Larissa Castle (Castle of Argos)
Towering over the modern town of Argos is the medieval Castle of Larissa, at an elevation if 289 m (948 ft). From the archaeological evidence, there is no doubt that these ruins back at least to the 6th Century BC, but it may be much older as the town of Argos itself has been occupied for at least 7,000 years, since prehistoric times. One local legend is that the hill and castle were named after the nymph, Larissa, daughter of the mythical hero Pelasgos.
At the same time, the word larissa is also thought to have meant acropolis.
Remarkable ancient Cyclopean wall sections can still be seen, dating from the Mycenaean period, which were blended into the 10th century Byzantine and later Venetian walls. Massive rectangular blocks, similar to those at Ancient Tiryns and Mycenae have been topped and patched with smaller more rounded stones as each new conqueror reinforced the castle and added towers and bastions of various shapes and sizes to defend it.
Romans, Franks, Venetians and Ottoman Turks have all left their imprints, along with the ravages of time and earthquakes.
During the Byzantine period, the fortress was of essential strategic importance. In 1203, it came under the control of Leon Sgouros, the archon (lord) of Nauplion. In 1212, it was captured by the Frankish Duke of Athens from the Greek House of Burgundy, Othon de la Roche (Delaros), and thus remained under Frankish rule until 1388.
The colourful Venetians occupied Larissa Castle in their characteristic silks and finery from 1394 to 1463 until the Ottoman Turks moved in to the Peloponnese and claimed this prize 1463. Apart from the further short spell of Venetian control from 1686 to 1715, Larissa was only freed from the Ottoman Turks by Greek revolutionaries in 1822.
Driving up the winding road to the castle with the spectacular panoramic views across the Argolid plain to the east as far as Nauplion and beyond, and the backdrop of hills to the west, it is easy to see why this was such a prime location for whoever wished to control the region.
Just below the castle lies the church of Panagia Katakekrymeni-Portokalousa (Our Hidden Lady the Orange-bearer of Argos). This quirky name is thought to refer to the icon of the Virgin Mary, which is in a ‘secret’ grotto secluded by an orange grove below the church. Originally a monastery, this was built over an ancient cave sanctuary of the goddess Hera Akraia.
In the town of Argos around 5 kilometres below, there are hordes of other ancient ruins worth adding to the castle outing as time allows. Not least of them is the ancient Theatre of Argos which had a capacity of 20,000 and rivalled even Epidaurus in size and importance in its heyday.
Entrance cost: Free.
Other: Small car park.