Fortress with a View: The Castle of Zakynthos
On your holiday in Greece why not spend a day in Zakynthos Town and make sure you set aside a couple of hours to visit the Venetian Castle. This centuries-old fortress offers a fascinating glimpse into the island’s long and often turbulent history. The serene pine forest among which the ruins now lie are a world away from the bustling town below. And the 360-degree views from its elevated position are hard to beat. Take my word for it – it’s worth the walk!
There are spectacular views across the port from the battlements.
The pine forest adds to the site’s peaceful, ancient atmosphere.
The castle stands on a hilltop behind the main part of the town. Just below it, the pretty village of Bochali is a pleasant place for a brief stop. Have a look around the church and fortify yourself with an ice-cream in the village square on your way up. The castle isn’t far from here, but the ruins are hidden away on a plateau further up in the hill. Just follow the road up through the village and eventually you’ll see the fortress walls towering in front of you.
The 16th-century stone road leading into the castle will take you on trail back in time.
No one knows for sure when the first settlement was built here. It’s likely that this was the site of an ancient acropolis called Psofida. But it may have been inhabited even before that – recent archaeological digs have unearthed prehistoric tools. The earliest ruins that can be seen on the site are those of the Church of Sotiros, which dates from the late 12th or early 13th century. Since that time, various structures have been built here and then destroyed by earthquakes or invaders.
The chapel of Sotiros is one of the oldest buildings inside the fortress walls – and one of the best-preserved.
The fortress was attacked by the Turks in the early 16th century but was rebuilt in 1515 by the victorious Venetians. During the following 300 years of Venetian rule, the castle was the hub of the island. It served as the administrative centre and the home of the occupier’s armed forces. It also provided a place of safety for islanders fleeing attack at sea level below.
The Venetian symbol of the Lion of St Mark is carved into a plaque above the gateway.
Throughout those years, the fortress was rebuilt several times. Most of what remains today dates from a rebuilding that was completed in 1646. This includes the walls and interior defensive system. Venetian engineers also designed a sewage and water system that was pretty advanced for its time.
Explore the tunnels and vaults along the eastern wall of the fortress.
A Tour of the Ruins
From the moment you step inside the gate, you get a sense of the fortress’s strength. Despite the crumbling ruins, the walls marking its perimeter are still imposing. Old cannons remain as a rusting testament to its former firepower.
The view across to Kefalonia from the castle walls. The sheer drop down the hillside made this the perfect location for a defensive structure.
Signs marking the various ruins allow you to follow a marked route around the site. But it’s equally satisfying just to roam through the pines to see what you can find. Among the remains you might stumble across are those of at least five churches, including the 14th century Church of St Francis.
The outline of the Church of the Virgin Mary Laurentaina can be clearly seen.
Other than its outer defences and religious buildings, remains from the Venetian period include the large and small gunpowder stores, and stone-vaulted prisons.
The British made use of the Venetians’ powderhouses.
As well as the Venetian influence, evidence also remains of the British presence here. When they took control of Zakynthos in 1809, they also chose the castle as their administrative and military centre. They began a conversation programme on the site, preserving the old buildings and adding more to meet their needs. You can see signs of the old British sports ground, as well as their headquarters and barracks.
The remains of the British barracks.
Flying the Flag
Before you leave, stop at the eastern battlement to enjoy a panorama that takes in the mainland across the sparkling water as well as the colourful port and town of Zakynthos below. The flags of several nations have been raised on the flagpole here over the centuries. The Venetians, Russians, Turks, British and French have all exerted control over the island in the past. Today, however, the Greek flag flies proudly above the island’s capital – a symbol of its hard-won independence.
The Greek flag has flown here since the Second World War.
Find a shady spot near the walls and share a picnic while enjoying the spectacular views.
The castle is open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Last admission is 2.30 p.m.
It is closed on Mondays. Tickets are €4.
Here at the Asteri Collection we can organise tours to the castle and other interesting excursions. Find out more about the luxury villas at The Asteri Collection and book your holiday to the wonderful island of Zakynthos, Greece now.
By Sonya Newland
In an area of outstanding natural beauty on the unspoilt corner of North East Zakynthos you will discover an idyllic spot to spend your Zakynthos experience. Hugged by hills covered in Cypress and Olive trees with views overlooking the sparkling Ionian ocean this is the home of The Asteri Collection.
These three beautifully designed villas have been inspired by the traditional Greek ‘sugar cube’ houses and are a study in bohemian luxury. Here you will find stunning views, luxurious interiors and elegant landscaping.
Private and secluded yet within walking distance of the famous Peligoni Club and the local beach and restaurants of Agios Nikolias these villas cater for all ages and welcome families. Here you can experience laid-back luxury at its best.