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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in October 2011.

  Napoli di Romania (Nauplia/Nafplio)

If you came to this page directly, you might wish to read a page with an illustration of the old fortifications of Nauplia first.


Western and southern sides of Palamidi seen from Acronauplia

One of the reasons why in 1686 the Ottomans surrendered Nauplia was that the Venetians placed their cannon on Palamidi, a rocky hill to the east of the town.
The Venetians were therefore aware that the control of Palamidi was essential to the protection of Nauplia; the western (towards the town) and southern (towards the sea) sides of Palamidi did not require major fortifications because of the nature of the ground.

(above) Palamidi seen from the east; (below) fortifications on this side

The other sides of Palamidi did not enjoy the same natural protection and therefore the Venetians decided to build a complex of walls and bastions to prevent the enemy from reaching the top of the hill.

(left) Eastern walls; (right) "Themistocles" Bastion seen from St. Andrew's Bastion

The Venetians decided to fortify the entire top of Palamidi, rather than concentrating their effort on its western end; the area covered by the new fortress was almost as large as that of the town. The original design by Antonio Giazich had the shape of a star, but the actual fortress ended up by having a very irregular aspect; it was made up of seven imposing bastions each of which was a small fortress; the main one, which housed a church dedicated to St. Andrew, has retained its original Venetian name, while the others are named after ancient Greek heroes.

St. Andrew's Bastion and the steps leading to the town

The most impressive feature of Palamidi is St. Andrew's Bastion because of the 857 or so steps which allow direct access to the fortress from the town; the design of the bastion was such that it protected the upper section of the steps, while another section was protected by a vaulted passage. The new fortress was built in just three years between 1711 and 1714.

(left) Gate towards the town; (right) winged lion above a small inscription making reference to Agostino Sagredo, commander of the Venetian navy

The administrative/military organization of the Venetian Republic was rather complex and it was based on a distribution of responsibilities; the navy was commanded by a Provveditor da Mar who usually resided on Corfu; he was assisted by a council of naval officers; the Peloponnese (or Morea) was placed under the responsibility of a separate governor; other officers were responsible for monitoring the expenses incurred by the navy and the garrisons of the fortresses. The commander of a fortress was often appointed on the basis of agreements reached in Venice among the members of the most important families; these agreements did not necessarily consider the actual military experience and leadership of the appointee. The shortcomings of such a management system showed all their negative impact when the Ottomans waged war on Venice with the primary objective of reconquering Morea.

View of Nauplia and of its gulf from the fortress

In September 1714, at the end of a long career, Alessandro Bon was appointed governor of Morea; he reported to the Senate that he found that too many fortresses were built by his predecessors, including a major one at Modon without giving proper consideration to the need of garrisoning them appropriately and ensuring adequate supply of ammunition. The complex of fortifications of Nauplia (Palamidi, Acronauplia, Bourtzi and the city walls) would have required a garrison of at least five times that which appears in Venetian accounting records (1279 men).

(left) Bastion showing slight Ottoman modifications in the shape of the sentry boxes; (right) interior of St. Andrew's Bastion

The Ottoman declaration of war occurred in December 1714, but the actual Ottoman campaign started only in June of the following year. The Venetian Senate vainly called for help from Austria; Emperor Charles VI was too busy in consolidating the territorial gains he made as a result of the Spanish Succession War and he was not interested in opening a new front. The Senate hoped to appease the enemy calling for negotiations, but with no result because the Sultan regarded the occupation of Morea as unlawful. Overall the Venetian governing bodies were unable to develop an effective political or military strategy to cope with the impending war.
The Ottomans seized Tinos, Corinth and Aegina easily; on July 9 1715 they laid siege to Nauplia and in less than two weeks they conquered it because the Venetian mercenaries were unable to effectively control all the defensive lines. The Ottomans noticed that the maritime walls of the town were almost unguarded and they managed to set foot on the wharf of the harbour from where they entered the town and opened the main gate. The Venetians retreated in disarray inside Palamidi, but were unable to check the assailants. Alessandro Bon was wounded and died a few days later while he was being transferred to Constantinople to be paraded in front of the Sultan. Under these circumstances the Provveditor da Mar chose not to come to the rescue of Nauplia and of the other fortresses under attack and concentrated all his forces in the defence of Corfu.

Grimani Bastion and the triumphal entrance to the city erected by the Venetians during their second occupation

Before the construction of the fortress on Palamidi, the Venetians built a bastion to complete the fortifications of Acronauplia and to protect the new entrance to the town; the gate was reconstructed in recent years and the lengthy inscription celebrating Francesco Morosini (who eventually died at Nauplia in 1694) was placed on a side wall.
The town was protected by the fortress of Acronauplia and on the other sides by walls (now lost) and by a moat.

(above-left) Winged lion of the new gate; (above-right) winged lion of Grimani Bastion; (below) inscription of the new gate: in addition to Morosini, it makes reference to Alessandro Bon who at the time (1687) was commander of the "galeazze", the large Venetian ships which carried cannon ("maximae triremis" in Latin)

The Town

Side streets of Nauplia

Modern Nauplia retains the grid of orthogonal streets which was designed by the Venetians when they relocated the inhabitants of Acronauplia to the new town.

Warehouse for the supplies to the Venetian ships

The heart of the new town was a rectangular square where a large warehouse was located; today the building houses a very interesting museum with exhibits from ancient Tiryns, which was located just a few miles north of Nauplia.

(left) Courtyard of a Venetian building; (right-above) winged lion of St. Mark in the main square; (right-below) Venetian coats of arms and symbols in the courtyard of the said building

The period between 1453 (Fall of Constantinople and end of the Byzantine Empire) and 1821 (Rising of the Peloponnese which marked the beginning of the Struggle for Independence) was regarded as the Dark Age of Greece until recent years. Today Greek authorities pay more attention to the memories of this period and one of the many winged lions with which the Venetians decorated Nauplia has been placed in the main square; other similar reliefs (such as that which can be seen in the background of this page) and Venetian coats of arms are for the time being (2011) stored in an old building.

Catholic Church (which was turned into a mosque)

One of the reasons behind the poor showing of the Venetians in 1715 is that they lacked the support of the Greek population; in particular the Orthodox clergy were hostile to them, because, although somewhat reluctantly, Venetian authorities favoured the Roman Catholic Church. As stated by a Patriarch of Constantinople (for the Greeks) it was better the Sultan’s turban than the cardinal’s hat.

Ottoman memories: (left) a fountain built making use of Venetian elements; (right) an Ottoman cannon bearing the Sultan's tughra (calligraphic monogram)

The war between the Ottomans and Venice ended in 1718 with the Peace of Passarowitz and after a failed Ottoman attempt to seize Corfu; it was the last war between these two powers. Thus Nauplia became a sleepy provincial town with little military importance; Palamidi was mainly used as a prison.

Main mosque and an ancient granite column utilized for its decoration

In 1822 Theodore Kolokotronis, one the leaders of the Greek uprising, managed to conquer Nauplia which in 1828 became the see of a provisional Greek government chaired by Giovanni Capodistria (who later adopted the Greek spelling Kapodistrias), a noble from Corfu who studied medicine at Padua. He was supported by Russia because for many years he had been a senior diplomat of Tsar Alexander I.

Second large mosque and a detail of its façade; it was built in 1730 and it housed the first meetings of the Greek Parliament. It is known as Vouleftiko (Parliament)

While in many parts of the Peloponnese all mosques were torn down, this did not occur in Nauplia because they were turned into buildings housing institutions of the newly born state. Their minarets however were pulled down.

Agios Spiridionis

In 1831 Kapodistrias was assassinated while entering the church of Agios Spiridionis, a somewhat ironical coincidence as St. Spyridon is the patron saint of the inhabitants of Corfu. He was killed by members of the Mavromichalis family, in retaliation for the arrest of their leader; the Mavromichalis were the de facto rulers of the Maina (Mani) peninsula and they resented Kapodistrias' attempts to impose modern laws and practices in their fiefdom.

Neoclassic palace built by King Otto (Othon in Greek)

In 1832 an agreement between Russia, France and Great Britain "appointed" Otto, a Bavarian prince, as the first king of Greece; the young king (he was 18) arrived at Nauplia with a small retinue of German advisors and 3,500 troops; he decided almost immediately to move the capital from Nauplia to Athens, which at the time was a minor town of some 5,000 inhabitants. The actual move occurred in 1834 and Nauplia returned to being a sleepy provincial town before becoming an important tourist location for its beaches and as the starting point for visiting Mycenae and Epidaurus.

The three fortresses (left to right: Bourtzi, Palamidi and Acronauplia) in a XIXth century print

Return to page one.

Excerpts from Memorie Istoriografiche del Regno della Morea Riacquistato dall'armi della Sereniss. Repubblica di Venezia printed in Venice in 1692 and related to this page:

Napoli di Romania

Delle nobil Città, ch'accrescevano un tempo splendore all'antica Argia, hoggidì Saccania, ò Romania Minore, dovitiosa parte della Morea, conserva sin'al presente le vecchie primitie NAPOLI, da Sosiano detta NAPLI, dalli Greci ANAPLIA, e NAUPLIA da Tolomeo. Questa forte Città, e celebre Emporio sortì da Naupliò figlio di Nettuno, e Amimone il proprio stabilimento nell'ultimo ricesso d'un Golfo volgarmente di NAPOLI, da Tolomeo ARGOLICUS SINUS chiamato sù la sommità d'un picciol promontorio, che diffondendosi in due lati, col'uno che s'estende al mare, forma a Naviganti largo, e sicuro Porto; coll'altro, che guarda la Terra, vieta a passaggieri una tal commodità al commercio, non potendo questi condurvisi sopra, che per una sol via erta, augusta, e disastrosa, fraposta al Monte Palamide, e alla Marina, appresso la quale è situato in guisa, che da tre parti frena il corso all'onde, con rive si alte, e dirupate, che in ogni occasione d'insidie, leva affatto il commodo al Nemico, non solo di sbarcare militie, mà di battere anco dalle Galere alla Città le mura; il Porto pure, che quanto spacioso nel seno, tanto più angusto nella bocca, non ammette all'ingresso Galere senza l'haver queste una dopo l'altra scorso per qualche tratto un Canale, esposte con grave loro cimento all'Artiglieria, sendo custodito da ben proveduto castello, che per esser eretto sopra un scoglio in circa trecento piedi nel Mare, non può esser espugnato da gente di Terra; ne per sorprenderlo, ponno à causa delle molte secche avvicinarsegli grossi legni; in somma non ha posto lacuno, ove non sij concorsa la natura a munirla, l'industria à confermarla; ne è men considerabile nelle circonstanze del sito, che riguardevole nella qualità de titoli; poiche altre volte era Episcopale sotto l'Arcivescovo di Corinto, hor'è Archiepiscopale Capitale, distante 55 miglia d'Atene, 60 da Misitra, 36 da Corinto, ed'è seggio del Prefetto della Provincia, in cui si numerano sessanta mille Greci, oltre moltitudine d'altri habitanti, quali secondo Pausania, furono anticamente Egittij, ch'assieme con Danao vi dimoravano, come in loro Colonia, onde come variò nel corso del tempo costumi, cosi nel progresso degl'anni humiliò se stessa a più Principi.
Al riporto di Paolo Ranusio, fù nel 1205 presa dalli Veneti collegati alli Francesi; mà poco dopo sopraggiontovi il Rè Giovannissa, quantunque la trovasse guarnita di numerosa milizia, gli diede si vigoroso assalto, che senza repliche impadronitisi, fece trucidare li Comandanti, e la Guarnigione tutta, e spiantare la Città, ch'era ricca, potente, e situata nella meglior parte della Romania.
Et il Verdizzotti dice, ch'essendo posseduta nel terzo decimo secolo da Maria d'Erigano rimasta Vedova di Pietro Figlio di Federico Corner Piscopia, incapace di resistere all'insidie di molti Principi, che la desideravano, e più di tutti dall'avido Baiazet, la presentò in dono à Veneti, sotto il di cui comando passò contenta qualche secolo, non però immune da que disastri, a quali sogliono soggiacere le Città sospirate dalla prepotenza Ottomana, perche tentata da Barbari, provò più volte nella penuria de viveri la tirannia della fame, nell'abbondanza d'insidie, l'ingordigia de seditiosi. Studiava Mehemet II nel 1460 rapirla al suo legittimo Principe, ne considerando arte, che più della militare gl'affidasse il conseguimento, della medema si valse; percio espresse a Macmut Bassà, che con numerose Truppe marchiasse ad'assediarla; il che eseguito, riuscì anco vano; mentre incontrata ne Difensori col valore l'intrepidezza a sostenere ogni violenza nemica, fù costretto doppo moltiplicati tentativi con grave perdita de suoi, abbandonare l'impresa.
Solimano pure, che più de suoi pari nutrì mai sempre l'avidità di dilatare l'Impero, comandò nel 1537 a Casin, Sangiaco della Morea il portarvisi sotto con proportionate forze, a fine d'espugnarla; non corrisposero con tutto cio i fatti all'ingiusta brama; perche conosciuto non meno l'ardore degl'Assediati a respingerlo, della propria premura à vincerli; e avvedutosi ch'il cimentare i suoi con un forte ben munito dall'arte, e meglio dalla natura provisto, sarebbe stato un azzardarli all'ultimo eccidio, intraprese la ritirata; non terminarono però due anni, che ritornato ad'infestarla, l'ottenne non da sforzo delle sue Armi, da quali fù sempre sperimentata invincibile; mà dalla Republica, che gravemente angustiata dalle guerre, e carestie cercava con la pace la quiete.
Se ben questa fù propria al coronato Leone, quale cogl'occhi aperti prende i suoi riposi, sempre attento alla ricupera di quelle piazze, che dalla forza Ottomana gli son state ingiustamente usurpate, e ben ne possono far chiara testimonianza Navarino, e Modone, che di nuovo obbedendo al Veneto commando han scosso in pochi giorni il barbaro giogo sotto di cui per un tempo sì lungo piansero l'indegna schiavitù; ancor Napoli capitale d'un Regno si florido è ritornato in breve tempo a goder una quieta libertà all'ombra de Veneti allori.
Mentre cinta da rigoroso assedio dal Capitan Generale Francesco Morosini si rissolse anch'ella di seguitare il destino commune rendendosi alla giustitia, ed alla forza della Veneta Republica, sotto di cui godeva prima un secolo d'oro. Così in pochi giorni si è ricuperata la più bella, la più forte, e la Capital piazza del florido Regno della Morea stimata quasi che inespugnabile per haver più volte mostrato generosa resistenza alle potentissime armate de barbari, che doppo haver usurpato il rimanente del Regno, conoscendo quanto poco de sicuro possedevano senza questa importante piazza ne bramavano la presa; l'hebbero, mà non à forza; bensi a forza l'han resa; gratie a DIO, e gloria alla Veneta Republica, che essendo stata in tutti i secoli il propugnacolo della fede si rende ben degna, che la mano divina gli vadi accumulando i trionfali allori.

Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses

Pages of this section:
On the Ionian Islands:     Corfù (Kerkyra)     Paxo (Paxi)     Santa Maura (Lefkadas)     Cefalonia (Kephallonia)     Asso (Assos)     Itaca (Ithaki)     Zante (Zachintos)     Cerigo (Kythera)
On the mainland: Butrinto (Butrint)     Parga     Preveza and Azio (Aktion)     Vonizza (Vonitsa)     Lepanto (Nafpaktos)     Atene (Athens)
On Morea:     Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra)     Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza     Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata     Modon (Methoni)     Corone (Koroni)     Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà     Mistrà     Corinto (Korinthos)     Argo (Argos)     Napoli di Romania (Nafplio)     Malvasia (Monemvassia)
On the Aegean Sea:     Negroponte (Chalki)     Castelrosso (Karistos)     Oreo     Lemno (Limnos)     Schiatto (Skiathos)     Scopello (Skopelos)     Alonisso     Schiro (Skyros)     Andro (Andros)     Tino (Tinos)     Micono (Mykonos)     Siro (Syros)     Egina (Aegina)     Spezzia (Spetse)     Paris (Paros)     Antiparis (Andiparos)     Nasso (Naxos)     Serifo (Serifos)     Sifno (Syphnos)     Milo (Milos)     Argentiera (Kimolos)     Santorino (Thira)     Folegandro (Folegandros)     Stampalia (Astipalea)     Candia (Kriti)

You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.

Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to the Venetian fortresses and to other locations (opens in a separate window)