Ναύπλιο, Nafplio: The Hidden City of Many Pasts
|The Port of Nafplio|
Tucked amidst the cliffs of the Aegean, my favorite coastal city in all of Greece lies in a time-capsule of historic occupations. Known as the ‘Kingdom of the Morea’ for Venetians in 1685, Nafplio represents a distinctive port city fortified by Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Turks. Seemingly trapped in time, Nafplio offers medieval masterpieces such as the Palamidi Castle sitting high up on the mountain overlooking the Aegean as well as the Bourtzi castle set out in the sea for protection from pirates or other sea-dwelling invaders. Nafplio also served as a stronghold during the Greek War of Independence and served as the Greek capital in 1829. Now nearly two centuries later, Greek occupants have changed little of the integrity of the original city.
In Greece, small winding roads along the seaside are commonplace and one should never expect to know entirely which direction the road will lead. Such is the case in the alleys and niches of Nafplio. One second I am walking along the beach, and the next second I’m trapped amongst dauntingly large cliffs or lost in a world of historic buildings. Directional matters only get more confusing in the city centre with endless and tantalizing rows of shops and restaurants and cafes and the most significant tourism attraction: gelato.
Now. Let’s talk ice-cream. In Italy, one may understand the significance of a scorching day only made better with the promise of a well-prepared gelato waffle cone. However, this wonder of the Mediterranean, as I like to call gelato, is much more widespread than some may think. Gelato-making is Nafplio’s hidden secret. Whether ice-cream loving Venetians brought over this scrumptious delicacy or it was simply a well-adapted Greek store-owner, gelato can nevertheless be found on nearly every corner. My favorite shop pictured here is called pag-oh-toe mania. This means ‘ice-cream mania’. And they mean it. Just looked for the happy gelato statue near Hotel Victoria, and you will forever be grateful for ordering a pistachio cone.
With ice-cream in hand, it is only customary to then return to the rocky beaches on the opposite side of the castle from the city. There is one very long stretch of beach usually quite crowded with Athenians looking for a weekend getaway, while the adjacent beach sports much more harrowing challenges to reach water from the jagged rocks and thus includes fewer daring swimmers. Having chosen the latter option, I decided to find a more isolated location and jump into the water from the rocky cliff as the locals do.
Feeling confident in my abilities, and egged on by a group of weathered jumpers, I went full speed ahead…and…stopped short of my imminent doom. I’m not a jumper. I’m a go-in-nice-and-slowly kind of girl. That being said, after slowly lowering myself a little of the way toward the water, I realized the only option, in fact, to avoid losing any more skin to the disagreeable Aegean-worn rocks, was to cast myself into the water. In the big moment before a potentially very bad idea, your mind gives you two very obvious options: Either do it or don’t. But what happens if you don’t make the jump? What happens if you let fear win? I looked out at the crystal clear water in front of me and realized I only had one choice. JUMP. If you ever have the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean in a secluded area with deep, crystal clear water and epic historical scenery surrounding you, never hesitate.
|Sharp rocks hurt hands|
Nafplio represents many tumultuous periods of occupation paralleled by the subsequent years of peace and quiet. The point of understanding how to travel in places with such dynamic histories is to see the character in all of its layers. How did the city function? What did the people do? Look at the boats. Look at the castle. Look at the people. It’s okay to have gelato while lying on the beach unknowingly acquiring a really, really bad sunburn. But look deeper beyond what stands today. Ask how and why it still stands. Ask the people what they know and how they perceive their home. Leave knowing that history happened there. The authentic architecture and quaint streets encompass unique relics of our past worth protecting.