Nafplio is a charming, picturesque, elegant, romantic and special city. When one walks its narrow alleys or strolls through its charming squares, its as if the most exciting pages of Modern Greek History are revealed and presented to them. Climbing its steps, which are countless since the city is built amphitheatrically under Palamidi and Acronauplia, the traveller will discover the neoclassical buildings which dominate the cityscape, two and three story houses and stores, with ornate balconies abounding in flowers. The streets are decorated with fountains, old historical churches and statues of the most important figures of modern Greece, making the city more museum than residence. Every nook hides a treasure and every corner is seemingly out of a postcard.
The city of Nafplio is a perfect destination during the whole year. Visiting during the summer allows for a combination of seaside vacations and touring of archaeological sites, some of which are the most important of the country, such as the imposing Mycenae, or the beautiful Epidaurus and Tiryns. In the winter, the Greek sun shines almost daily, making the city perfect for an idyllic weekend away. The visitor can find everything here. Hotels for every budget, wonderful little restaurants and tavernes (Greek restaurants, usually family owned) with great food to satisfy any palate and shops to charm even the hardest-to-please customer. All in all, a visit to Nafplio is always an unforgettable experience.
The beautiful city can be found in Peloponnese, as it is the capital of the Argolis region. According to its latest census, it has about 15,000 residents, the visitors during summer doubling that amount, since Nafplio is one of the most popular destinations of the country for tourism. Its built under the shade of two rock outcroppings, the lower one named Acronauplia with a height of 85 metres and the taller one Palamidi, reaching 216 metres. The city is built by the eastern shore of the Gulf of Argolis, and north of the city extends the valley of Argolis, an endless orangery.
According to mythology, the founder of the city was Nafplios, son of the god Poseidon. His fifth descendant, also bearing the city's name, took part in the Argonautic Expedition, and his son Palamidis in the Trojan War. It is said that Palamidis created some of the letters of the Greek alphabet and invented the dice games, so that the Achaean soldiers could pass the time more pleasantly between fights.
The first findings of people living in the area of Nafplio date back to the 3rd millennium BC, and were found on the hill of Acronauplia. There, the city Nauplia was built, that always lived under the shadow of the powerful neighbouring city-state of Argos. Nafplio, during the ancient times was mainly the port of Argos and the Mycenae.
In the 12th century, the Byzantines fortified the city of Acronauplia. Its importance grew the most while under Frankish rule. In 1210, Geoffrey of Villehardouin conquered the city and later built the castle which still stands. In 1389, the Franks gave the city to the Venetians who fortified it, building new walls and reinforcing the older ones. They also built the city near the sea, transforming the port of Nafplio in a commercial nexus of the Serenissima (the Most Serene Republic of Venice) in eastern Mediterranean.
By 1460, Greece is under Turkish rule. Many residents of the surrounding region, fleeing the Turks, took refuge in Nafplio where they could be granted full rights as citizens after seven years. During that time, the city grew to four times its size, and the city plan which was then formed to accommodate them is still in action. The Venetians followed the construction plan they did in Venice and built houses on the water, while fortifying the sea shore. In 1471, the architect Antonio Gambello built a small fortress on the island facing the port, and named it Castello dello Scoglio, later named by the Turks Burtzi. The defence of the port was significantly boosted by thick chains connecting the mainland with the island, which gave the port the name of Porto Cadena (Port of the Chains).
The Turks tried many times to take the city, failing every one of them. In 1537, they begun a new siege that lasted three years and three months, forcing the Venetians to surrender the city in 1540. Many eminent Greeks left the city with the Venetians.
In 1686, the Venetians headed by Francesco Morosini returned and reinforced the city greatly. The castle on Palamidi was built during that time, between 1711 and 1714, under Nicolò Sagredo's rule. The French engineers Giaxich and Lasalle designed it, creating one of the best defencive fortresses of the time, sitting on top of the hill like a crown. To reach it, steps were made, 999 according to tradition but 857 in reality, and they are still in use. The castle has eight bastions named after people important to Greek culture, Agios Antreas, Robert, Themistocles, Miltiades, Achilles, Leonidas, Phocion and Epaminondas. The castle's entrance was adorned with the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of Venice. This second period of the Venetian rule is a great time of growth for Nafpio, since it became the capital of the eastern Venetian territories, named "Napoli di Romania" (after the medieval usage of "Romania" to refer to the lands of the Byzantine Empire).
In 1714, the Turks retook it and up to 1770 it was the capital of the vilayet (Turkish administrative division) of Peloponnese. In 1779, Hasan Pasha threw the Albanian citizens of the city over the cliff of Palamidi, and since then that side of the castle was named Arvanitia. After the beginning of the Revolution of 1821, the Greek rebels resolved to take the city. Many sieges were attempted before finally taking the it in 1822 during an assault to Palamidi headed by Staiko Staikopoulo. Soon, the city surrendered, and it was made capital of Greece by the two resolutions of 1823 and 1827, remaining as a capital up to 1834. In 1828, the first governor of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias arrived at Nafplio. He remained in his position for three years, and in 1831 he was assassinated outside the church he attended every Sunday. In 1833, Otto, who would later be the first king of the country, arrived at the city attended by his Bavarian officials. The next year, Athens becomes the official capital of the new Greek state.
- A lion is carved on the side of the cliff, visible on the way to the castle of Palamidi, in memory of the Bavarian soldiers that died during the raid of 1833-1834 by the typhus epidemic that plagued the city.
- The central squares, perfect meeting points for natives and visitors alike, are:
- The Square of the Three Admirals, built under commands of Ioannis Kapodistrias by the engineer St. Voulgaris, dedicated to the three admirals Edward Codrington of England, Henri de Rigny of France and Lodewijk Heyden of Russia, the leaders of the fleet against the Turks in the Battle of Navarino of 1827. In the square, is a monument built in Vienna housing the bones of Demetrios Ypsilantis who died in Nafplio in 1832. Behind that monument, stands the statue of king Otto. The square is surrounded by buildings with historical value, such as the City Hall that was built under Otto to house the first High School of Nafplio. Nearby is the first pharmacy of Greece, belonging to the Italian Bonifacio Bonafin, who also embalmed the body of Kapodistrias after his assassination.
- The Syntagma Square (Square of the Constitution), the most historically important square of the city, where sat the Saray (military command centre) of the Turkish commander of Peloponnese during the surrender that took place under the Turkish rule. After the city was freed, the square became known as the "Platanos Square" because of a huge plane tree (platanos in Greek) that grew from its centre, under which the politicians would orate. In 1843, it was renamed "Square of Ludwig" to honour the father of king Otto, and finally, the same year, after the events of the 3rd of September (an uprising by the Greek Army in Athens, supported by the people, against the King, demanding a Constitution or Syntagma in Greek), it took the name it holds today. Around the square stand important buildings, such as the Warehouse of the Venetian Navy (today serving as an archaeological museum); the Vouleftiko that used to serve as a mosque of the Agha-Pasha that later became the Parliament (Vouli) of the Greek rebels; the Trianon, a 16th century mosque that Morosini made into a catholic church named Saint Antony of Padova, and that later housed the Allilodidaktiko Scholio, a school where taught the best students instead of adult teachers, and later it became a theatre and a cinema, while today its the Municipal Theatre. Around the square are also the houses of Theodore Kolokotronis and Nikitaras.
- The Philhellenes Square (square of people friendly to the Greeks), by the sea, with an obelisk monument from grey marble, dedicated to the French who gave their lives fighting alongside the Greeks against the Turks. It was created in 1903. On it, the forms of the goddess Athena and Democracy symbolise Greece and France, and a tablet names great French philhellenes such as Fabvier, Maison and de Rigny. On the square was also the bust of Manto Mavrogenous, which was kept in the city for a while.
- Other important buildings of Nafplio are:
- The old customs house sitting by the sea side, on the port, and is a wonderful neoclassical building, possibly based on designs by the famous architect Stamatios Kleanthis.
- The Armansperg house, an impressive manor and home of Josef Ludwig von Armansperg from 1833 to 1834, with luxurious interiors where banquets and balls used to be held.
- The Courthouse, a neoclassical building of 1911, sponsored by the national benefactor Andreas Syngrou. The chieftains of the Greek Revolution were judged here, like Kolokotronis.
- Napflio has many churches, but the most important are:
- The Metropolitan Church of Saint George, built in the beginning of the 16th century, turned into a mosque by the Turks. Here was held the welcome of Morosini in 1686 when the Venetians reconquered Nafplio. The murals, dated to the 18th century, show a strong western influence, while the scene of the Last Supper is an exact copy of Leonardo da Vinci's work. The funerals of great figures of modern Greek history were held here, like Germanos of Old Patras, Ypsilantis and Kapodistrias. In the temple's inside is still the throne of king Otto, on which he would attend Holy Mass.
- The church of Saint Nikolaos that used to be located inside of the walls but was moved in 1713 on the beach by order of the Venetian commander of the Sagredo Fleet, since the saint is the patron saint of sailors. The church as it stands today was built and inaugurated later, in 1836. Worthy of attention are the templo, the pulpit and the main chandelier, built in Odessa.
- The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) church, one of the oldest churches of the city, built possibly during the Byzantine era. It is a small, single aisle church that in 1780, it became the only church that the Christians living inside Nafplio's walls could attend.
- The church of Saint Spyridon, built in 1702 and connected with one of the darkest moments of Greek history, because here Kapodistiras was assassinated, by the two brothers from Mani, George and Konstantinos Mavromichalis. Kapodistrias preferred to attend Sunday Mass here, since Saint Spyridon was the patron saint of his homeland, Kerkyra (Corfu). In the church's inside are still kept his remains.
- The church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (Metamorfosi tou Sotiros), today used as a catholic church and known as the "Fraggoklisia" (Frankish Church). It was built during the Frankish rule to be used as the monastery for the order of the Frankish nuns, but just before the beginning of the Revolution, the Agha-Pasha's widow renovated it in memory of her husband; for that reason, it still retains the look of a mosque. King Otto designated it to be used by the Catholics, dedicating it to the Transfiguration of the Saviour, to symbolise the liberation and rebirth of the country. It is worthy of notice that the Toure Arch inside, made of pinewood, resembles the front of an ancient Greek temple, and was donated by the French philhellene, its pediment decorated by Otto's coat of arms; also noteworthy is the painting of the Holy Family, a copy of a work by the Renaissance painter Raphael, a donation by the king of France Philip.
- The church of Agios Antreas (Saint Andrew), a small chapel on Palamidi castle, next to the bastion bearing the same name, built in 1712 by Augustine Sagredo and dedicated to Saint Gerard, patron saint of his family. In the 22nd of November 1822, on the eve of the feast of Saint Andrew, Palamidi finally fell in the hands of the Greek Revolution. Since that day, the chapel and the bastion were dedicated to Saint Andrew.