There are about 800 castles scattered all over Greece, bringing to mind impressive tales of their epic past. Some have been classified as among the best-preserved buildings of Europe. Here is a list including ten of the most beautiful castles around Greece.
Monemvasia is one of the most important medieval fortress-cities in the country, and it is home to one of the prettiest castles in the world. Located in the Peloponnese region, the building is of Byzantine origin and sits on a plateau 100 meters above the sea.
The rock is connected to the mainland through a narrow road. Its particular location has always offered protection against pirate attacks.
Both the town and the fortress date back to 583, and they were built under the reign of the Byzantine emperor Mauritius.
Castle of Rhodes
Also known as the Palace of the Grand Master or the Knights’ Castle, the construction is located towards the northern side of the medieval town of Rhodes, in the Dodecanese.
The most important monument left by the Ioannite Knights was built on top of a previous Byzantine citadel which was already both military headquarters and a fortress. The castle was constructed during the 14th century by the Knights of Rhodes, who occupied the island from 1309 to 1522. Once the Ottoman Empire captured the island, the palace was turned into a fortress.
The Kingdom of Italy took over in 1912, and Italians rebuilt the palace to transform it into a holiday residence for King Victor Emmanuel II. Later, it was also used as such by Benito Mussolini.
Located in the Peloponnese, the building belongs to the Venetian period and it was built in 1714 over three years. Known as Palamidi, the Castle of Nafplio is an immense, well-maintained construction, probably the finest example of the Venetian fortifications in the country.
Palamidi, with its typical Baroque style, sits on a 216-meter high hill bearing the same name. It offers obvious strategic advantages since the castle controls the city of Nafplion, as well as the port, the Fortress of Acronapflia and the entrance to the Gulf of Argolis.
The Turks captured the fortress in 1715 and the Greeks reconquered it in 1822.
Byzantine Mystras is a fortified town on Mt. Taygetos, west of Ancient Sparta. It was built in 1249 by a Frankish prince. After the Turkish occupation, the most important Greek Byzantine monument was abandoned in 1830, when the population gradually started to move to the new town of Sparti.
Located on a steep hill and dominating the valley of river Evrotas, the fortress presents three very distinct zones: The upper city (Pano Chora), the lower city (Kato Chora) and the outer side (Exo Chora). In addition, there is a Frankish acropolis dominating from the top. Inside the complex, several are the Byzantine churches that have undergone restoration and are open to visitors.
Mesta is one of the Mastic villages of Chios but it is also home to a medieval village and one of the best-preserved fortified settlements in Greece.
Its architectural disposition is made of narrow alleys, while the surrounding fortification offered shelter against pirate raids. The village has the shape of a pentagon while many of the roads look like a labyrinth.
The building belongs to the Genoan period of Chios, between 1346 and 1566.
Castle of Molyvos
Also known as the Castle of Mithymna, this is the second most important fortress of Lesvos island. Its present shape is the result of work carried out by the Genoans during the 14th century; the Ottomans included more recent features.
Built on a hill, evidence proves that it sits on an ancient acropolis dating from the 5th century BC. The Byzantines built a fortress in its place and the Genoans started the works for the reconstruction of the castle in 1373.
With its rich history and architecture, the Castle of Kalamata is located on a rocky hill on the north-west side of the city.
As with many other fortifications, there is evidence of an ancient acropolis existing on the hill before the Trojan war, as well as a later Byzantine fortress. Still visible today, however, are the remains of a castle rebuilt at the beginning of the 13th century, during the Frankish occupation.
Inside the castle, there is a church dating from the 6th century AD devoted to the Virgin Mary. The icon of the Virgin Mary in the church became known as Kalomata (meaning ‘beautiful eyes’), a word that later evolved into Kalamata, giving the name to the church, the castle and the city as well.
Located on a 480-meter hill, the Castle of Ioannina, in Epirus, overlooks Pamvotis Lake. Its current form dates back to the late Ottoman period while it still includes elements belonging to an earlier Byzantine fortification.
The castle was founded by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD. The city of Ioannina flourished after the Fourth Crusade when many wealthy Byzantine families fled there following the sack of Constantinople. Ioannina surrendered to the Ottomans in 1430. Between 1430 and 1868 the city was the administrative center of the Pashalik of Yanina. The most notorious figure during this period was Ali Pasha.
Castle of Lepanto
The Castle of Lepanto or also, the Castle of Nafpaktos, is one of the best-kept castles of Greece and a perfect example of Greek architecture in terms of fortifications.
The entrance to the Gulf of Nafpaktos was the battleground of one of the most important naval conflicts in history. The Battle of Lepanto (1571) represents the moment when the naval power of the Ottoman Empire was almost totally destroyed by combined European forces.
The original walls of the building belong to ancient times, and remains of them can still be seen on the western side of the castle. The present shape and its levels date back to Venetian rule.
A circular wall surrounds the top of the hill, while two arms come down, one towards the east and the other the west. Once they bend, both arms approach one another again, enclosing the entrance of the port with two towers. The castle protected the people of Nafpaktos during wars and was unique for its five defensive walls.
Castle of Astypalea
The Venetian Castle of Astypalea, known also as the Venetian Castle of Querini, dominates the magnificent Chora (main city) of the island from the top of the hill. It is made of rather darkish stones that clearly contrast against the whitewashed houses around the fortification.
The history of the castle is related to the struggle for power among Venetian, Byzantine and Ottoman rulers. The building was constructed by Giovanni Querini, a noble Venetian who governed Astypalea after the siege of Constantinople in 1204.
Venetians ruled from the castle for over 300 years, each ruler adding different modifications to the structure. Every one of them left stone emblems with their family coat of arms. The castle of Astypalea has been partially rebuilt after an earthquake hit the island in 1956.
The medieval settlement winds up the mountain, offering an unforgettable panoramic view of the Chora of Astypalea.