posted 07-06-2007 06:44 PM
Castles and Legends in Greece
Are there any castles in Greece?
“Are there any castles in Greece?” some English co speakers asked me a couple of years ago in the most visited worldwide forum concerning castles, the “castles on the web”. This specific question was, as you might have guessed, a bit of a shock for me…
Greece is one of the few countries around the world which can confront England, Scotland, Germany or Spain as for the number of castles it has. There are more than 600 castles scattered in the Greek inland the maintenance of which varies from excellent to worse in certain cases.
Even in those cases that ruins is all thatĒs left in place of some Greek medieval fortresses, still they have left their mark and have played an important role in the shape of the history of our country. The castle-kingdom of Corfu is an excellent example of a place where 2 centuries ago castles and fortresses were scattered all around the area but unfortunately today nothing stands in its place to bring the reminisce of the past thatĒs long forgotten.
Despite the fact that in the medieval history of Western civilizations Greece did not exist as a geographical and political state and therefore not being mentioned, it did hold the place of one of the most important provinces of the Byzantine Empire with its geographical position being in the centre of the crossroad that united Jerusalem, Holy Land, Constantinople or Rhodes. And in that period of time, many were the Western visitors interested in one way or another to reach any of the above mentioned places.
Let me just remind you of the Crusades for the deliverance of Holy Land, the fact that Constantinople was believed for the westerns to be an utopian City, covered with gold (a belief which in a great sense lead to the disaster of the 4th crusade) and moreover, the fact that castles of Rhodes, Lindos and Monolithos formed the basis of perhaps the most powerful western Order, those of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (well-known as Knights Hospitaller), in the most bright shade of its era.
Moreover, Mediterranean Sea played a key role in that period of time in the growth of every military or commercial activity for all the empires stated in its coastal. That fact alone places Greece and its harbors in the middle of this activity due to GreeceĒs geographical position. The harbors of Methoni (Modon) and Koroni (Coron), depicted the power of Most Serene Republic of Venice (medieval kingdom of Venice) in the East, the harbors of Crete and more specifically the harbors of Heraklion were at the target of Byzantine, Saraceans (general term referring to Arabs and Muslims), Turkish, Venetians and even Greek forces not to mention the unbending harbor and castle of Monemvasia.
Many of the castles of Greece were inseparably connected with the most important and legendary personalities of the medieval history such as Skiathos and the well-known pirate Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa (famous as Barbarossa), hereafter admiral of the Othman Empire, Samothrace with the family of Gattilusi which indirectly made an effort to gain the name and the power of the empyreal family of Palaeologus, Kalamata with William II of Villehardouin of the well known family, the castle-kingdom of Mystras with the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire Constantine Palaeologus also known as the Marbled King of Constantinople.
However, even on the shade of the Byzantine Empire when it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire, on its grounds many of the most powerful Turkish castles were build, which were eventually connected with two Ottoman Pashas who wanted to become independent of the Othman Empire. Among them is Mehmet Ali from Kavala who was Pashas of Egypt, as well as Ali Pashas of Ioannina (Epirus).
They asked me if there are any castles in Greece and I wonder how come they have never heard of the White Tower of Thessaloniki (Tower of Blood until 18th century), one of the most famous fortresses of modern Greece and the “tomb” of the most powerful eastern (Muslim) order of Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire.
On the other hand, how could they not have heard of the castle of Platamonas (also spelled Platamon); the only castle in Greece which is impossible not to have seen when traveling on the most frequently used road of our country, the National Road of Athens-Thessaloniki? Or perhaps the Frangokastello of Crete (on the south coast of the island) and the myth of Drossoulites (also known as dew shadows) which fame has traveled all around the world as one of the few authentic modern mysteries?
The castles in Greece are neither just a part of a forgotten past nor just fortresses that have lived glorious moments in the medieval history so that their ruins to be silently left behind as happens to many other countries in Europe. On the contrary, as modern history proves; our castles have been on the centre of international European political and military stage for more than once.
Take for example the castle-kingdom of Corfu to which Napoleon himself brought 1000 cannons in order to establish one of the most powerful fortresses of his army, in Corfu where constant fortifications by Englishmen, German and Italians formed her into the mightiest fortress in the world and in order for the union of Corfu with Greece to be implemented the most essential term was the castle-kingdom of Corfu to be torn totally to the ground. Until today no Greek military camps are allowed to be set according to the pact signed between Greece and England for the union of the Ionian Islands in 1864.
Not to mention of course the blood that has been shed during the plenty Greek revolutions. Blood not only shed by Greeks but also by Turkish, German and Italian soldiers. Still, the specialty about Greek castles lies in the number of people and nationalities that have fought in the shadow of their battlements which includes even soldiers of New Zealand during the 2nd World War.
All the above come truly to justify, to my belief, the fact that the Castles in Greece are praised by so many -not only Greek but foreigners as well- historians, poets and travelers as Minotos, Evliya Çelebi, Noucios, the anonymous writer of the Chronicle of Morea, etc.
By tracing back the names that characterize the Greek castles over the centuries we can understand the importance that they have hold on the consciousness of the people: Key-holder of Macedonia and Thessaly for the castle of Platamonas, Hot Gates of Thrace for the castle of Kavala, Gibraltar of East for the castle in Monemvasia , Tower of Blood for the White Tower of Thessaloniki, the Heretic Fortress of Lindos and many more.
To these Castles in Greece the present book wishes to address attribute, to narrate their stories, to listen to the myths that embrace them, to morn for the blood that has been shed, for the sieges and invasions that they have lived and to transfer the grief and despair but the joy and yearning that people have sensed inside and in front of their walls.
But most of all, to let us go back in time, to be guided to a number of the most glorious representatives of the Greek castles, to be spoken about their specialty and uniqueness. Through this book we can learn to recognize their value and above all to learn to love our past…
So, in the question “Are there any Castles in Greece?” I can only think of one answer:
“Yes there are...and notably some of the most important around the world!”
You can read more about the book, its structure, chapters, the castles that present, color photos and information about them in the following link: