next to the main entrance into the keep, and by a spiral staircase, now collapsed, in the western corner. The inner parapet of the new roof survives, but few traces of the outer parapet remain.
The restoration and aesthetic enhancement of Chlemoutsi Castle's reception hall and throne room was carried out during the "Consolidating Hall A1 of Chlemoutsi Castle in 2011-2012. Work undertaken in Hall Al included the reconstitution of the damaged portion of the domed ceiling with limestone and the formal restoration of the three external bilobed windows.
The chapel's floor, apse, and cupboard were recovered. The painted plaster in the chapel was cleaned and conserved and wall-paintings were revealed on the side walls.
The fireplace chimney in Hall Al was consolidated and restored. Consolidation, enhancement, esthetic restoration, and public access works were undertaken in Hall A2, which was functionally linked to Hall A1.
Work included archaeological excavations, cleaning, and conservation of the excavated finds. Emphasis was given to repairing the vertical masonry with mortar, stone fill, and localized injections, to filling the hole in the domed roof, and to restoring the five openings to the castle's inner court-yard. A visitor's route, which functionaly links Halls A1-A2, was established and the halls' lighting put in place. Lastly, the access to Hall A2 was improved.
The Museum of Chlemoutsi is housed in the inner courtyard of the archaeological site. It is an original cultural idea, as it develops in such a way that it is an "open museum" where the shell of the museum space is also the most important exhibit.
The permanent exhibition of the museum, titled "The Knights' Season - The Crusaders at Moreia", contains more than 500 objects, dating from the 13th to the 15th century AD.
It focuses on the interesting and critical historical period of the Frankish Principality of Achaia, while also presenting the culture of a charming period, that of the Knights Templar, as it was in the southern land of Greece.
The two-storey hall A5 of the inner enclosure of the castle, with an area of 320 square meters, which is identified as one of the Franks prince's accommodations, is the main museum core.
The museum includes five major sections, with significant exhibits such as sculptures, architectural pieces, vases, coins, frescoes and more. Especially the collection of medieval ceramics is excellent and the richest in Greece.
The first section refers to Chlemoutsi Castle, the network of castles and medieval settlements, the most important city of the Principality, Glaredza, Gothic monastic architecture and western influences in Orthodox Church architecture.
The advent of the Latins, the establishment of the Principality of Achaia, the Knightly Virtue and the Nobles are the subject of the second unit, while the third deals with issues of faith and worship, the decoration and the operation of the Knights Temple.
Of particular interest is the fourth section which presents aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants of the Principality, while the latter includes elements related to commerce, economy, relations, communication, but also to the place of Morias in the medieval world.
The fifth module refers to economy and trade,with extensive reference to the Glarenza Mint, monetary production and circulation, treasury cover, counterfeiting and currency cancellations.
Many of the exhibits in the Museum were found at Glarentza Kyllini and in the Archaia Region.
The museum also has an archaeological office with a study area, archaeological warehouse, as well as a modern workshop for the preservation of ceramics, coins, stone, frescoes, metal and glass objects.
In the last decades, the castle became a preserved landmark. Lights added to the castle in the mid to late 20th century and can be seen as far as 80 km by night. Attractions and festivals occur every summer here.
Opening Times are Tuesday - Sunday: 9:00 - 16:00 Monday: Closed. Last admission (all days): 20' before closing
Tickets : Full: 4 euros, Reduced: 2 euros for the period April 1st - October 31st.
During the period November 1st - March 31st, the price of the single ticket is reduced by 50% for all visitors and cost 2 euros.
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While on my photography trip to this area I stayed at the Lindzi Hotel at Arkoudi, which is less than 30 minutes from Chlemoutsi Castle.
The hotel is lovely, comfortable, and in a beautiful setting, the food is excellent (there is a family run taverna just 40 metres from the hotel), and the owners and staff so friendly and helpful.
It was even warm enough at the end of September to use the lovely swimming pool.
Arkoudi itself is a small village, with a few hotels, tavernas and cafes and is about 500 metres walk from the hotel.
The beach is small, sandy and very pretty.
There are many places in the area to visit (these will be added to my website in the near future), and just up the road are the old Roman Hot Spring Baths which are now in ruins.
I did manage to have a Hot Spring Bath in the modern Loutra Kyllini complex. It was quite an experience, what they don't tell you is that you should take off your silver jewellery as the sulphur in the water turns everything black!!
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