Greece is known for its ancient civilisations. Rich in philosophy, music, literature and science, the Ancient Greeks are also known for their incredible structures. From the ancient worlds to newer constructions, there are around 800 castles dotted across the mainland and the islands. The Venetians, Ottomans and Byzantines built many Greek castles along the shores of the Mediterranean, often as a defence against frequent pirate raids between the 14th and 15th centuries.
As well as stand-alone castles, Greece has fortresses and walled cities. Although there are many castles still standing in all their glory, a large number are in ruins. Whether visiting a remarkably well preserved Greek castle or exploring the archeological site of its ruins, these Greek defensive structures are a marvel to see. So here are 20 castles in Greece to get you started.
- Castles in Greece
- 20 Fairytale Fortresses and Castles in Greece
- 1- Methoni Fortress
- 2- Fyli Fortress
- 3- Bourtzi Fortress, Nafplio
- 4- White Tower, Thessaloniki
- 5- Heraklion Fortress
- 6- Agios Nikolaos Fortress
- 7- Ioannina Castle
- 8- Corfu Castle, Corfu Island
- 9- Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights
- 10- The Fortress of Kavala
- 11- Castle of Skyros
- 12- Castle of Monolithos
- 13- Mystras Castle, Peloponnese
- 14- Castle of Lepanto
- 15- Castle of Astypalaia
- 16- Chlemoutsi Castle
- 17- Monemvasia Castle
- 18- Fortress of Rethymno
- 19- Arta Castle
- 20- Assos Castle
- 20 Fairytale Fortresses and Castles in Greece
Castles in Greece
20 Fairytale Fortresses and Castles in Greece
1- Methoni Fortress
The Venetians built Methoni Fortress during the 13th century on a rocky peninsula surrounded by water connected by a stone bridge to the mainland.
The castle is breathtaking to see from the shore, with its bridge snaking up to the sandy brick structure, surrounding blue waters with just a glimpse of the mountains behind.
Despite its unique location, the castle was not immune from attack.
The Ottoman’s invaded the castle and eventually added their design touches; however, much of the original Venetian flourishes remain.
Visit the church of Asia Sofia to see some of the original Venetian emblems carved into the stone.
Methoni Fortress is at Methoni, Messinia, Peloponnese, 240 06.
2- Fyli Fortress
Fyli Fortress is one of the oldest castles in Greece and an Athenian fortress that dates from the 4th century.
The castle sits atop a cliff 687m (2253ft) and is part of a more comprehensive series of defences from Athenian time.
Fyli was designed to serve as a defence for a narrow pass through Mount Parnes, stretching from Athens to Thebes.
Visiting the fortress is like stepping back in time and offers views over the historical city of Athens.
Fyli Fortress is at Fyli, Mount Parnitha, Attica.
3- Bourtzi Fortress, Nafplio
Another of Greece’s spectacular water castles is Bourtzi Fortress. The name Bourtzi comes from the Turkish meaning ‘the tower’.
Antonio Gambello, an Italian architect, built the fortress in 1471 on an islet in the port of Nafplion.
The design mirrors the islet it sits atop as its structure is narrow.
The Venetians further fortified the fortress three years after completion to protect the structure from pirates that plagued the area.
An unusual design feature of the castle is its movable stairs that connect the three floors.
Sadly the castle is not open to the public, however, boat tours from the local harbour allow visitors the chance to see the castle up close from the water.
Look out for a carving of the Lion of Saint Mark. Three carvings originally existed in the castle, but the last remaining carving is at the sea side of the castle.
Bourtzi Castle is at Nafplio Harbour.
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4- White Tower, Thessaloniki
White Tower is an instantly recognisable castle in Thessaloniki and a famous landmark in Greece.
This beautiful tower is located on the water’s edge and offers visitors incredible views over the Thermaic Gulf from the top of the tower.
Beneath the tower is a Byzantine fortification, with the White Tower added in the 15th century.
The White Tower has served as a military garrison and a prison.
Following a bloody history that saw fierce battles involving the tower, the locals gave it the nickname ‘Tower of Blood’.
It was painted white in 1891 to try to change this name and improve its reputation.
White Tower is at Thessaloniki, 546 21.
5- Heraklion Fortress
Heraklion Fortress is one of the Green castles known by a different name. The fortress sometimes goes by the name ‘Koules’, which is the Turkish word for fortress.
Designed in a Venetian style, the fortress dates back to the 13th century.
The fortress’ two stories was designed to guard the port entry and served as a location to store food and military supplies.
It was destroyed in 1303 and went through several rebuilds across the following centuries involving the Genoese and Ottomans.
Heraklion Fortress is at Heraklion, 712 02.
6- Agios Nikolaos Fortress
The Venetians built Agios Nikolaos Fortress during the late 15th century.
Like many fortresses built by the waters, it was designed to protect the surrounding area from pirates.
The castle was positioned at a height to see potential attackers or raiders before they reached land to prepare the area for battle.
Agios Nikolaos gets its name from a church carved into rocks of the same name celebrating Saint Nicholas.
Sadly, most of the fortress was destroyed when an earthquake in 1956 collapsed most of the structure into the sea below.
Agios Nikolaos Fortress is at Rhodes 851 00.
7- Ioannina Castle
Ioannina Castle is the oldest Byzantine castle in Greece and dates back to the 6th century.
The castle became the centre of Greece during the time of Ottoman Rule.
It is unclear who first built the castle, however, the first written record naming it is from Bishop Zacharias in 879.
The castle was built on a rocky peninsula on the shores of Lake Pamvotis.
Additions to the castle were added over the years, which helped to fortify the castle from attack.
Ioannina Castle is at Glikidon 2, Ioannina, Epirus.
8- Corfu Castle, Corfu Island
Corfu Castle, sometimes referred to as ‘Old Fortress’ is another of Greece’s Venetian fortresses.
Archeological findings prove a structure has been at the site since the 6th century, after the destruction of the ancient city of Corcyra.
The castle remained largely unchanged until the 11th century, when further fortifications were made to strengthen its defences.
A moat surrounds the castle and helped stave off three major Ottoman attacks.
Corfu Castle is at Corfu, 491 00.
9- Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights
Rhodes is a medieval town filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the incredible Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes.
The Knights of St John built the palace in the 14th century as a residence for a local governor.
When the Turks took over, the palace was transformed into a fortress and added built added protections.
The palace is made from pale stone, and the light grey tiled courtyard emphasises its brightness finished with large white squares.
Wander underneath the impressive vaulted ceilings around the edge of the courtyard to escape the heat. Then head inside to marvel at its artefacts in the museum.
The palace is remarkably well preserved and is open to visits from the public.
Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights is at Ippoton, Rhodes, 851 00.
10- The Fortress of Kavala
The Fortress of Kavala sits high above the city below and dates back to the 15th century.
Kavala’s fortress is built on top of Christoupolis (the Byzantine name for Kavala) Acropolis, which was destroyed in 1391.
Throughout its history, numerous civilisations have taken over the Fortress of Kavala and, therefore, added to and developed in their unique styles.
The Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans all affected change at the fortress.
Visitors to the fortress can enjoy the cistern, towers and guardhouse.
Look out for events held at the fortresses open-air theatre, which hosts several theatre productions and performances every year.
The Fortress of Kavala is at Ermionis, Kavala, 652 01.
11- Castle of Skyros
Many castles are built at height for strategic advantage over invading armies, and the Castle of Skyros is no different.
As well as protecting the town from invading armies, the castle was also designed to protect the citizens from pirates.
The castle has an incredible history and has stood in one form or another in the exact location since the times of Greek mythology.
It is at the Castle of Skyros where Achilles hid, dressed as a woman to avoid the looming Trojan war.
There are few areas of the castle today that are not in ruin, however, some of its details have survived the years.
Visit the monastery of Agios Georgio’s, a 10th-century structure that is still in good condition.
Castle of Skyros is at Skyros, Sporades.
12- Castle of Monolithos
Sitting regally above the foundations of an older castle, the Castle of Monolithos sits atop a hill on the island of Rhodes.
The castle offered the island of Rhodes a strategic vantage point over the Mediterranean.
Its hard-to-reach rocky outcrop location meant that it would be challenging to access the castle even if attackers reached the island.
The Ottomans, who tried numerous times to sack the castle, failed and returned empty-handed.
Much of the castle sadly is ruined, and only the outer sections of the fortifications remain. These sections are, however in good condition.
Castle of Monolithos is at Epar.Od. Monolinthou-Frourio Monolinthou 89, Monolithos 851 08.
13- Mystras Castle, Peloponnese
Geoffrio de Villehardouin built many castles in Greece, including Mystras Castle.
Mystras was built in 1249 during the prosperous Byzantine era.
Despite Villehardouin, a Frankish nobleman, building the castle, the Greeks soon took it over.
This takeover served as a bridge between the two cultures and led to beautiful pieces of art that took influence from both societies.
Evidence of this artwork adorns the frescoes within the churches.
The castle and surrounding fortified town are now abandoned but residents resided within its walls until the 1920s.
Mystras Castle is at Mystras, Peloponnese.
14- Castle of Lepanto
The Castle of Lepanto is an extremely well-preserved hilltop castle overlooking the port of Nafpaktos.
The castle began its life as a Greek structure, but it was invaded and modified over the centuries like many others in the country.
The Venetians, English and Turks all invaded the castle.
The castle is famous for the Battle of Lepanto, where in 1571, the Spanish, Venetians and Habsburgs fought against the Ottoman Empire.
The walls of the ancient port guard the mouth of the harbour.
Castle of Lepanto is at Nafpaktos 303 00.
15- Castle of Astypalaia
Giovanni Queruini, a Venetian official, built the Castle of Astypalaia in 1413 atop the ruins of an ancient acropolis.
The castle was built to protect the city surrounding it and its inhabitants.
It’s perched on a hill giving it a tremendous military advantage over potential attackers. Adding to its defences is only one entrance.
The castle is stunning to view from a distance, with sand-coloured and dark brick and beautiful white-walled churches topped with azure-blue domes.
Sadly much of the castle was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1950s, however, the castle has been partially renovated.
Castle of Astypalaia is at Astypalaia, Dodecanese, 859 00.
16- Chlemoutsi Castle
Geoffroi de Villehardouin built Chlemoutsi Castle in the 13th century when Greece was under Frankish rule.
The castle is an impressive example of 13th-century French architecture.
Over the years, as rule changed in Greece, the castle was added to by the Byzantines and Ottomans.
The castle is on a cliff overlooking the sea, giving it a strategic advantage over potential attacks on water.
Today, this position simply serves as a beautiful vista point across the water and Zakynthos.
Clemoutsi Castle is at Avravidas, Kyllini, Peloponnese.
17- Monemvasia Castle
Perhaps the most important medieval fortress in Greece is Monemvasia Castle, which sits on a plateau 100m (328ft) above the waters below, giving it an excellent vantage point.
The castle’s architects chose this clifftop location as it collected to a narrow road that led to the mainland.
Monemvasia translates to ‘one-way’, as the road was the only route to the mainland from this area, positioning the castle to prevent barbarian raids.
Thanks to the high levels of masonry craftsmanship and the extensive use of vaults below, it’s in remarkable condition.
Monemvasia Castle is at Monemvasia, 230 70.
18- Fortress of Rethymno
The Venetians built the Fortress of Rethymno in the late 1500s to protect the city and port from the Turks.
The fortress is a unique star shape with three gated entrances and six ramparts.
It was captured in 1646 by the Ottomans and much of the fortress remained the same, however, the church was transformed into a mosque.
Today the fortress is mostly a ruin, however, it still makes for an interesting explore to understand the civilisation at the time.
The views from the fortress are also worth the climb.
Fortezza of Rethymno is at Rethymno, Crete.
19- Arta Castle
Arta is a 13th-century castle that was used as a fortress during its golden years, however, it was also a prison and even a hotel.
Today the castle is open to the public and hosts several cultural events during the summer months.
The overgrown grounds add to the abandoned yet the mysterious and intriguing feel of the castle.
Arta is at Arta, 471 00.
20- Assos Castle
One of Greece’s most spectacular ruined castles is Assos Castle, which the Venetians built in the 16th century as a fortress-state.
The castle became the capital of North Kefalonia and served as the seat of the Venetian governor.
The castle was designed to serve as a defence from pirates in the area and protect its inhabitants from potential Turkish threats.
Despite the castle crumbling to ruin, many areas of the castle are still identifiable. Explore the house of the Venetian High Commissioner and the church.
Like many of the castles in Greece with coastal locations, Assos offers incredible views over the bay below.
Assos Castle is at Assos, Frourio, Kefalonia.