Chlemoutsi Castle (Clermont Castle)
Turning off the main road between Patras and Pyrgos, in the direction of the port of Kyllini, we follow the signs to the village of Kastro along a long straight road across the flat plain. Rising far in the distance about three kilometres south of Kyllini stands a large plateau, on which the outer walls of Chlemoutsi Castle can be seen for miles. Even more so on summer nights, when the castle walls are illuminated. It is only when we walk through the gates that the full splendour and magnitude of the castle is revealed.
Chlemoutsi Castle was built by the Frankish Prince of Achaea, Geoffrey de Villehardouin, in the 1220s – a bone of contention with the church authorities as he had confiscated their lands in order to do so. Villehardouin’s justification was that the clergy, with whom he had never had a cordial relationship, owned at least a third of the lands around, yet had refused point-blank to contribute either manpower or funds towards its defence. This rocky plateau offered a prime site, just a few kilometres inland from Glarentza (near modern Kyllini), which was the main port of on the north-western tip of the Peloponnese, and around five kilometres from the Achaean capital, Andravida, further inland.
It commands a view of the surrounding plains of Elis, across the Ionian to Zakynthos and Kefalonia to the west, and as far as the mountains of central Greece – now Sterea Ellada – on the opposite side of the Gulf of Patra.
First named as the French Chateau Clairmont or Clermont Caste, the castle was given a local Greek touch resulting in the name Chlemoutsi. Venetians called it Castel Tornese, erroneously supposing Chlemoutsi to be the location of the mint that produced silver Tornese coins. In fact, ongoing archaeological excavations at nearby Glarentza show that the mint was there by the port.
After the death of Geoffrey’s son William de Villhardouin, Chlemoutsi was retained by his wife, Anna Komnene Doukaina, along with his Barony of Kalamata. Not being inclined to grieve too long, Anna remarried a couple of years later to the powerful Frankish ruler of Thebes, Nicolas II of Saint Omer. Under pressure from the Latin King Charles, Nicolas II swapped Chlemoutsi and Kalamata for lands in Messenia, where he built Palaiokastro at Navarino, and Chlemoutsi was ruled by the Kings of Naples.
Annoyed at losing her birth right, William de Villehardouin’s daughter tried to claim back Chlemoutsi and Kalamata by marrying off her daughter to Ferdinand of Majorca. When Anna returned to Achaea, she was imprisoned by the Italians at Chlemoutsi, where she died in 1315. At this point Ferdinand, with the Catalan Company, briefly seized control of the castle only to be displaced soon afterwards by the Lord of Burgundy.
In the early 15th century, Chlemoutsi was controlled by Carlo I Tocco, Count of Zakynthos and Kefalonia, and Despot of Epirus. After Tocco’s defeat at the Battle of Echinades in 1427, the Byzantine Empire regained control of the Peloponnese. He did a deal with Constantine Paleologos, whose brother was Byzantine Emperor then, arranging the marriage of his niece Creusa to Constantine. The latter was destined to become the last Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople, and Chlemoutsi remained under Byzantine rule until the Ottoman invasion in 1460.
Entering the outer gate of Chlemoutsi, remains of external defences, wells and other buildings are visible. Within the inner walls at the top of the plateau, there is a completely different picture. The majestic two-storey halls that surround the courtyard are under restoration work is underway. Inside the gate, the first long hall with its high curved ceiling still bears traces of wall-paintings. Everywhere the characteristic Frankish style shows in details such as the marble seating built into the window alcoves on both floors. Informative displays give an impression of the castle’s original appearance. Across the courtyard, where stone cannonballs are neatly piled, is a small museum in the castle keep with inscriptions, family crests, and other artefacts found here.
In summer, Chlemoutsi Castle is also used as a venue for local festivals and occasional re-enactments of medieval jousting tournaments.
Entrance cost: Full: €4, Concessions: €2
Opening days/times: Tues–Sun 09:00–16:00 (latest entry 15:40)
Other: Small car park with narrow access road from village. Coach turning and parking in village centre.