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. 
Weathered jumpers have no fear 
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
Though getting into the water is always easier than getting out, and I sported pretty gnarly rock-wounds on my body for a few days after my adventure due to my lack of slippery rock-climbing skills, the adventure is always worth it. In that moment of extreme adrenaline, my mind connected me with every intangible aspect of Nafplio’s past. The sea is life. Perhaps it was ceremonial to offer myself to the gods of the sea, but this is what traveling is about. Tourism is a waste of time if there is no connection with the place or sense of awareness of the heritage. Nafplio is not just a city of delicious gelato.

After enjoying fried squid at a restaurant sitting close to the water, my travel companions and I were determined to catch the sunset from the top of the castle (my last experience in Nafplio ended with a broken camera and no sunset pictures). Yet, as the fates would have it, the castle was closed, the sun was setting, and we were left to walk down the mountain sans photograph. Feeling perturbed and angry at the gods, I opted to walk along the port-side of the city. As lessons would have it, if one path doesn’t work, take another. Also, the sun does not only set from the perspective of the castle. Taking the opportunity to understand that Nafplio is picture-worthy from all angles, I still managed to get a great shot of the setting sun over the town and again of the sunset over the sea-castle and its mountain backdrop. Not so bad. Sometimes the ‘typical’ tourist picture isn't as valuable as one taken from a whole new perspective.

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.

Popular Posts