By Olga Sella
The Peloponnesian town of Nafplio, Greece’s first capital, had always been a stopover or a one-day destination for me. This time round, though, I chose the town for a relaxing three-day escape. Most visitors had left town by mid-September, swimming was still an option thanks to the good weather, and it seemed like a good opportunity to discover the town and get a sense of its daily routine.
I took up temporary residence at the brand-new, refined, sparkling Harmony Luxury Rooms hotel, located just one kilometer from the center, in the Nea Kios neighborhood. Gazing at the town of Nafplio – which according to myth was founded by Nauplius, the son of Poseidon and Amymone – the Palamidi Fortress, the historic rock of Akronafplia and the small but equally emblematic Bourtzi stronghold appeared like a wonderful mural across the horizon. Later in the evening, all lit up, Palamidi seemed to be hanging in midair.
Beneath the Akronafplia rock, Nafplio’s narrow streets contain myriad references to the history of the modern Greek state. Visitors are greeted by busts of personalities whose role was instrumental in the 1821-32 Greek War of Independence and the nascent state’s development: Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of the modern Greek state, General Theodoros Kolokotronis and Staikos Staikopoulos, who is credited with liberating Nafplio from the Turks. The modern Greek state’s first high school now hosts the Nafplio Town Hall. Outside Aghios Spyridonas Church, erected in 1713, a commemorative plaque marks the spot where Kapodistrias was assassinated in 1831. Bougainvillea provide natural awnings all along the town streets, adding color to the refurbished 19th-century houses.
At the heart of the old town on Syntagma (Constitution) Square lies the Venetian Arsenal, originally constructed under Agostino Sagredo during Nafplio’s second Venetian occupation in 1713. The three-floor construction was subsequently used as an army barracks and has housed the Nafplio Archaeological Museum since 1930. There is plenty to do on Syntagma Square: You can take it easy, visit the Archaeological Museum or plan a stroll to the waterfront area surrounding Akronafplia, just beneath the Amphitryon Hotel. Next to the Amphitryon is a popular ice-cream parlor owned by an Italian known for his good manners and fine flavors.
What’s best about this jewel of a town are the constant surprises that its visitors come across and the fact that every little side street leads to a new discovery, such as a hidden balcony, elegant store or small hotel.
Nafplio also boasts wonderful stores where visitors can pick up all kinds of handmade creations, while the city’s residents are known for their elegant manners, high-quality services and great communication skills.
The sole exception to this tasteful and well-preserved environment is the Xenia, a former hotel between Akronafplia and the Palamidi Fortress. Boasting splendid views over the Gulf of Argos and Arvanitia beach, the hotel was built on a bastion dating to the first Venetian occupation and was inaugurated in 1961. It closed its doors years ago and has been in a state of abandon ever since.
Nevertheless, given the intensity and power of the rest of the images collected in Nafplio by its visitors, the Xenia hotel issue is easily forgotten. When you leave Nafplio, what you take along with you are the positive aspects of a town eager to maintain its rich history and identity intact.