One of the best things about Nafplio is how close it is to so many amazing things to see. There are two nearby sights that everyone pretty much has to see: Epidavros and Mycenae.
Epidavros (also spelled Epidaurus) is a mere 30 km east of Nafplio. Epidavros was a small city in ancient Greece where people went to be healed of whatever ailed them. Sick folks would spend the night and a god named Asclepius (the son of Apollo) would either (1) cure them as they slept or (2) tell them in their dreams what they needed to do to regain their health. And, the people of Epidavros also practiced the well-known art of snake licking as another form of cure. Not sure either of those things actually worked (seriously, snake licking?????), but I guess you believe what you believe, right?
Today, the main attraction in Epidavros is the theater, which was built around 340-333 B.C. and which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Back in the day, the theater sat 12,000 people. Unfortunately, these days the theater has a reputation for excellent acoustics, which leads to lots of tourists standing in the front and reciting poetry or plays while their friends sit in the cheap seats and hope to hear them. Annoying beyond belief. Thank goodness our phones can erase those people from our photos!
Mycenae is another UNESCO World Heritage site. The city of Mycenae is said to have been founded by Perseus (a slayer of monsters). Depending on who you believe, Mycenae is either the place where Perseus found a spring near a mushroom or where his sword scabbard fell to the ground. Neither explanation seems like a good excuse for where to build a city, but what do I know?
Mycenae was abandoned more than 2000 years ago and today it stands largely in ruin. But, it is still pretty cool.
In addition to Epidavros and Mycenae, there are also plenty of smaller, but no less interesting, sights around Nafplio.
For example, did you know there are pyramids in Greece? Yep, the Pyramid of Hellinikon (also written Elliniko) is found just outside of Nafplio. Does that mean the Greeks were somehow connected to the Egyptians? Unfortunately, nobody seems to know because there is a great dispute as to when the pyramid was built. Scientists have placed the age of the pyramid at anywhere from 2800-300 B.C. (with the predominant theory that the Greek pyramids post-date the Egyptian pyramids).
There is also great dispute as to the purpose of the pyramid. Some people think it was a tomb for soldiers, others think it was a tower to send smoke signals, others think it was a fort, and still others think it was a small observatory. In any event, having seen the Egyptian pyramids, I have to say that the Pyramid of Hellinikon certainly isn’t as impressive as the Egyptian pyramids (and I doubt it was when it was not in ruins), but it was still pretty cool to see a pyramid in Greece. And, even cooler that it is just in the middle of a field and treated like no big deal.
The Ancient Theater of Argos is also well worth a visit. We saw it on a rainy day and had the place to ourselves for most of our visit. Ahhh….the joys of visiting in off-season!
The theater was built in the early 3rd century B.C. and could hold 20,000 people. It is one of the largest ancient theaters in Greece. It is built on the side of a hill and much of it is literally carved into the rock. It was significantly remodeled during Hadrian’s time and even had a roof added to it (which is long gone). The thinking is the Romans even managed to flood part of the theater in order to conduct mock naval battles. The leftover water was then pumped to nearby baths. How crazy is that?
Not far from Argos is Larissa Castle. It has been standing over the city of Argos since the 6th century B.C., although it sounds like much of what is standing today was built much later. We didn’t get to visit because, just as we drove up, the skies opened and began pouring down rain. But, if/when we ever make it back to Nafplio, it will be on our list.
Not too far from Nafplio you can also find what just might be the oldest bridge still in use today. There are four Mycenaean era bridges nearby. One of them, the Arkadiko Bridge was built between 1300 and 1190 B.C. and was built for chariots. The Mycenaen bridges were made from limestone boulders all squeezed together without the use of mortar. You can still walk across them today. In all honestly, I’m not at all sure which of the four bridges we saw, as our map simply said “Mycenaean Bridge,” but it could have been the Arkadiko Bridge.
Right near Mycenae is the Tomb of Agamemnon (also known as the Treasury of Atreus). The tomb was built between 1400 and 1200 B.C. Nobody really knows who (if anyone) was buried there, but odds are it wasn’t actually Agamemnon.
And, finally, right near Mycenae is the ancient city of Iraio. I can’t tell you much about it — we just saw it on a map and stopped — but it is another one of those places where the Greeks have shrugged and apparently said “more ruins, whatever.” There was no entrance fee and very little in the way of renovations, but it was a nice place to stretch our legs without a single other person around.
We didn’t even see all that there is to see near Nafplio. Guess that just means there has to be a next time!