This little seaside town at the southwest of Peloponnese has played an important role during the history of Greece. It was the kingdom of Nestor, the wisest among the leaders of the Trojan War. In addition the known Battleship of Navarino in 1827 took place here resulting in the defeat of the fleet of the Ottoman Empire.
Today Pylos is a popular destination throughout the year and also a safe anchorage due to the island Sfaktiria, the natural breakwater, across the harbor. You will find plenty of beautiful hotels around the area and all the necessary amenities of a tourist destination. Around Pylos you will find plenty of magnificent beaches, some of them are considered to be the best in Peloponnese.
Pilos consecutive historical presence since the prehistoric times is a fact. However the location of Pilos wasn’t always the same and changed throughout the years depending on the needs of each period. The first Messenians settled around the area during 3300-3100BC.
The prehistoric Pilos
On the northern edge of Voidokoilia beach there is a hill, where a Mycenaean vaulted grave was revealed during excavations. The grave is considered to be the Tomb of Thrasymedes, the son of Nestor and dates back to the 16th century BC. Excavations around this area have brought in light traces of inhabitation during the Early Helladic Period (3000BC) and two tombs of the Middle Helladic Period (around 2000BC). These remains along with the findings of the Early Helladic Period in the nearby seaside areas enhance the theory that Navarino Bay and Voidokoilia belonged to the Helladic Civilization which developed in the mainland of Greece from 3000BC to 1100BC.
The Mycenaean Pilos and the Palace of Nestor
The area of Pilos developed mostly during the Mycenaean Period and the most important proof is the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor. According to Greek mythology, Pilos was founded by Pylos, who was the son of Kleisonas.
On the hill of Upper Eglianos, about 17km away from the modern city of Pilos, was the Palace of Nestor who was the king of Pilos. The palace dates back in 1300-1200BC and was probably destroyed in 1100BC during the Dorian Invasion. The Palace of Nestor is one of the most important Mycenaean palaces of Greece and offers an astonishing view of the Navarino Bay, Gialova lagoon and Voidokoilia beach. It is the best preserved Mycenaean palace and is distinguished for the lack of the Cyclopean walls in contrast with the other Mycenaean palaces. However the steep edges of the hill formed natural fortifications which made it extremely difficult for the enemies to attack the palace.
The hill was used exclusively for the royal facilities with the main building complex of the palace and the ancillary apartments. The city of Mycenaean Pilos spread under the palace on the slopes and the plateaus around the hill. In the nearby area north and south of the acropolis the royal vaulted graves have been found. The graves of the commons were found across a ridge at the west side of the acropolis.
This two-storey palace was decorated with colorful wall paintings. The main building complex of the palace was the royal residence. At the southwest of this main building there was another large building complex which was probably the former core of the palace. Both of them were used as living spaces during the 13th century BC until the destruction of the palace around 1200BC. In these two main building complexes there were apartments, wine warehouses, utensil storage rooms and workshops. Behind the main building complex there were smaller buildings which were probably used as apartments for the slaves and the servants. There were staircases in both of these complexes in order to connect the two floors of the buildings.
The most important place of the palace is the throne room which was a wide and bright hall with colorful decorations. In the centre of the throne room there was a large circular hearth. Across the hearth in the middle of the right wall there was the royal throne which was made of wood, according to indications, and was decorated by ivory.
The researches of the area took place in 1912-1926 by K.Kourouniotis and Carl Blegen and revealed stone walls, parts of wall paintings, Mycenaean pots and clay tablets in the Upper Eglianos. The researches stopped due to the wars and restarted in 1952 by S. Marinatos. In 1957 the tomb of Nileas, the father of Nestor and a part of the palace were revealed. Until 1964 the whole palace of Nestor was excavated. Thousands of clay tablets with inscriptions written in Linear B have been found during the excavations of the palace. Linear B, which was the syllabic script used during the Mycenaean Period, was deciphered by M. Ventris in 1952 and revealed information of great importance about the life during this period.
The Ancient Pilos
The Mycenaean Pilos of King Nestor is widely known from the Homeric Poems and the participation in the Trojan War. However the Ancient Pilos which is described by Thucydides was located at a different position from the Mycenaean palace. It was located on the hill of Cape Korifasio, near Voidokoilia beach, and controlled the northern entrance of Navarino Bay. The city developed during the 4th century BC and was very important especially during the Peloponnesian War. The extensive graveyard of the nearby Divari is considered to be part of this ancient city.
In 425 Pilos was defeated by Demosthenes who was the famous general of Ancient Athens. After the Peace of Nicias between Athens and Sparta, Sparta dominated the city of Pilos. In 369BC the city was reconstructed and developed during the Hellenistic Period. Pilos preserved its status during the Roman and Byzantine years until Avars conquered the place in 6th century AD. During this time the name of the city was “Zogklos” and the Avars changed it to Avarinos.
During the end of the Byzantine Empire, on the location where the ancient acropolis of Pilos was, the Franks built in 1278 a large castle which is known until today as Palaiocastro. It is also known as “Palionavarino” or “Castle of Gialova”. The castle was established by Nicholas II of Saint Omer who was the sovereign of Thebes. From this location the castle could control the northern entrance of Navarino Bay and played an important part during the history of Pilos. Around 1385 the Navarrese Company took over the castle until 1417 when it was handed to the Venetians. The Venetian occupation lasted until 1500 when the Ottoman occupancy started. Ottomans dominated the castle until 1572 when they built the new castle Niocastro in the southern entrance of the harbor. During this time the northern entrance was useless because of the silting which was caused by the Turks.
Near the castle there is the Nestor’s Cave which communicates directly with the castle. According to Greek mythology this cave was the place where Hermes hid the cattle which he stole from the Greek god Apollo. Pausanias considered that this cave was used by Nileas and his son Nestor as stable. There are traces of inhabitation that date back in the Paleolithic Period. The excavations of the cave started in 1874 by Heinrich Schliemann.
Recent years and the Niocastro
In 1573 the Ottomans constructed the fortress of Pylos, known as Niocastro, near the location where the modern city of Pilos is. They started the construction after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Battleship of Nafpaktos in 1571. The purpose of this fortress was to control the southern entrance of Navarino Bay. Niocastro means new castle in Greek and this name was given to the castle in contrast with the former castle Paliocastro (“old castle”), which controlled the northern entrance of Navarino Bay. The northern entrance and the harbor of this area couldn’t be used anymore due to the silting caused by the Turks.
In 1686 the castle was surrendered to the Venetians until 1715 when the Turks reoccupied the Niocastro along with the castle of Koroni and the castle Palaiocastro. In 1821, during the Greek War of Independence, the Greek revolutionaries besieged the fortress Niocastro and after the slaughter of the besieged Turks, the castle was surrendered to the Greeks. In 1825 Ibrahim Pasha took over the castle and was the sovereign until the Battleship of Navarino in 1827, when the Turkish-Egyptian fleet was defeated. In 1828 the castle was liberated by the French general Maison. After the liberation of Greece from the Ottoman occupancy the expeditionary force of the general Maison constructed a new settlement around the castle of Niocastro. A Royal Decree in 1833 named this settlement Pilos. In this location there is until today the modern city of Pilos.
The castle was initially restored by the general Maison in 1829. During the World War II the fortress was used as a prison for the Italians and Germans invaders until it was finally handed to the Archaeological Service. During 1982-1987 the castle was restored again and a part of it was reformed to a “Centre for Underwater Archaeological Research”. Today is one of the most well preserved and charming fortresses of Greece.
The castle is divided into the Lower Castle and the Upper Castle with the hexagonal acropolis, which was fortified with the impressive bastions. Inside the castle the visitor could also find the remains of the Gothic church which was constructed by the Francs. The Turks gradually reformed this church to a mosque until it was converted finally to a church dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus. From the settlement inside the castle only a few buildings were preserved. The former prison cells of the acropolis are today offices, warehouses, workplaces while some parts of the acropolis are used for exhibitions. Today many cultural events take place in the Niocastro. On the ground floor of the castle the visitor will find the exhibition of the collection of Rene Puaux, who wished to exhibit his artworks and items in Pilos.
For the water supply of the castle, water tanks were constructed inside the castle. In addition two aqueducts were constructed near Pilos. In Kamares, about 1km away from the square of Pilos, the two aqueducts were linked and provided through ducts. The remains of those facilities can still be seen in the area and the visitor will be astonished by the Venetian water supply system.
The central square of Pilos is called “Platia trion navarchon”. In this square there is the homonym monument which is dedicated to the three admirals who were in charge during the Battleship of Navarino. The construction of the monuments was completed in 1933. On the right and on the left side of the monument there are two cannons, the Venetian and the Turkish one.
The Neocastro or Niocastro is one of the most important monuments you could visit in this area. Niocastro means new castle in contrast with the Paliocastro, which is located in the northern entrance of the harbor and means old castle. The Niocastro was built by the Ottoman Empire in 1573, after the Turks lost in the Battleship of Nafpaktos in 1571. Inside the castle you will find the ruins of the houses and the public buildings as well as the old mosque which is today an orthodox church. You will also find here the building “Ktirio Stratonos Mezonos” where you could admire the exhibits of the famous French reporter René Puaux, who donated his collection to Greece.
During your stay in Pylos take one of the boats that will transfer you around the Navarino bay and especially in the most famous island across the harbor, Sfaktiria Island. In Sfaktiria there are memorials dedicated to the Russians who died during the Battleship of Navarino in 1827 and to the Greeks who died during the Battle of Sfaktiria in 1825. In addition here you will also see the tomb of Paul Bonaparte, who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and died on a frigate near this area in 1827. His death caused by the unintentional discharge of his gun. While exploring this island you will find even more war memorials. Also in this island there is a forest which is considered a monument of nature. The forest with the evergreen broadleaf trees is one of a kind in the Mediterranean region. The visitor of this island will be astonished by the valley of the pollen, with the fossilized pollen on the rocks.
If you want to see the old castle Palaiocastro travel a little further about 11,5km away from Pylos. Paliocastro was built in 1278 by the Franks in the location where the ancient Acropolis of Pylos was in the past. This unique castle offers an extraordinary view to the beautiful Voidokoilia beach and the Gialova lagoon. Close to Palaiocastro, you could also visit the cave of Nestor which also offers a breathtaking view.
Gialova Lagoon also known as Divari Lake is one of the most important hydro biotopes in Europe. It is the only place where the African chameleon can still be seen and in the nearby coasts especially during the summer seasons you will see the protected species of Caretta-Caretta turtle.
About 17km away from the modern city of Pylos you will find the Palace of Nestor. It is the best preserved Mycenaean palace in Greece. The numerous findings of the area are in the Arcaeological Museum of Chora which is close to this area. The kingdom of Nestor was the second most important of Peloponnese during the Mycenaean Period after Mycenae, the Palace of Agamemnon.
Another beautiful location you should visit while you are in this area is Polilimnio, about 22km away. You will walk on a specially shaped path that is surrounded by trees and you will cross picturesque wooden bridges until you arrive in this hidden paradise of lakes and waterfalls! About 15 lakes of the area form waterfalls due to the ground irregularities. Each lake has a different name, like the Kadoula Lake or the Black Lake, which took this name due to its limited access to the sun. Take some time to swim in this magnificent place which offers a unique experience with its natural beauty. Around the area you will find wooden tables ideal for picnic. The path to Polilimnio starts from the village Charavgi.
While you are in this area you could seize the opportunity to visit another two important cities of Peloponnese of great historic importance and both famous for their imposing and well preserved Venetians castles. Methoni, only 11,5km and Koroni, about 39km away from Pylos can’t be omitted from your list with the places to visit.
The town of Pylos doesn’t have a long beach; however there are two small sandy bays with swallow and crystal clear water where you could enjoy swimming. The traditional cafes and taverns are just above these small bays.
Just 6,7Km away from Pylos you could visit Gialova village. In this village you will find the organized beach of Gialova which offers a beautiful view of Niocastro. It is a long beach ideal for families with children. Here you will find plenty of restaurants and café bars in case you might need to drink or eat something.
Very close to Gialova beach you will find another popular beach, the Divari beach also known as Golden beach. It is a long sandy beach which starts from Gialova and ends up to the cape Korifasio with the castle Palaiocastro. While snorkeling in this beach you might see remains of the shipwrecks of this area. At the end of this beach there is also a beach called Perasma tis Sikias. It is in fact a narrow sea lane between the Sfaktiria Island and the mainland. This was in fact the northern entrance of the harbor of Pilos which was controlled by the castle Palaiocastro. The maximum width of this sea lane reaches 150 meters and you might see people swimming across the beach to the Sfaktiria Island.
If you like the idea of swimming and in the same gazing a beautiful medieval castle, visit the beach of Methoni. This long sandy beach near the castle has crystal clear water and due to the swallow water is ideal for families with children.
The beautiful beach Voidokoilia, is about 15,7km away from Pylos. It is the most famous beach of Peloponnese and probably the most beautiful. The unique shape and the natural beauty of this beach astonish the visitor. the beautiful white sand and the crystal clear water of this beach will make you instantly fall in love with this place. The beach is not organized, so the visitor should keep in mind to carry along all the necessary equipment as well as water, food etc. The beach attracts a large number of travelers especially during August. Above the beach you will see the imposing castle Palaiocastro (or Palionavarino). Palaiocastro was built in the 13th century by the Francs in order to control the northern entrance of Navarino Bay. Below the castle there is a large cave which is known as “Nestor’s Cave”, in which according to Greek mythology Hermes hid the cattle which he stole from the Greek god Apollo. The cave was probably inhabited from the Neolithic Period. At the northern edge of the beach there is also an archaeological site, the tomb of Nestor’s son, Thrasymedes. The tomb dates back to the Mycenaean period while findings of the area derive from the Neolithic period. Voidokilia probably was the “sandy Pylos” of the Homeric Poems where the King Nestor welcomed Telemachus when he was searching his father, Odysseus. Near Voidokoilia you will also find the small sandy beach called Glossa beach. Many nudists visit this beach.
About 16km away from Pylos there is the Romanos beach. It is a partly organized beach covered in sand and ideal for those who don’t like overcrowded beaches.
Finikouda is also a great place to visit known for the beautiful Finikouda beach. The distance from Pylos is about 21km. It is a long sandy beach with turquoise water organized with umbrellas and sun beds. Above the beach on the seaside street you will find a lot of traditional restaurants and fish taverns.