The Venetians built the vast Palamidi Fort in three short years from 1711 to 1714. It occupies a strategic position with views over the surrounding landscape as well as the sea, 216m below the summit. This military masterpiece is impressive enough from the old town of Nafplio, spread around the base of the vast outcropping of rock on which the fortress stands, but it’s true size and number of bastions can only be appreciated once a visitor scales the rumoured 999 steps to the top.
The Agios Andreas Bastion, which can be seen from Nafplio, was named after the tiny church in its midst. This beautifully preserved bastion was once the home of the commander of the garrison. A part of the fortress was used as a prison for over 80 years, and a hero of the War of Independence was kept in a windowless cell for several years after being convicted of treason. Theodoros Kolokotronis has achieved an almost mythic status for his role in liberating Greece from the Turks.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
From the moment we arrived in Nafplio and beheld the striking fortress high above our pension, we vowed that we would climb the stairs to the top before we left. We never dreamed that we would end up staying in Nafplio for the better part of two weeks, and that our goal would not be achieved until shortly before we left.
Anil was feeling more than a little tired in Athens, but his throat became scratchy and his eyes were burning when we arrived in Nafplio and it was clear he was coming down with something. The body ache made it seem like he was getting the flu, but luckily, he didn’t get the low-grade fever that seems to bring him low every four to five years. We decided that we were in a good position to slow our pace and that the fresh air and warm sea breezes were just what he needed while he was resting and recovering.
At last Anil was feeling well enough to tackle the hike up to the fortress, and we chose to make the climb on a Sunday morning. We didn’t want to leave it until our last day in case the weather was too windy or it rained. As we set off, we learned that there a ceremony being held in the fort to commemorate the 188th anniversary of the battle in which the Greeks ousted the Turks from the site.
Apparently in the night, unbeknownst to us, 300 citizens had scaled the very stairs we were planning to climb that morning; only they had done it in the dark. I can’t imagine doing that with the risks involved, though I wish I had known about the climb because we would have had a clear view from our pension and I imagine the climbers would have had torches or at least flashlights to find their way. It would have been quite a sight to see the flicker of lights mounting the vast rock face.
We took our first step, of many, just before noon and found there were a few other climbers ahead of us already. As we climbed higher and higher, we had stupendous views of the town, the small beach where we used to walk and the two other Venetian fortresses located below the Palamidi. The smallest fort sits on a rock in the middle of the Nafplio harbour.
Anil found the hike up very strenuous and at times I was a little alarmed because he is usually so very fit and if we go slowly, neither one of us finds such a climb too hard. I think it was a combination of his recent illness and the fact that we had been renting cars more often on the first part of this year’s travels, and therefore walking less than we have done in the past.
The ceremony was underway when we arrived, triumphant, at the top, so we waited quietly while the short mass was performed inside the small chapel. A uniformed military guard stood at attention outside the church and a band, whose members were dressed in scarlet uniforms stood haphazardly next to them. I knew the religious ceremony was almost over when I could smell the incense wafting through the door but I was surprised to see a large portrait of a man in traditional clothing being carried out of the church.
As we had entered the Agios Andreas Bastion I had seen signs directing visitors to the cell where Kolokotronis had been imprisoned, so it wasn’t hard to figure out that the portrait was that of the War of Independence hero. Once the dignitaries, the guard and the band had made their way out of the fort, I followed several other visitors into the cell where the rebel leader had been imprisoned. It was just as I had imagined it to be, small, dark and foreboding. The only thing missing was the foul smell that I’m sure existed there almost two hundred years earlier.
It wasn’t until we returned to Athens and chatted with the young female receptionist at the Athens Centre Square Hotel that I was able to put a more modern-day spin on the dungeon at the Palamidi fort. When we told the young woman that we had been in Nafplio, she praised the beautiful town but shuddered at the thought of the fort.
Apparently when she was a very young student, she had gone on a school trip to Nafplio and had fallen headlong into the cell where Kolokotronis had been imprisoned. I could see how this could happen because the entrance to the cell is very dark, and the actual room drops down away from the corridor instead of being situated at the end of it. The receptionist told us she still has nightmares about the experience.
Luckily, our memory of the Palamidi fort is all about the stunning views, the brief commemorative ceremony and the feeling of accomplishment at having climbed the big climb.