The Fortress of Kavala, perched above the city, is a 15th-century structure based on the foundations of the Byzantine Acropolis of Christoupolis, the city’s former name, which was destroyed in 1391. The citadel has endured many reconstructions and additions throughout the years by the Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. A visit to the fortress, also called the Acropolis of Kavala, allows you to explore the inner court, the cistern, the towers, the arsenal and the guardhouse. It even includes an open-air theatre where many events take place every year, as well as a pleasant cafeteria where you can relax after your visit.
Fortress of Kavala, Ermionis, Kavala, Greece, +30 251 083 8602
Rhodes, invaded by many civilisations and empires, is home to several castles and fortresses. The beautiful medieval Old Town of Rhodes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, counts several wonders, including the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, an impressive medieval fortress built in the 14th century by the Knights of St John. The palace was meant to be a residence for the local governor, and the Turks used it as a fortress. The structure is one of the best-preserved castles in Europe and is definitely a highlight when visiting Rhodes.
The Chlemoutsi Castle, also called the castle of Clermont, is an impressive fortress built in the 13th century, during the Frankish rule of Greece, by Geoffroi de Villehardouin – it was later under Byzantine and then Ottoman rule. The castle is a stunning example of 13th-century French architecture, although a few Byzantine elements are visible. Set on a plateau facing the sea and offering stunning views over the island of Zakynthos, the castle is one of the best-preserved buildings from its time, retaining most of its original structure.
Chlemoutsi Castle, Avravidas, Kyllini, Peloponnese, Greece, +30 2523 095001
Thessaloniki is home to several treasures, including its own castle, known as Eptapyrgio or Yedi Kule. Located on a hill above the Old Town (Ano Poli), the Eptapyrgio offers spectacular views over the city, the port and the Aegean Sea. Built during the Byzantine period, above the remains of a Roman Wall, the Eptapyrgio includes two structures: the Byzantine fortress and the Peridromo. The walls of the castle date back to the 4th century AD; however, it underwent a renovation, with a few towers added, a few years after the Ottomans conquered the city. The new towers gave the castle its name of Eptapyrgio, which means seven towers (although the castle has 10). Undergoing a renovation once again, the castle is no doubt a highlight of picture-perfect Ano Poli.
Eptapyrgio, Ano Poli, Thessaloniki, Greece, +30 698 888 8888
Set on the highest point of Skyros town, offering views of the land and the sea, the castle of Skyros has a long, tumultuous history as its roots lie in the Byzantine period. The structure features simple architecture, although it is not as well preserved as other castles in Greece. Today, it has a few ruins of some of the fortifications and includes the monastery of Agios Georgios, founded in the 10th century.
Built by the Venetians around 1570 to protect the city and the port of Rethymno against the Turks, the Fortezza of Rethymno in Crete is shaped like a star and features three gates and six ramparts. Captured by the Ottomans in 1646 during the Fifth Ottoman-Venetian War, the castle mostly retained its original structure although the Catholic church of Saint Nicolo, located within the fortress, became a mosque. For a long time, many residents lived within the fortress, but in the 20th century, the city expanded, and many people relocated outside the fortifications. Even if you do not enjoy archaeology, you will be able to witness great views over the city.
Fortezza of Rethymno, Rethymno, Crete, Greece, +30 2831 028101
One of the best-preserved castles in the country, the castle of Lepanto, or Nafpaktos, is a stellar example of Greek fortress architecture. Just like the numerous other castles in the country, this one sits on the hill above the city, and throughout its history, several nations, including the Turks, the Venetians, and the English, invaded it. While the castle is a must-see, the city of Nafpaktos is mostly known for the Battle of Lepanto, which took place there in 1571; the battle saw the Spanish, Venetians and Habsburgs join forces to overthrow the Ottoman Empire. (Fun fact: Spanish literary master Miguel Cervantes fought in that battle.) The view of the Corinthian Gulf from the castle is splendid, and you will surely have a pleasant time in this charming little town.
Founded in 1413 by Giovanni Querini, a Venetian official, the castle of Astypalaia lies where the ancient acropolis once stood. As it was meant to protect the city and its inhabitants, it was set on a hill and features only one entrance. Its dark stone wall contrasts beautifully with the white-walled houses surrounding it, and the castle is now home to two churches: Agio Georgios and Panagia Castrani. The first church, Agios Georgios, is the oldest of the two, built in 1790. Sitting next to the entrance, the second one, completed in 1853 and dedicated to the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, features building materials from the homes of the Querinis. While the 1956 earthquake destroyed most of the houses within the castle, it is partially renovated and has maintained its beautiful atmosphere.
Mystras is an abandoned fortified town located near Sparta, on the slopes of Mount Taygetos, in Peloponnese. A prosperous area during the Byzantine era, the city has a medieval castle, built in 1249 by Geoffroi de Villehardouin, a Frankish noble who gained rule over the Peloponnese, but very quickly, the Greeks took dominion over the town and the fort. Bridging the Greek and Frankish cultures, the city gave rise to a unique art influenced by both societies.
While the city had residents until the 1920s, it is now completely deserted. Wander around the ruins, where you can discover Byzantines churches decorated with beautiful frescoes and remains of the castle. Today, the city is a UNESCO-listed monument.
The castle of Ioannina is a magnificent historic landmark in Epirus. Probably the oldest castle in the country, Emperor Justinian constructed it in 528 AD. Invaded several times since its construction, the castle reached its apogee during the Ottoman Empire. Mosques and harems became a part of the impressive complex, along with fortification work. Rebuilt by Ali Pasha in 1815, the castle offers splendid views of the modern city of Ioannina and its lake.
Built in the 13th century on a rocky peninsula by the Venetians, the castle of Methoni sits by the water in the scenic town of Methoni, Messinia. Probably one of the most unique castles in the region, it boasts an arched stone bridge connecting the castle to the shore. And though Ottomans invaded it, the castle, still in excellent condition, retains Venetian emblems and inscriptions, the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia, the Church of the Transformation – erected in 1833 – and two Turkish bathhouses. The Turks also added a fort by the castle, known as the Boutzi, which served as a prison and place of execution during the Turkish occupation. It is a fantastic site to visit, but be sure to combine it with a trip to the island of Sapientza where you can swim and scuba dive in turquoise, clear waters.
Towering above the Akritas cape, the castle of Koroni is a breathtaking example of Venetian architecture, built by the Venetians in the 13th century. It underwent several renovations under the Turkish occupation in the 16th century, and still standing today are the two churches of Agia Sofia and the Catholic church of Agios Charalambos, which later became a mosque but is now an Orthodox church. The castle is now home to a convent, and visitors can admire stone-carved tombs within the fortified structure.