On the north side of the historic bay of Navarino, which is famed for the naval battle of 1827 between the Turkish and allied (British, French, Russian) naval forces lies Palaiokastro, also known as Old Pylos Castle or Palaionavarino. At the south end of the bay is Neokastro (New Navarino Castle).
Built on the ancient acropolis of Pylos, the ruins of Palaiokastro are perched on a steep cliff above Nestor’s Cave on a peninsula between Navarino Bay and Gialova Lagoon. The latter is an area of great natural beauty that is part of Natura 2000. The sandy Voidokoila beach at the seaward end of the lagoon stretches below.
The medieval castle of Palaiokastro dates back to 1278, when it was probably built by the Frankish ruler of Thebes, Nicolas II of Saint Omer, who was also the Baron of Kalamata. He had married the widow of William de Villehardouin, Prince of Achaea, and traded her properties at Chlemoutsi and Kalamata for land in Messenia. There is also another theory that it was built by his nephew Nicolas III.
The location was caught in the conflict between Venice and Genoa during the Battle of Sapienza in 1354, and underwent a brief siege in 1364, when Marie de Bourbon, Princess of Achaea, took up residence there. The presence of the mercenary Navarrese Company was felt here around at the end of the 14th century.
In 1417, the ambitious Venetians snatched the castle for themselves; they soon managed to legalise this acquisition when Achaea came under Genoese control. Then came the Ottoman raids. At one point this was one of the few remaining Christian outposts, until Palaiokastro was eventually surrendered to the Turkish Sultan Bayezid II, who had destroyed Methoni Castle.
During the short-lived Venetian comeback from 1686–1715, both the Navarino castles were held by Morosoni, the Venetian commander, until the Ottomans recaptured them. By that time Palaiokastro had suffered immense damage, and the resources were channelled into Neokastro, due to its more advantageous strategic location.
Just as Neokastro, the old castle was occupied by Greek revolutionaries in 1821, only to be taken by Ibrahim Pasha in 1825. Both old and new castles played their part in the Battle of Navarino, with the Ottoman canons firing upon the allied navy from their battlements.
Little remains but a few walls and scattered stone blocks of the glorious old castle now as there has not been much in the way of restoration works. Access is possible from a path above the fabled Cave of Nestor, though the site is officially closed as ruins are considered to be in a dangerous condition. Occasional sure-footed visitors do enter at their own risk to explore first-hand and admire the stunning vistas from the ruins.
Entrance cost: No charge.
All images copyright Eric CB Cauchi / Eternal Greece Ltd, unless otherwise stated.