Psaromachalas – A walk in the oldest neighbourhood of Nafplio

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The soul of Nafplio has lived here for years now, intact and pure.

Theodoros Kostouros (1913-1986)
Cape Nafplio and Argolic Gulf – Far right the two large houses that were demolished to build the Amfitryon Hotel in 1954 (Photo: Periklis Papachatzidakis 1930-1950 – Benaki Museum Archive)
The Cape of Nafplio, the Amfitryon Hotel and Acronafplia (December 2021)

Nafplio (Ναύπλιο) is a historic and beautiful city, and capital of the Prefecture of Argolida (Αργολίδα). From references to Greek Mythology to modern history, Nafplio played a leading role in the history of Peloponnese and Greece in general. It is no coincidence that it was the first official capital of the New Greek State after the Revolution of 1821. Ioannis Kapodistrias (the first Governor of Greece) arrived at Nafplio on January 8, 1828, and the city was redesigned, with an urban plan by Stamatis Voulgaris, which used a rectangular layout with squares and straight streets. From the 1950s the tourist development of the region has begun and continues to this day, making Nafplio one of the top tourist destinations in Greece. Despite the great tourist development, Nafplio has never lost its authenticity and unique atmosphere, due to the fact that the historic centre of the city remains almost unchanged from the time of Kapodistrias.

Left: Ancient walls of Its-Kale / Akronafplia (Published in: Semni Karouzou, “To Nafplio”, published by the Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens 1979) / Right: The ancient walls and the bastion of the Five Brothers (December 2021)

In the centre of this historic city, there is a small humble neighbourhood perched on the rocks of Akronafplia (Ακροναυπλία). This is the neighbourhood of Psaromachalas (Ψαρομαχαλάς), which has been inhabited since the Byzantine Period of the city (around the beginning of the 13th century), mainly by Greek merchants and fishermen, to whom it owes its name (psari/ψάρι in Greek means fish). During the difficult years of Ottoman Rule, Psaromachalas was probably the only area of ​​the city where Greeks continued to live, mainly fishermen, who moored their boats at the small pier below the Five Brothers (Πέντε Αδέλφια) bastion. For this reason, the only church allowed by the Turks to operate in the city was Αgia Sophia (Αγία Σοφία), which is located within the boundaries of the district. Today, Psaromachalas is one of the most picturesque places in the old town of Nafplio, where the visitor encounters houses of different eras, some renovated and others in ruins.

Nafplio – In the foreground are the military buildings in the Five Brothers and at the top of Akronafplia the large prison building (from the archive of “Attempt”)
The Bastion of the Five Brothers and Akronafplia – In place of the prison the Hotel Nafplia Palace (December 2021)

The author George Rouvalis calls Psaromachalas the “soul of Nafplio” because its inhabitants are the oldest in Nafplio and despite the tourist development they still maintain the traditions and customs of the city. The inhabitants of Psaromachalas are distinguished for their unique noble, fighting and mocking spirit, which stems from the history of the area and the stories from their lives form in fact the recent history of the city.

Nafplio – House in Psaromachalas
House in Lakka (December 2021)

The majority of the houses in the neighbourhood have a popular style and character, while many of them have Turkish architectural elements. Most older houses are made of wood, whitewashed, and with simple entrances. They are built in an asymmetrical layout while between them there is a complex network of narrow alleys, passages, small and large stairs, and irregularly shaped small squares and openings.

Houses in Psaromachalas (Photo by Char. Bouras, 1974 – Benaki Museum Archive)
Houses in Psaromachalas as seen from Akronafplia (December 2021)

If today we wanted to set some boundaries within which the neighbourhood is located, we could say that it extends from Staikopoulou Street (Οδός Σταϊκοπούλου) (the first parallel from Syntagma Square to Akronafplia) to the rocks of Akronafplia, and between Psaromachala Square (Πλατεία Ψαρομαχαλά), which is known as Lakka (Λάκκα) and the church of Agia Sophia. The two main accesses to the neighbourhood from the city centre are the stairs of Ethnikis Antistaseos (Εθνικής Αντιστάσεως) and Vyronos (Βύρωνος) Streets. While the two main roads that cross it are Zygomala Street (Οδός Ζυγομαλά) and Konstantinoupoleos Street (Οδός Κωνσταντινουπόλεως). In our article, we will take a tour of the neighbourhood starting from the Five Brothers and ending at the church of Agia Sophia. Along the way, we will locate the most important buildings and we will look at archive photos comparing them with today.

Nafplio – Lakka in the 30’s in a photo by N. Mazaraki
The stairs to Lakka (December 2021)

So we start our tour from the bastion of the Five Brothers (with the impressive five cannons) and go up the stairs on the opposite side of the road to reach Lakka. At this point, there was once an important hospital for the poor, the first to be established in Greece, bequeathed to the famous Florentine Duke of Athens Nerio I Acciaioli. The hospital operated from 1394 until the end of the 1940s when it was demolished. The only remnant of the hospital today is the church of Agioi Apostoloi (Άγιοι Απόστολοι), which was built by the Venetians and was originally located inside the yard of the hospital.

The church of Agioi Apostoloi
The grocery store of the Giannopoulos Family

From the square, we follow Zygomala Street. The first house we meet on the right corner of the street, with the characteristic yellow colour and wooden balconies, housed on the ground floor the grocery of the Giannopoulos Family (Οικογένεια Γιαννόπουλου), which since the early 1960s and for many years served not only the residents of Psaromachalas but and the rest of the city.

The Tavern of Blatsaras

Following Zygomala Street, just four houses later and on the left side of the road, we see a ruined house. This house housed the well-known throughout the area Tavern of Blatsaras (Ταβέρνα του Μπλατσάρα). Vassilis Vassileiou, known as Blatsaras, was a simple and illiterate fisherman from Nafplio who played very good bouzouki. His reputation as a talented performer of rebetiko (type of Greek urban folk music) had made the tavern a reference point for the musicians of the area but also a favourite place of entertainment for the inhabitants of the city until 1957 when he died.

Left: Public building of the second Venetian Occupation, in the background Agia Sophia (Published in: Semni Karouzou, “To Nafplio”, published by the Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens 1979) / Right: The Venetian Headquarters and the church of Agia Sophia (December 2021)

Continuing our tour, at the next fork we follow on the left Konstantinoupoleos Street. At this point on the left side of the road, there must have been the so-called “Chronis alley” (“στενό του Χρόνη’), in which according to tradition Chronis worked as a carpenter making coffins, and who every time someone got seriously sick in the neighbourhood ran to find out if he is going to die. After a few metres on the right side of the road, we find the tall Venetian stone public building that was probably the Governor’s Office (Διοικητήριο) during the period of the Second Venetian Occupation. Of course, the building is better known by the name “the konaki of Aga Pasha”, as during the Second Turkish Rule it received this use. Later, during the Revolution of 1821 and during the period 1824-26, the offices of the Executive (Ektelestiko/Εκτελεστικό) operated here. The Executive was one of the two Bodies that were established and constituted the Greek “Provisional Administration”, as it was established at the First National Assembly of Epidaurus in 1822 and in which the independence of Greece was declared.

The church of Agia Sofia

Just a few metres further down Konstantinoupoleos Street we end up at the church of Agia Sofia. Although its facade does not betray its antiquity, it is the oldest surviving church in Nafplio. It is the only Byzantine church of the city built around the 11th to 12th century AD. When Nafplio was occupied by the Turks in 1715, the operation of a Christian church inside the walled city was forbidden. However, in 1780, after the intervention of the interpreter of the Turkish fleet, Nikolaos Mavrogenous, Hassan Pasha permitted the people of Nafplio to operate in Agia Sophia. Since then, it was the only Christian church allowed to operate within the walls (as mentioned above). Finally, in 1825 the church was renovated by the city’s garrison commander, General Nasos Fotomaras.

The church of Agia Sofia
The stairs to Zygomala Street

After the visit to the church, we go up the stairs that start on Lambrinidou Street and meet Zygomala Street again. From this point, it is worth getting lost in the narrow passages between the houses below the walls of Akronafplia. In some places, they are so narrow that only one person can fit, while in other places they just end up at the entrance of a house. Well-kept small gardens, demolished buildings, and beautifully renovated houses compose a colourful and unique ensemble with the common feature of an impressive view of the old town and the port.

Zygomala Street
The stairs of Ethnikis Antistaseos Street

Descending to the centre of Nafplio from the stairs of Ethnikis Antistaseos Street, on the corner of Staikopoulou Street, it is worth making a stop to observe the Old Tavern (PaliaTaverna/Παλιά Ταβέρνα), as it is called today. This particular tavern, formerly called Tsaousopoulos Tavern (Ταβέρνα Τσαουσόπουλου), has been operating at this point since 1810 and was a favourite hangout of the residents of Psaromachalas.

The Old Tavern (former Tsaousopoulos Tavern)

If you want to stay in Psaromachals an excellent choice in the centre of the neighbourhood is the Hotel Leto Nuevo (visit its official website at this link) which provides high-quality services and has a unique view. As for the food in the neighbourhood, there are no restaurants or other places. In the port just below the bastion of the Five Brothers, there is the very good all-day cafe Iliostasio (Ηλιοστάσιο) with very good solutions for food, while near the junction of Staikopoulou and Ethnikis Antistaseos Streets is the excellent Gelateria Da Roberto, with delicious homemade Italian ice cream. Finally, for restaurant suggestions in the wider area of ​​Nafplio, you can refer to our article “5 + 1 restaurants in Nafplio you should try”.

The view to the city from Psaromachalas

Psaramachalas is an authentic part of Greece in the centre of one of the busiest and most popular tourist destinations in the country. It retains to a significant degree its authenticity and hides for the visitor pleasant little surprises. The next time you are in Nafplio do not forget to visit it.

We would like to thank the Argolic Archive Library of History & Culture/Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας & Πολιτισμού (argolikivivliothiki.gr) for kindly providing the archive photos.


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