Bourtzi Castle is one of the finest castles in Greece. It certainly has one of the most spectacular settings of any fortification in southeastern Europe. Originally built by the Venetians to protect the city of Nafplio, it stands on an island in the middle of magnificent harbor. Behind it on the shore, the whitewashed, red-roofed buildings of the town loom up the hillside. Easily accessible to Athens and Central Greece, it is the most popular non-ancient Greek site located on the Peloponnesian Peninsula.
Nafplio is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Greece. Originally just a small city centered around the Acronauplia, it was not one of the great Greek states of antiquity. It churned along quietly throughout the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras, but did not really hit its stride until the Middle Ages. During the Crusades, Nafplio was annexed by France, who used it as a major port and headquarters for continued excursions to the east.
In the waning years of the Crusades, the French eventually withdrew from Nafplio, selling the city to the expanding Venetian maritime empire. It was under the Venetians that Nafplio became a major trading center and one of the preeminent cities of Greece. The city was greatly expanded and the Venetians expanded the city’s existing fortifications and constructed new ones. Bourtzi Castle was constructed during the Venetian tenancy.
Bourtzi Castle was completed in 1473, with the purpose of defending the harbor against pirate attacks and, more importantly, the expanding threat of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, by the 16th century the Venetians were overwhelmed by the Turks in Greece, and were forced to surrender the city and castle in 1540. However, Nafplio continued to be contested between the two powers, and changed hands back to the Venetians in 1685, and again to the Ottomans in 1715.
During the 19th century, Nafplio and its fortifications became one of the first strategic targets of the Greek war of independence. Bourtzi Castle was seized in 1822, after which it became a Greek base for the siege of Nafplio. After the city was liberated, it subsequently served as the national capital until 1834. During this era, Bourtzi Castle became a symbol of Greek independence. It continued to serve as a fortress and prison until the early 20th century. It was then used as a hotel until the 1970s. It is now one of the most popular medieval sites in the Peloponnese.
Bourtzi Castle stands on a small, rocky island in the middle of Nafplio Harbor. Its strategic position allowed its cannon to fend off any hostile ships from the sheltered part of the port. Although not particularly large, its isolated position on water that is usually as still as a lake makes Bourtzi and its perfect reflection stand out from both land and sea. The fortification covers most of the island right to the waters edge, except for a small sheltered dock where ships and ferries arrive with visitors and tourists.
The castle itself consists of a single, compact keep with a single outwall bulging in the direction of the dock. Built at the dawn of the gunpowder age, the sloped walls were designed with primitive cannonfire in mind. The walls and large, octagonal central tower were also designed to support the cannons which guarded the harbor for centuries. Other then the fact that there is little in the way to see at Bourtzi in the way of exhibits, the castle itself is in excellent condition, appearing much as it did during the Venetian era.
Bourtzi Castle is located at the heart of Nafplio Harbor, approximately fifty miles west of Athens. It is accessible only by boat. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.visitgreece.gr (official website).
The Venetians were extremely prolific fortress builders, especially in southern Greece. In addition to Bourtzi Castle, Nafplio is home to the Palamidi Castle, another fortress constructed by the Venetians. Opposite from Nafplio on the western side of the Peloponnesian Peninsula is Methoni and the massive ruins of the Venetian-era Methoni Castle. Offshore, on the island of Crete, the Venetian-built Koules Fortress defends the entrance to the harbor of Heraklion.