Nafplio: A Fortress, a Gallery, a Museum, and Wandering
November 3, 2022
My hotel in Nafplio includes breakfast. The breakfast food, served buffet style, is nothing to write about, so I won’t. I ate it on the hotel’s patio, one level above my room.
Yesterday, I told you and showed you about the view from just outside my room. The the townscape and bit of seascape viewed from the patio is even better. Here’s a picture.
After breakfast, I visited a fortress, a gallery, and a museum. And I did some wandering around.
The Way Up
Lacking serious mountain climbing equipment (yeah, like I’m going to mountain climb), or a flying machine capable of landing on rough terrain with little open space, there are two ways to get up to the hilltop Palamidi Fortress.
One is to drive up a road on the far side of the hill from the lower part of Nafplio to a parking lot not much below the fortress’ entrance. The online maps shows a few bends in that road. But I’ve notice that for short curves that quickly reverse themselves, online, and probably paper, maps average out those curves to a straight line because the scale isn’t large enough to show the details. I don’t know if that’s the case with the road up to Palamidi Fortress, he said foreshadowing his choice of how to go up there.
The second way to go up to Palamidi is to climb up a long series of stone switchback staircases.
After picking up my rental car, all of my overnight stays have been for two nights, including here in Nafplio. I did that intentionally to give myself a break from driving.
Because I don’t enjoy driving, I made a solemn promise to myself that on the intervening day between the two nights of each stay I would do no driving unless there was absolutely no other reasonable way to get where I wanted to go that day. The only time there was no other reasonable way was when I went to Delphi from Galaxidi.
There is a reasonable way to get from the main part of town to the Palamidi Fortress, namely the stairs. So, I walked.
Apple Maps told me it would take 12 minutes to walk there.
I checked Google Maps too. It told me it would take 58 minutes to get there. But, apparently, it doesn’t know about the stairs. Even though I told it I would be walking, it routed me along the road on the far side of the hill. It said it would take me eight minutes to drive it.
I decided to use Apple Maps for this walk.
Above, I called the formation that the Palamadi Fortress sits on a hill. I won’t argue with anyone who calls it a small mountain. It’s a long way to climb.
How long? There’s a picture of the hill and hilltop fortress somewhere near these words. Truth in advertising: I took that picture yesterday. In the morning, the sun is immediately behind the fortress when viewed from the main part of town. You wouldn’t see much more than the glare on the lens if I took a picture from there this morning. I was in a position to take a picture of it this afternoon, but the angle from where I was didn’t make for a good shot.
Yesterday, I was in a great position to photograph the fortress and its hill. Plus, as an added bonus, the moon made an early cameo appearance in the photo, so that’s the shot you’re getting. It’s that white dot well above and slightly to the right of the centre of the fortress. (It’s easier to see on the high res version I’ve got on my devices than the lower res version I uploaded to this journal.)
Looking at the fortress and the hill it sits on from down in town, it didn’t look to me like any more strenuous of a climb than the one from Lower Town to Upper Town in Monemvasia. That might have been an optical illusion.
By the end of the climb, my legs ached, my heart pounded, my shirt got a little wet from perspiration, and I huffed and puffed heavily. None of that happened in Monemvasia.
The views from some of the small landings in the switchbacks were remarkable. Upon seeing them, I said to myself, “I really don’t need to take a rest here. Honestly, I don’t. I could easily push on to the top without stopping. Believe me. But the panorama here is so spectacular that it would almost be criminal not to pause for a bit, drink in the view, and snap a photo or two. Seriously, that’s the only reason I’m pausing.”
Sometimes I can almost get myself to believe the lies I tell myself. I’m working on fine tuning my inner voice so it does an even better job of convincing me that the fibs it tells me are true.
Stone walls surround the fortress, which includes eight separate bastions, also made of stone. Tourists can scramble around the fortress, exploring the bastions. It’s a good thing I’m a tourist because that’s what I did.
One of the signs in the fortress gave a date for its construction. The sign said that, based on an inscription on a marble slab, the fortress was built in 1712. Unless they were way faster than modern construction contractors, I don’t imagine they built it in a single year. I assume 1712 was the completion year of at least the first part.
And, I don’t know for sure , but I don’t think they built all of the bastions simultaneously. If not, I don’t know the range of construction dates. Sorry about that, but if you come here for reliable, detailed historical information, you should stop reading right now and immediately run, not walk, to have your head examined. What have I ever said that would lead you to believe that’s the sort of thing you’ll find here? Nothing, that’s what.
The fortress also contains a small prison. I couldn’t find any documentation to this effect, but I’m certain the doorway into it was built for hobbits. And hobbits who haven’t grown much beyond the toddler stage, at that.
Admittedly, I’m a guy who never achieved full adult height. I’m still hoping for a growth spurt, but at almost 70, another growth spurt is likely a relatively faint hope.
The point is, despite being height-challenged I had to stoop down until my upper body was at a ninety degree angle to my legs to go through the door. Even then, I lightly bopped my head against the top of the doorway on the way in.
There is another cell beyond the first. I didn’t go in because the doorway was similar. There’s no way I wanted to risk a serious head injury just to see an old jail cell. The state of my brain is already questionable.
The prison doorways don’t have doors or gates. I’m not sure they needed any even when it was a working prison. In their haste to escape, escapees would probably knock themselves out hitting their heads on the top of the stone doorway. The resulting concussion, coupled with time served, likely would have been considered adequate punishment without completing the full sentence.
Being high on a hill/mountain, the views of the water, the mountains, and Nafplio from the fortress are as spectacular as the ones from the small landings of the switchback stairway. But I didn’t find as much of a need for rests up there, so I didn’t take as many pictures of the scenery from the Palamidi Fortress.
(Damn! That “convincing myself of the lies I tell myself” thing is still a work in progress.)
The Way Back Down to Nafplio
Obviously, the walk down wasn’t as strenuous as the climb up, but it did have more occasions to exercise my acrophobia vigorously.
I believe I’ve waxed boringly and inanely on this before, but I won’t let that stop me from doing so again. When you walk down steep stairs or a steep hill, gravity works hard at trying to kill you. Whereas, when you climb those steps or walk up that hill, it keeps its murderous intents in check.
One of my guidebooks recommended visiting the National Gallery. It didn’t give the gallery its top rating, but it did list it above the also-see-if-you-have-time-but-don’t-knock-yourself-out-trying-to-see-it-if-time-is-short listings. One of the primary reasons I wanted to go is that I liked the fact it calls itself a gallery. So many art galleries in Europe call themselves museums. This one unpretentiously calls itself a gallery. I like that. It’s less confusing.
It has good reason to be unpretentious. The gallery is very small, just a very few small rooms. Come to think of it, including “National” in its name is somewhat pretentious.
Most of the pieces on display are paintings and drawings. However, there are also some lavishly decorated plates, a few cards from an old deck of playing cards that didn’t look particularly special, and, even more incongruously than the playing cards, two old long guns mounted horizontally.
I know nothing about guns whatsoever. So I don’t know if “long guns” is the proper term for them. I use “long” only for descriptive purposes. They looked like what I have in mind a rifle looks like. (Re “what I have in mind”: Please see the first sentence in this paragraph re me not knowing anything about guns.) The difference is, they have really, really long barrels.
It was hard to tell because they sit in a glassed in display case raised off the ground, but the length of the barrels looked to be maybe three-quarters of my height. I’ve already told you I’m not a tall guy, but still, that seemed like a really long barrel. How the heck did they hold those suckers steady to aim?
I said “incongruously” about the existence of the guns in the gallery because, despite looking around in the immediate vicinity, I didn’t see any placard or label saying what they were or why they were there. A number of the paintings and drawings in the gallery relate to the Greek War of Independence. That might have something to do with it.
Speaking of the paintings, most of the paintings and drawings in the gallery date from the nineteenth and twentieth century (primarily the nineteenth). With that date range, a certain art historian who reads this journal probably considers them almost modern art.
I included a photo here of one of the paintings from the museum because the expression and eyes of the chained man caught my interest.
The gallery also has some filled bookcases in a part of one of the exhibit rooms and another small room. Neither the portion of the exhibit room containing the bookcases, nor the separate room with just book cases looked like it was there for paying customers. There was also a table in that exhibit room. There, two scholars worked on what looked like an inventory, probably of a collection, when I was there.
I say “scholars,” but, of course I have no way to know if that is what they really were. For all I know, the gallery could have been two otherwise unemployed people with no more than a grade six education. The gallery might have brought them in to fool tourists into thinking scholars worked there. It’s possible that the two were writing gobbledygook on the columned papers in front of them. That probably isn’t the case, but, like I said, how would I know?
Nafplio Archaeological Museum
Based on my experience in the parts of Greece I’ve been to, I think cities and towns here without an archaeological museum are the exception, not the rule. Nafplio is not the exception.
I read that the Nafplio Archaeological Museum closes at four. When I got there at about five past three, the ticket seller told me they were closing in 25 minutes. Oh, damn! I wouldn’t have time for my eyes to glaze over like they do in large museums. Particularly not like they do after visiting as many archaeological museums as I have on this trip.
To be honest, 25 minutes was adequate for someone like, say, me, who has somewhat of an interest, but not a deep interest in archaeological relics. The museum is not large. It has two fair-sized, but not huge rooms, one above the other.
The oldest relics there date from, I think almost 20,000 years BC. The most recent item I saw was from 100 AD. The exhibits I remember include a lot of clay items, such as jugs, bowls, vases and other vessels. There were also some old glass and bead jewelry; old glass containers: some metal items, including spear and arrow heads and jewelry; and some figurines and small statues.
The Nafplio Archaeologic Museum also displays a bronze suit of armour. It occupies a place of prominence there. And, according to the museum’s website, it is the museum’s “most exquisite piece of archaeological finds.”
Wandering Around Nafplio
As is my wont while traveling, I did more wandering around Nafplio today, and also a lot of sitting in public squares.
In yesterday’s post, I said I thought Nafplio is probably a very attractive, enjoyable town, but I hadn’t been here long enough to commit to that assessment. I can now commit. I really like this place.
Today, like yesterday, I spent most of my time in Nafplio’s “old town.” (Although the National Gallery is a little piece into the new town.)
Old town is in quotes in the preceding paragraph because, compared to other old European cities and towns that have old sections that date from the Middle Ages, or possibly as recent as the Renaissance, Nafplio’s old town seemed new to me. True, the old part of town is older than the new part, because it would be ridiculous otherwise. Nevertheless, while I have no skill at dating buildings, the buildings in the old town don’t look anywhere near as old as other old sections of old European cities to me.
Based on appearances and my inexpert appraisal, I think the oldest structures still standing in Nafplio are the fortresses. As, I said above, the Palamidi Fortress dates from 1712, so not as old as the Renaissance, let alone the Middle Ages.
(There are three fortresses. I went to only Palamidi. One of the other two is on an island in the bay. You need to get a boat to go that one. I didn’t see any boats going out while I was here. I don’t think they run in the off-season. The other fortress is on the mainland, but my guidebook didn’t think highly of it. I have no idea as to how old those other two fortresses are.)
Having said all that, despite old being rather new here, Nafplio’s old town is great. A lot of pedestrianized streets, some with restaurant tables spilling out into them. Some pedestrianized shopping streets. An attractive section of seafront, again with restaurants along its seafront walk. Palm trees here and there. At least one sidewalk orange tree. Nice public squares. What’s not to love?
I’m glad I came.
Barring a cancelled or much-delayed flight, this is my penultimate entry for this trip. Tomorrow, I head back to Athens, with one stop on the way to dropping my rental car off back in Piraeus. Then, I’m scheduled to spend one night in Athens before flying home the next day.
There will probably be things to report from my stop along the way. And I might get back to Athens early enough to do something worth talking about there, but I don’t know.
And, of course, because I’ll be driving tomorrow, there may be some navigation news to report. I hope not.