Around an hour away from Athens by modern motorway, Acrocorinthos, the acropolis of ancient Corinth, is a 575 m (1,886 ft) – high monolithic rock overlooking Corinth that was continuously occupied from archaic times to the early 19th century. Overhanging Ancient Corinth, providing a magnificent view to the Corinthian gulf and the Saronicos, mount Helikon and mount Parnassus, Acrocorinth is an excellent specimen of incessant habitation from antiquity until the early 19th century.
Its perimeter walls total is approximately 3,000 metres in length, making it the largest fortress in the Peloponnese and one of the most important in the region, strategically situated at the entrance to the Morea (the old name of the Peloponnese).
Already an easily defensible position due to its geomorphology, was further heavily fortified during the Byzantine Empire as it became the seat of the strategos of the Thema of Hellas. Later it was a fortress of the Franks after the Fourth Crusade, the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks. With its secure water supply, Acrocorinth’s fortress was used as the last line of defense in southern Greece because it commanded the isthmus of Corinth, repelling foes from entry into the Peloponnesian peninsula. Three circuit walls formed the man-made defence of the hill. The highest peak on the site was home to a temple to Aphrodite which was Christianized as a church, and then became amosque. The American School began excavations on it in 1929. Currently, Acrocorinth is one of the most important medieval castle sites of Greece.
It is undoubtedly one of the most important medieval forts in Greece as it expanded in three fortification levels. Its strong point was owed to the fact that in reality it was a natural fort intensified by high strong walls. Of utmost importance was also the role the fort played as the last defence line against incursions aiming the south of Greece. It sits atop a rocky hill 1,800 feet high overlooking the famous city and harbour of Corinth. Its strategic location close to the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow strip of land connecting the Peloponnese with the rest of Greece, makes it one of the most important castles in the country.
I arrived there one rainy morning to find the hill and its castle wreathed in mist. A taxi ride from the train station took me up a winding road past sheer drops. No approach to the summit is easy, and from some sides it would take a skilled mountain climber to get up. Only the western slope is relatively passable, and it’s protected by triple walls.
Conservation and restoration has been carried out on various parts of the wall and on a few buildings. The Upper Peirene Spring received conservation and protective work around 1930. In 1965-66 the bridge over the dry moat and the guard house at the entrance were restored. In 1972-73 the wall between gates a and b was reinforced. In 1978 the northern end of the seconnd peribolos wall was reinforced, near the Kanoni site. In 1980 parts of the outer side of the third peribolos wall were reinforced. In 1993-95 the bridge over the moat was replaced and the wall between gates b and c were reinforced and parts of the calderimi paving repaired.
Excavations were carried out by the American School in 1926 on the highest part of Acrocorinth which demonstrated the continuous use of the place from archaic times down to the beginning of the 19th century. At this same time, the excavators opened trenches in the wider area as far as the Upper Peirene Spring, revealing a cemetery of the Turkish times.
By 1212 the castle had succumbed to the Frankish siege under the leadership of William Champlitte and Geoffrey I of Villehardouin. Both of them were acting under the orders of Boniface of Montferrat, King of Thessalonika. Their mission was to conquer Peloponese. For three years Leo Sgouros defended the fort but as all hope for victory against the crusaders was gone he put an end to his life as he preferred death to captivity.
In 1358 Niccolo Acciajuoli, a Florentine banker, became the next ruler of Acrocorinth until 1394 when Theodoros I Palaeologos succeeded him. A short interval of occupation by the Knights of Rhodes during 1400 – 1404, was followed by Byzantine sovereignty until 1458. The Ottomans Turks siege lasted until 1687 when the Venetians took control of the fort. In 1715 the Ottomans came to power once more until the Uprising in 1821.
The interior of the castle still contains the ruins of the temple of Aphrodite (5th-4th century BC), the spring of Ano Peirini, several Christian churches, a Byzantine underground cistern, mosques and fountains.
Later occupiers of the Acrocorinth dismantled the temple of Aphrodite in order to use the material in other structures.
‘The Acrocorinthus is a mountain peak above the city of Corinth, assigned to Helius (the Sun) by Briareos when he acted as adjudicator, and handed over, the Corinthians say, by Helius to Aphrodite. As you go up this Acrocorinthus you see two precincts of Isis, one of Isis surnamed Pelagian (Marine) and the other of Egyptian Isis, and two of Serapis, one of them being of Serapis called “in Canopus.” After these are altars to Helius, and a sanctuary of Necessity and Force, into which it is not customary to enter.
Above it are a temple of the Mother of the gods and a throne; the image and the throne are made of stone. The temple of the Fates and that of Demeter and the Maid have images that are not exposed to view. Here, too, is the temple of Hera Bunaea set up by Bunus the son of Hermes. It is for this reason that the goddess is called Bunaea.
On the summit of the Acrocorinthus is a temple of Aphrodite. The images are Aphrodite armed, Helius, and Eros with a bow. The spring, which is behind the temple, they say was the gift of Asopus to Sisyphus. The latter knew, so runs the legend, that Zeus had ravished Aegina, the daughter of Asopus, but refused to give information to the seeker before he had a spring given him on the Acrocorinthus. When Asopus granted this request Sisyphus turned informer, and on this account he receives – if anyone believes the story – punishment in Hades. I have heard people say that this spring and Peirene are the same, the water in the city flowing hence underground.’
[Pausanias 2.4.6-7, 2.5.1]
Access and visiting information
The Acrocorinth fortification area proper is paved with cobblestones which in places are very slippery and can cause accidents. Some stretches of the paths are steep. Sturdy hiking footwear is a must. Please bear that in mind for your own safety.