We have fallen in love with Navarino Bay on the Péloponnèse, as evidenced by our week long stay here! This is our third anchorage within this huge bay, and it’s been great. There are a few other boats here at anchor with us, but everyone has done a great job with keeping a respectable distance from one another. This tends to be a real rarity in Greece for some reason, and many seem to feel the need to anchor nice and close to everyone else. We chose our spot right outside the town of Pilos which is basically the city center of this bay. We really wanted to explore some of the inland sights here which meant renting a car and leaving the boat behind at anchor. Our anchor was dug in nice and deep, so we waited for a somewhat calm wind day and headed to shore.
As mentioned in our previous post, we had spent a day hiking up to Nestor’s Castle. Nestor was the legendary King of Pilos described in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Bet you want to go read it now, don’t you? Having already explored Nestor’s Castle, our first stop today was Nestor’s Palace, at least what was left of it. It is believed that the palace was abandoned after a fire around 1200 BC and later covered over, so it is one of the best preserved sites of a Mycenean palace. This was one of the more interesting archaeological sites that I have seen because they have built a catwalk structure over top of the entire site which allows you to look down on the ruins from above rather than from behind a rope or fence. All the artifacts that had been excavated from the palace had been moved to a museum (our next stop), so what we were looking at was the basic footprint of the palace itself. There was a remarkably preserved bathtub still on site. Not far from the palace was one of several tholos tombs to be discovered. I have explored many tombs in a lot of places around the world, but none were quite like this. The tholos tomb is built as a round, bee-hive type structure with a very high domed ceiling. They were built by the late Bronze Age Mycenean people.
Our next stop was the museum where the antiquities from the palace were on display. There were vast amounts of clay pottery, frescoes, tablets with script, weapons, arrowheads, amphorae, and jewelry. The very large jars and amphorae were often filled with wine or olive oil and given to the king as a tax payment. Many of the pieces had been painstakingly put back together like a 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzles. One can only imagine the endless hours that went into sorting through the thousands of pieces to figure out which pieces went where and to which object. It was all very impressive (but then I have always had an incredible fascination with archaeology….a missed calling, I think…..or maybe I was one in a past life! Haha). When we finished with the museum, we decided to head to Nestor’s Winery to do some wine tasting (and of course pick up some of Nestor’s wine). Unfortunately, we got skunked. They were not open to the public the day we arrived. Oh well.
Since we had the car and a calm wind day (we don’t like to be off the boat at anchor if the wind is going to be really strong or shifty), we decided to really wring the most out of this day and see as much as we possibly could. We headed further down the Péloponnèse Peninsula to the town of Methoni. Originally, we had planned to sail there as part of our circumnavigation of the peninsula. We ended up aborting our plan to circumnavigate this year due to our very late start to the sailing season. The Cyclades (the eastern side of the peninsula) is known for wicked winds called the Meltemi. These winds are the worst in July and August and can blow really hard for many days at a time. We have sailed in them before, and they were NOT fun. Given our shortened season, we decided that we will circumnavigate next season when we can hopefully get back in April. Anyway, our destination in Methoni was another castle. A beautiful Turkish tower graces the entrance to the harbor and is in amazing shape. The grounds were absolutely huge. It is said that this area has been a favored region since ancient times, and it is easy to see why. Homer mentioned that it is was ‘rich in vines’ and under the Venetians it was renowned for its wine and pork. The Venetian castle is on the headland and surrounded by the sea on 3 sides. The castle was built by the Venetians around the 13th century, and the harbor was considered important on trading routes to the Levant and Venice. I had never heard of Levant and therefore had to look it up. Apparently it was a large area in Southwest Asia. Around 1500 the castle was taken by Beyazid II (apparently he was considered infamous, and the inhabitants were massacred. The Turks lost it and then retook it again in 1715. This was by far my favorite castle ruins we have seen so far.
Our final stop on our journey took us back to the town of Pilos, and the castle located on the headland as you enter Navarino Bay. We have read that the castle was built by the Franks and later the Venetians, but it was the Turks who built up the fort sometime after 1498) to the size it currently is. It was recently restored and houses a couple of museums including a museum of underwater archaeology. It also contains a beautiful little church which was once a mosque. Here too, the grounds were massive. We walked along the wall walk of the castle remains and explored the large, inside courtyard where a variety of artifacts were on display. We wandered through both of the museums which contained many more artifacts including a clay jar filled with sand and the skeletal remains of two infants. As with some other posts, I’ve tried to give you a brief introduction to the sites and then let the pictures and captions tell the whole story.
Navarino Bay has definitely been one of our favorite stops on our journey through Greece, and we definitely hope to return here again. A few other highlights of our visit here….Dan and I went for a morning swim (we try to swim a mile a few times a week for fitness). On this particular morning, we were swimming from the boat towards shore when I spotted something below me (no, not a shark!) There on the seabed was a well intact amphora! I was stunned to see this artifact just laying there. Unfortunately we did not have a camera with us since we were only swimming for a workout. Needless to say, I left it untouched where it rested. It was beyond exciting to see though. Once we were back on board, excitement number 2 unfolded. The Coast Guard decided to do their rounds (we had been here almost a week and had never seen them). They came steaming out of the marina and sure enough, they bee-lined straight for us. They did a very slow cruise around our entire boat and then hovered at our stern. I quickly went inside to gather all our paperwork, figuring paperwork and questions would be next. In the end, we all waved at each other, and they went on their way. As I have said before, this is a bit like getting pulled over at home. You know you haven’t done anything wrong, but it makes you uneasy none the less (especially when you are a foreign guest and the rules/laws are often open to interpretation by those enforcing them). We have also noticed the islands tend to be behind in getting the updated changes in rules.
Sadly, it was time for us to go. We had our weather window to make our way back north. The prevailing winds in this part of the world blow from the Northwest….the exact direction we were headed. Doing an overnight passage was on our list of new experiences this year, so we decided this would be the night. The wind had been pretty strong for several days and the seas were up. Since we would be sailing, or should I say motoring, directly into the oncoming wind, a night passage should be less uncomfortable. Stay tuned for our next post as we make our way back up north and into some new adventures.