The Castle At Koroni

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Over the past three thousand years the Messenian Peloponnese has suffered so many phases of foreign invasion it is hard to know where to start unravelling its history.  Best stick with the built remains then. This massive medieval bastion belongs to Koroni Castle, built in the early 1200s CE by the Venetians, and one of a string of Messenian coastal forts controlled by the Republic until 1500.

The Turks invaded next. After summary slaughter in neighbouring Methoni, so spurring Koroni to a quick surrender, they set about strengthening the  castle’s eastern defences, which perhaps included this tower. It is hard to track down details. One Greek writer, whose identity I am yet to discover, described Koroni Castle as ‘the architecture of hate.’ He had a point. Venice anyway regained control in 1685, and of course the Turks came back again later, staying until the Revolution of 1821, which finally ousted them.

Koroni’s historic heyday, though, was the thirteenth century. Under the first round of Venetian rule it was referred to as ‘the chief eyes of the Republic’, and as such, was one of the main ports of call for the ships and galleys of Venice’s Levantine trade. Its must-have product was cochineal, much desired by Venetians for the lustrous dye it yielded.  So now you know where that gorgeous Venetian red came from – this small corner of the Peloponnese.

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Today, you can spend many hours wandering around the castle’s 40 hectare interior. It is then you begin to grasp that before the Venetians occupied Koroni there were invader Franks on site – they of the French-Italian Crusader States. And before them, in the era of the Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople, there was a Byzantine fort. This had apparently been built atop an ancient acropolis. And long before the Byzantine presence – that is from around 700 BCE and for a few hundred years, the Spartans were in occupation, so muddying the archaeological remains of the very much earlier Bronze Age Mycenaean period (1400-1100 BCE) and the ancient settlement of Assini.

And these are just the barest bones of Koroni’s history.

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There are also astonishing present-day aspects. The first that strikes you is that people actually live inside the castle. As you walk up from the towering seaward gateway, you find yourself on an ancient cobbled street, and next there are cottages with pretty gardens, and later we come on an olive grove and a small holding. As ever, there are many cats about. There is also a cemetery which is in current use, several churches, ancient and modern, used and disused, and a monastery that is now only inhabited by nuns. The latter has a tranquil garden and a gift shop and picturesque cottages where the nuns live, and you are free to wander around.

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This next and final shot is was taken just outside the monastery entrance, one of the several sacred buildings built cheek by jowl in this part of the castle interior. It is dedicated to Saint Sophia and, dating from the 11th century Byzantine period, overlies the ancient temple precincts of Apollo. At which point you lose all grasp of time, since there is simply too much of it to fathom, and decide that a swift downhill return to a harbour taverna and an enlivening cappuccino is definitely called for.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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Koroni Castle CORONELLI, Vincenzo 1688  Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation Library

 

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: Bricks or Stones

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35 thoughts on “The Castle At Koroni

    1. In the UK all our so called ‘heritage’ sites are so orderly, manicured, signed and explained. It was quite a journey of exploration going round Koroni. We only touched the surface 🙂

      1. Oh, I’ve been to places like that in the past….the Pont du Gard sans railings many years ago, an old Maginot fort etc…..

  1. Every castle I have been in has been cold and damp, even the one in the middle of the desert up near the Hermon in Israel — a giant castle that crossed a wadi and probably was bigger than Jerusalem at that time. Leveled by earthquake, but it was damp too.

    Do you think all that dampness increased the desire to fight? Do we think cold, damp people with permanent head colds are more contentious and ready to pulverize the next guy into human mush … just in hope of getting warm somehow? Or is it just that it’s getting cold and I refuse to turn on the heat until November?

    People actually LIVED in those great stone caves. And this was considered “luxury.” I think I might have been happier in the woods … in a REAL cave. If people still live in them, may I hope they have done sometime to improve the heat and mould issues?

    1. I’m not sure what Koroni castle would have been like in the middle. It looks now as if it was just a big defensive wall, so maybe they had more decent accommodation inside. i.e. houses. But I take your point about damp and mouldy castles. The ones in Wales must have been especially bleak. I seem to remember reading a piece by Voltaire in which he put Edward First’s notorious temper down to constipation on account of the cold wind blowing off the sea up into his Carnarvon Castle garderobe.

  2. It is cool that people still live there. I enjoyed all the photos and the history. Greece was one of the places I was most glad to visit in the 70’s, as I’d read so much of its history. Quite a place.

    janet

  3. Wonderful. And I love the fact it’s still in use. I take your point about so many of our heritage sites being manicured; very true. I was reminded of it when tootling about a castle on Kefalonia – the place would’ve given anyone from the National Trust kittens. And not a sticky bun or bar of soap in sight. Then you read about someone suing English Heritage because they fell down a castle moat… I am going to write a post about the risk assessments they had to undertake before embarking upon, or defending against, a medieval siege. Love post – thank you.

    1. Many thanks, Mike. It’s quite a topic ‘health and safety’ on heritage sites. And while one doesn’t want people to be injured by falling through rotten floors, or have turrets drop on their heads, I do think people, and especially children, need to have the chance the learn to be responsible for their own safety, and thus exercise discretion. It’s a valuable life skill after all. Look forward to your post on the topic. Doing risk assessments for the simplest events are hair-raising.

  4. Very interesting background you have dug up to go with these powerful photos. Amazing that people still live there. Upkeep costs must be huge, not to mention heating costs, then they probably are happy to live in crumbling splendour

    1. Now I need to explain it better. People aren’t living in the fortified parts of the castle, just within the big and rather wild middle. It’s more like a small rural village with rambling gardens. I don’t know how old the cottages are, perhaps 19th century, and probably built from recycled castle towers. I think the important thing to locals is the enduring sense of sacred space at what appears to be the longest occupied part of the interior – i.e. where the monastery is and the surrounding multi-period church remains – one of which was converted to a mosque during Ottoman times. Then there is another sacred area outside but up against the castle wall, where another church has been built. And all starting with Apollo’s temple in prehistory – or maybe even before him…

      1. Totally fascinating Tish, that feeling of antiquity must be over powering. I would just love to wander round a place that old. Though I guess I came as close as it gets over here staying at Glen Helen!!,

  5. I’m just jealous and totally intrigued by the depth of human connection to one place; think how many people have seen that view across the harbor which you captured in a photo through a castle wall opening.-and, the fill of arches within arches on Saint Sophia-
    Holly

    1. That’s a magic thought, Holly, a little scary too – all those generations of people who have stood where we stood, and taken in the same scene. Were they keeping watch for enemy ships? Waiting for a merchant ship to return home after months away? Legions of stories here; a million perspectives 🙂

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