The bay of Pylos
The bay of Pylos
Official seal of Pylos
Pylos is located in Greece
Location within the regional unit
DE Pylou.svg
Coordinates: 36°55′N 21°42′E / 36.917°N 21.700°E / 36.917; 21.700Coordinates: 36°55′N 21°42′E / 36.917°N 21.700°E / 36.917; 21.700
Administrative regionPeloponnese
Regional unitMessenia
 • Municipal unit143.91 km2 (55.56 sq mi)
3 m (10 ft)
 • Municipal unit
 • Municipal unit density37/km2 (95/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)
Postal code
240 01
Area code(s)27230
Vehicle registrationKM

Pylos (UK: /ˈpaɪlɒs/, US: /-loʊs/; Greek: Πύλος), historically also known under its Italian name Navarino, is a town and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pylos-Nestoras, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit.[2] It was the capital of the former Pylia Province. It is the main harbour on the Bay of Navarino. Nearby villages include Gialova, Pyla, Elaiofyto, Schinolakka, and Palaionero. The town of Pylos has 2,767 inhabitants, the municipal unit of Pylos 5,287 (2011). The municipal unit has an area of 143.911 km2.[3]

Pylos has a long history, having been inhabited since Neolithic times. It was a significant kingdom in Mycenaean Greece, with remains of the so-called "Palace of Nestor" excavated nearby, named after Nestor, the king of Pylos in Homer's Iliad. In Classical times, the site was uninhabited, but became the site of the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. Pylos is scarcely mentioned thereafter until the 13th century, when it became part of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. Increasingly known by its French name of Port-de-Jonc or its Italian name Navarino, in the 1280s the Franks built the Old Navarino castle on the site. Pylos came under the control of the Republic of Venice from 1417 until 1500, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans used Pylos and its bay as a naval base, and built the New Navarino fortress there. The area remained under Ottoman control, with the exception of a brief period of renewed Venetian rule in 1685–1715 and a Russian occupation in 1770–71, until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt recovered it for the Ottomans in 1825, but the defeat of the Turco-Egyptian fleet in the 1827 Battle of Navarino forced Ibrahim to withdraw from the Peloponnese and confirmed Greek independence.

The name of Navarino

Pylos retained its ancient name down to Byzantine times, but appears after the Frankish conquest in the early 13th century under two names:[4]

  • a French one, Port-de-Jonc ("Rush Harbour") or Port-de-Junch, with some variants and derivatives: in Italian Porto-Junco, Zunchio or Zonchio, in medieval Catalan Port Jonc, in Latin Iuncum, Zonglon/Zonglos (Ζόγγλον/ς or Ζόγκλον/ς) in Greek, etc. It takes that name from the marshes surrounding the place.[4][5]
  • a Greek one, Avarinos (Ἀβαρῖνος), later shortened to Varinos (Βαρῖνος) or lengthened to Anavarinos (Ἀναβαρῖνος) by epenthesis, which became Navarino in Italian (probably by rebracketing) and Navarin in French.[4] Its etymology is not certain. A traditional etymology, proposed by the early 15th-century traveller Nompar de Caumont and repeated as late as the works of Karl Hopf, ascribed the name to the Navarrese Company, but this clearly an error as the name was in use long before the Navarrese presence in Greece. In 1830 Fallmereyer proposed that it could originate from a body of Avars who settled there, a view adopted by a few later scholars like William Miller;[6] modern scholarship on the other hand considers it more likely that it originates from a Slavic name meaning "place of maples".[7][4][5] The name of Avarinos/Navarino, although in use before the Frankish period, came into widespread use, and eclipsed the French name of Port-de-Jonc and its derivations, only in the 15th century, i.e., after the collapse of the Frankish Principality of Achaea.[4]

In the late 14th or early 15th centuries, when it was held by the Navarrese Company, it was also known as Château Navarres, and called Spanochori (Σπανοχώρι, "village of the Spaniards") by the local Greeks.[8]

Under Ottoman rule (1498–1685, 1715–1821), the Turkish name was Anavarin[o]. After the construction of the new Ottoman fortress (Anavarin kalesi) in 1571/2, it became known as Neokastro (Νεόκαστρο or Νιόκαστρο, "new castle") among the local Greeks, while the old Frankish castle became known as Palaiokastro (Παλαιόκαστρο or Παλιόκαστρο, "old castle").[8]


Pylos from the north

The soil about Navarino is of a red colour, and is remarkable for the production of an abundance of squills, which are used in medicine. The rocks, which show themselves in every direction through a scanty but rich soil, are limestone, and present a general appearance of unproductiveness round the castle of Navarino; and the absence of trees is ill compensated by the profusion of sage, brooms, cistus, and other shrubs which start from the innumerable cavities of the limestone.

The remains of Navarino, consist of a fort, covering the summit of a hill sloping quickly to the south, but falling in abrupt precipices to the north and east. The town was built on the southern declivity, and was surrounded by a wall, which, allowing for the natural irregularities of the soil, represented a triangle, with the castle at the summit—a form observable in many of the ancient cities of Greece.

Flora and fauna

The Gialova wetland is a regional blessing of nature. It is one of 10 major lagoons in Greece.[9] and has been classified as one of the important bird areas in Europe.[10] It has also been listed as a 1500-acre archaeological site, lying between Gialova and the bay of Voidokilia. Its alternative name of Vivari is Latin, meaning 'fishponds'. With a depth, at its deepest point, of no more than four meters, it is the southernmost stopover of birds migrating from the Balkans to Africa, giving shelter to no fewer than 225 bird species, among them heron, cormorant, lesser kestrel, Audouin's gull, flamingo, osprey and imperial eagle.[11] It is Gialova, too, which plays host to a very rare species, nearing extinction throughout Europe, the African chameleon. The observation post of the Greek Ornithological Society allows visitors to find out more and to watch the shallow brackish waters of the lake; they can walk the paths that circumscribe Gialova's different ecosystems.[12]


Nestor's Palace
Mycenean tomb
Location of Ancient Pylos ("pu-ro")

Prehistoric and Mycenaean Pylos

Pylos has evidence of continuous human presence dating back to the Neolithic. In Mycenaean times, it was an important centre often referred to as Nestor's kingdom of "sandy Pylos" and described by Homer in Book 17 of the Odyssey when Telemachus says:

we went to Pylos and to Nestor, the shepherd of the people, and he received me in his lofty house and gave me kindly welcome, as a father might his own son who after a long time had newly come from afar: even so kindly he tended me with his glorious sons.[13]

The Mycenaean state of Pylos (1600–1100 BC) covered an area of 2,000 square kilometres (770 sq mi) and had a minimum population of 50,000 according to the Linear B tablets discovered there, or even perhaps as large as 80,000–120,000.[14][15] It included the important regional capital of Iklaina (c. 1600–1100 BC).[16]

The Pylos site was excavated by Carl Blegen between 1939 and 1952. It is located at Ano Englianos, about 9 km northeast of the bay 37°01′41″N 21°41′42″E / 37.028°N 21.695°E / 37.028; 21.695. Blegen identified the remains found there as the great "Palace of Nestor" described in the Homeric poems. Linear B tablets found by Blegen clearly demonstrate that the site itself was called Pylos (Pulos in Mycenaean Greek; attested in Linear B as 𐀢𐀫, pu-ro) by its Mycenaean inhabitants. This site was abandoned sometime after the 8th century BC and burned to the ground.

The ruins of a crude stone fortress on nearby Sphacteria, apparently of Mycenaean origin, were used by the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War. (Thucydides iv. 31)

Classical Pylos

It was one of the last places which held out against the Spartans in the Second Messenian War, upon the conclusion of which the inhabitants emigrated to Cyllene, and from thence, with the other Messenians, to Sicily.[17] From that time its name never occurs in history till the seventh year of the Peloponnesian War. According to the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, the area was "together with most of the country round, unpopulated".[18] The ancient city was not located at the modern Pylos, but north of the isle of Sphacteria. In 425 BC the Athenian politician Cleon sent an expedition to Pylos where the Athenians fortified the rocky promontory now known as Koryphasion (Κορυφάσιον) or Old Pylos at the northern edge of the bay, near the Gialova Lagoon, and after a conflict with Spartan ships in the Battle of Pylos, seized and occupied the bay. Demosthenes, the Athenian commander, completed the fort in 424 BC.

The erection of this fort led to one of the most memorable events in the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides has given a minute account of the topography of the district, which, though clear and consistent with itself, does not coincide, in all points, with the existing locality, Thucydides describes the harbour, of which the promontory Coryphasium formed the northern termination, as fronted and protected by the island Sphacteria, which stretched along the coast, leaving only two narrow entrances to the harbour,--the one at the northern end, opposite to Coryphasium, being only wide enough to admit two triremes abreast, and the other at the southern end wide enough for eight or nine triremes. The island was about 15 stadia in width, covered with wood, uninhabited and untrodden.[19] Pausanias also says that the island Sphacteria lies before the harbour of Pylus like Rheneia before the anchorage of Delos.[20] A little later the Athenians captured a number of Spartan troops besieged on the adjacent island of Sphacteria (see Battle of Sphacteria). Spartan anxiety over the return of the prisoners, who were taken to Athens as hostages, contributed to their acceptance of the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC.

Middle Ages

Little is known of Pylos under Byzantine rule, except for a mention of raids by Cretan Saracens in the area c. 872/3.[21] In the 12th century, the Muslim geographer al-Idrisi mentioned it as the "commodious port" of Irūda in his Nuzhat al-Mushtaq.[21]

In 1204, following the Fourth Crusade, the Peloponnese became the Principality of Achaea, a Crusader state. Pylos fell quickly to the Crusaders according to a brief reference in the Chronicle of the Morea, but it is not until the 1280s that it is mentioned again. According to the French and Greek versions of the Chronicle, Nicholas II of Saint Omer, the lord of Thebes, who in c. 1281 received extensive lands in Messenia in exchange for his wife's possessions of Kalamata and Chlemoutsi, erected a castle at Navarino. According to the Greek version, he intended this as a future fief for his nephew, Nicholas III, although the Aragonese version attributes the construction to Nicholas III himself, a few years later. According to A. Bon, a construction under Nicholas II in the 1280s is more likely, possibly in the period 1287–89 when he served as the viceroy (bailli) of Achaea.[22] Despite Nicholas II's intentions, however, it is unclear whether his nephew did indeed inherit Navarino. If he did, it remained his until his death in 1317, when it and all the Messenian lands of the family reverted to the princely domain, as Nicholas III had no children.[22]

The fortress remained relatively unimportant thereafter, except for the naval battle in 1354 between Venice and Genoa,[21] and an episode in 1364, during the conflict between Mary of Bourbon and the Prince Philip of Taranto, due to Mary's attempt to claim the Principality following the death of her husband, Robert of Taranto. Mary had been given possession of Navarino (along with Kalamata and Mani) by Robert in 1358, and the local castellan, loyal to Mary, briefly imprisoned the new Prince's bailli, Simon del Poggio. Mary retained control of Navarino until her death in 1377.[23] At about this time, Albanians settled in the area, while in 1381/2, Navarrese, Gascon and Italian mercenaries were active there.[21] From the early years of the 15th century, Venice set its eyes on the fortress of Navarino, fearing lest its rivals the Genoese seize it and use it as a base for attacks against the Venetian outposts of Modon and Coron. In the event, the Venetians seized the fortress themselves in 1417 and, after prolonged diplomatic manoeuvring, succeeded in legitimizing their new possession in 1423.[21][24]

First Venetian and first Ottoman periods

In 1423, Navarino, like the rest of the Peloponnese, suffered its first Ottoman raid, led by Turakhan Bey, which was repeated in 1452.[8] It was also at Navarino that Emperor John VIII Palaiologos embarked in 1437, heading for the Council of Ferrara, and where the last Despot of the Morea, Thomas Palaiologos, embarked with his family in 1460, following the Ottoman conquest of the Despotate of the Morea.[8] After 1460, the fortress, along with the other Venetian outposts and Monemvasia and the Mani Peninsula, were the only Christian-held areas in the peninsula.[8][21] Venetian control over Navarino survived the First Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–79), but not the Second (1499–1503): following the Venetian defeat in the Battle of Modon in August 1500, the 3,000-strong garrison surrendered, although it was well provisioned for a siege. The Venetians recaptured it shortly after, on 3/4 December, but on 20 May 1501, a joint Ottoman land and sea attack under Kemal Reis and Hadım Ali Pasha retook it.[8][21]

The new fortress (Neokastro)

The Ottomans used Navarino (which they called Anavarin or Avarna) as a naval base, either for piratical raids or for major fleet operations in the Ionian and Adriatic seas.[21] In 1572/3, the Ottoman chief admiral (Kapudan Pasha) Uluç Ali Reis built a new fortress at Navarino (Anavarin-i Cedid, "New Navarino", or Neokastro in Greek), to replace the outdated Frankish castle.[21]

The Venetians briefly captured Navarino in the 1650s during the Cretan War.[21]

In 1668, Evliya Çelebi described the city in his Seyahatname:

Anavarin-i Atik is an unequalled castle... the harbor is a safe anchorage...
in most streets of Anavarin-i Cedid there are many fountains of running water... The city is embellished with trees and vines so that the sun does not beat into the fine marketplace at all, and all the city notables sit here, playing backgammon, chess, various kinds of draughts, and other board games....

Second Venetian period, Ottoman reconquest and Greek Independence

Surrender of Neocastro during the Greek War of Independence by Peter von Hess
Monument to the Battle of Navarino
Ancient aqueduct

In 1685, during the early stages of the Morean War, the Venetians under Francesco Morosini and Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck invaded the Peloponnese and captured most of it, successfully storming the two fortresses of Navarino in the process. With the peninsula safely in Venetian hands, Navarino became an administrative centre in the new "Kingdom of the Morea", as the Venetian province was called, until 1715, when the Ottomans recovered the Peloponnese.[21] The Venetian census of 1689 gave the population as 1,413, while twenty years later it had risen to 1,797 inhabitants.[21]

After the Ottoman reconquest, Navarino became the centre of a kaza in the Sanjak of the Morea.[21] On 10 April 1770, after a six-day siege, the fortress of New Navarino surrendered to the Russians during the Orlov Revolt. The Ottoman garrison was allowed to depart for Crete, while the Russians repaired the fortress to make it their base. On 1 June, however, the Russians left, and the Ottomans re-entered the fort and burned and partially demolished it.[21] Meanwhile, the population gathered there had escaped to nearby Sphacteria, where Albanian mercenaries of the Ottomans slaughtered most of them.[25]

After the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in mid-March 1821, Navarino was besieged by the local Greeks on 29 March. The garrison, augmented by the local Muslim population of Kyparissia, held out until the first week of August, when they were forced to capitulate. Despite their promise for safe conduct, the Greeks massacred them all.[21]

The Turks under Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt retook most of the Peloponnese in 1825, including the Pylos area, overcoming the Greek defenders at the battles of Sphacteria (29 April) and Neokastro (11 May). The fortress remained in Ottoman hands until the spring 1828, but in October 1827, the combined Ottoman–Egyptian fleets were defeated in the bay at the Battle of Navarino by the allied navies of the United Kingdom, France and Russia. This event negated Ibrahim's successes, and in autumn 1828 his troops withdrew from the Peloponnese.[21]

The modern town

The framework of the modern town of Pylos, outside the walls of Neokastro, was built by the troops of General Maison during the subsequent French Morea expedition of 1828–1833.[21]

The western end of Greek National Road 82 begins in downtown Pylos. The highway runs west to east and links Pylos with Kalamata and Sparta. The area enjoys a favorable climate, with especially mild winters.

Historical population

[citation needed]

Year Town population Municipality population
1981 2,594 -
1991 2,014 5,340
2001 2,104 5,402
2011 2,767 5,287

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ a b "Απογραφή Πληθυσμού - Κατοικιών 2011. ΜΟΝΙΜΟΣ Πληθυσμός" (in Greek). Hellenic Statistical Authority.
  2. ^ Kallikratis law Greece Ministry of Interior (in Greek)
  3. ^ "Population & housing census 2001 (incl. area and average elevation)" (PDF) (in Greek). National Statistical Service of Greece.
  4. ^ a b c d e Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. pp. 415–416.
  5. ^ a b Savvides, Alexis G. K. (1991). "On Pylos-Navarino-Zonklon in the Byzantine period, late 6th-early 13th centuries". Vyzantina. Thessaloniki. 16: 335–338.
  6. ^ Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea, Vol. I, p. 188.
  7. ^ Max Vasmer, Die Slaven in Griechenland, 1941.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Savvides, Alexis G. K. (1992). "Notes on Navarino in the Frankish, Venetian and early Ottoman periods". Ekklisiastikos Faros. Alexandria and Johannesburg. 74: 68–72.
  9. ^ "Cultural Corridors of South East Europe : South East Europe". Retrieved 2014-12-07.
  10. ^ "Mediterranean Wetlands Conference, June 5th-9th 1996, Venice, Italy". Retrieved 2013-08-30.
  11. ^ "Surfbirds Birding Trip Report: Gialova Lagoon, near Pylos, Greece". Retrieved 2013-08-30.
  12. ^ "EUROPA - Youth - European Voluntary Service - Accredited organisations". Retrieved 2013-08-30.
  13. ^ Homer, Odyssey XVII 108-112
  14. ^ Schwartz, G.M.; Nichols, J.J. (2010). After Collapse: The Regeneration of Complex Societies. University of Arizona Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780816529360. Retrieved 2014-12-07.
  15. ^ Wachsmann, S.; Bass, G.F. (2008). Seagoing Ships and Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. Texas A&M University Press. p. 359. ISBN 9781603440806. Retrieved 2014-12-07.
  16. ^ The Iklaina Project.
  17. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 4.18.1. , Pausanias. Description of Greece. 4.23.1.
  18. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. 4.3.
  19. ^ Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. 4.8.
  20. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece. 5.36.6.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Bées, N.; Savvides, A. (1993). "Navarino". The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume VII: Mif–Naz. Leiden and New York: BRILL. pp. 1037–1039. ISBN 90-04-09419-9.
  22. ^ a b Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. p. 416.
  23. ^ Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. pp. 408–410, 416–417.
  24. ^ Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. pp. 284, 417.
  25. ^ Nikolaou, Georgios (1997). "Islamisations et Christianisations dans le Peloponnese (1715- 1832)". Universite des Sciences Humaines - Strasbourg II: 183. doi:10.12681/eadd/8139. Retrieved 9 December 2015. A suivi l'abandon de Navarin. La flotille russe quitta le Péloponnèse entre le 26 mai et le 6 juin, n'emmenant avec elle que les chefs de la révolte: quelques évêques et des notables. La foule, qui implorait en vain leur aide, fut contrainte de se réfugier dans l'îlot voisin de Sphaktiria pour se sauver. La plupart d'entre eux furent exterminés par les Albanais


  • John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, Fariba Zarinebaf-Shahr, "Pylos Regional Archaeological Project, Part III: Sir William Gell's Itinerary in the Pylia and Regional Landscapes in the Morea in the Second Ottoman Period", Hesperia 69:3:343-380 (July–September 2000) at JSTOR
  • Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennet, and Jack L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th century, Hesperia Supplement 34, Princeton, 2005. ISBN 0-87661-534-5. A study combining archaeological and survey results with information from the Ottoman archives.
  • Diana Gilliland Wright, book review of Zarinebaf et al., Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies 8:10:1-16 (2005). A very complete summary of Zarinebaf. PDF.
  • Jack L. Davis (ed.), Sandy Pylos. An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino. Second edition. Princeton, NJ: ASCSA Publications, 2008. Pp. lix, 342; figs. 135.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1854–1857). "Pylus". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. London: John Murray.

External links

  • Official website (in Greek)
  • Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) – University of Cincinnati
    • PRAP: Tour of Hall 64 and its Environs – QuickTime reconstruction and tour of Hall 64 and surroundings
  • Perseus on Pylos
  • The Pylos Project – University of Minnesota
  • Pylos (Epano Englianos) – Metis QTVR collection of QT panoramas relating to the site
  • Παλαιό Ναυαρίνο (Old Navarino), Greek Ministry of Culture (in Greek)
  • Νιόκαστρο (New Navarino), Greek Ministry of Culture (in Greek)