Nafplion is among the most popular tourist destinations in mainland Greece. Many Greek cities experienced a rapid period of growth in the 1950s and 1960s that destroyed older neoclassical residences and their replacement with unsightly apartment buildings. By a fortunate twist of fate (or perhaps a series of proactive decisions by the authorities and the residents), Nafplion managed to preserve its architectural heritage as a stunning backdrop to your visit. However, the town is much more than a collection of formidable castles, picturesque houses, and historic churches and mosques. It is a vibrant destination full of love stories, dastardly conspiracies, and archaeological treasures.
1. Star-crossed lovers
The Greeks liberated Nafplion from the Ottomans in 1822 and turned it into the seat of their provisional government. The town quickly attracted many new residents who enjoyed the safety of its walls and the proximity to ministers and decision-makers. Among them was Manto Mavrogenous, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Mykonos. When the Greek War of Independence broke out, she equipped two ships at her own expense and participated in naval campaigns to liberate the Aegean islands. She spent her entire fortune on the national cause. Her choices caused an irreparable rift with her family, so she moved to Nafplion. At the same time, she fell in love with Demetrios Ypsilantis, a handsome Greek army officer with strong connections to the Russian imperial court. These connections proved their downfall. Other influential Greeks succeeded in breaking Manto’s engagement. The heroine was left heartbroken and destitute. She occupied a dilapidated house near the church of Saint Spyridon (today, it has been masterfully renovated as the “Mavrogenous.
Luxury Apartments”), right across the street from Ypsilantis residence (now also a hotel called “DIAS Boutique Hotel”). Two inconspicuous houses that once enclosed a revolutionary love affair.
2. The Assassination of Kapodistrias by the Coward Mavromichalis Bros
The Church of Saint Spyridon on I. Kapodistriou street is rather unprepossessing. It was built in 1702 and would have remained outside the main tourist path if not for a fateful assassination that changed the course of Greek history. Ioannis Kapodistrias was the first governor of Greece, tasked with creating a modern European state out of the blackened ruins of the Greek War of Independence. His decisions were deemed radical by certain influential politicians, who considered them a threat to their power and independence. Petrobey Mavromichalis was the leader of the Maniot people, who had a reputation as fierce and proudly independent warriors. His opposition forced Kapodistrias to order his arrest, a grave offense to the Mavromichalis family. On September 27, 1831, the governor was about to enter the church of Saint Spyridon when Konstantinos and Georgios Mavromichalis (brother and nephew of Petrobey, respectively) shot Kapodistrias in the head. Konstantinos was killed on the spot, while Georgios managed to flee, only to be arrested and executed by the firing squad a few days later. The death of Kapodistrias outside this church pushed Greece into a civil war and prematurely ended the first serious and sustained effort to modernize the developing country. A small glass case by the door indicates the spot where a second bullet lodged after narrowly missing Kapodistrias.
3. There is no armor against fate.
The English dramatist James Shirley (1596-1666) claimed that there is no armor to protect mortal beings against fate. The ancient Mycenaeans would probably agree, but they did their best to provide ample protection in battle. Homeric heroes fought fiercely to take their opponents’ armor from them and keep their equipment from falling into enemy hands. Their swords could be objects of great beauty, while a complete armor set was expensive, involving laborious work by master artisans. Since bronze was rare in Mycenaean Greece, most historians claimed that Homer’s description of warriors covered with bronze “all over” could not be a realistic depiction of the heroes fighting before the walls of Troy.
However, the discovery of the so-called Dendra panoply in May 1960 was a true revelation. This Mycenaean full-body armor, dated to the end of the fifteenth century BCE, proved that Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector could have been clad in a bronze suit. Even more remarkable is the boars’-tusk helmet. This costly item required tusks from many animals that were difficult to capture. No wonder Homer goes to great lengths to describe how Odysseus possessed one such helmet. It was a priceless gift from Meriones, who inherited it from his father, who received it from Amphidamas, who got it from Autolycus, who stole it from someone in Boeotia. The Dendra panoply at the Archaeological Museum of Nafplion is a priceless treasure not to be missed.
@Photo by Allan Rohmer on Unsplash