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The bay of Pylos.
The bay of Pylos.
Seal of Pylos
Pylos is located in Greece
Coordinates 36°55′N 21°42′E / 36.917°N 21.700°E / 36.917; 21.700Coordinates: 36°55′N 21°42′E / 36.917°N 21.700°E / 36.917; 21.700
Country: Greece
Administrative region: Peloponnese
Regional unit: Messenia
Municipality: Pylos-Nestoras
Population statistics (as of 2011)[1]
Municipal unit
 - Population: 5,287
 - Area: 143.91 km2 (56 sq mi)
 - Density: 37 /km2 (95 /sq mi)
Time zone: EET/EEST (UTC+2/3)
Elevation (center): 3 m (10 ft)
Postal code: 240 01
Telephone: 27230
Auto: KM

Pylos (Greek: Πύλος, Pylos, Turkish: Navarin, see Eurasian Avars, Avar Khaganate), historically known under its Italian name Navarino, is a town and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Pylos-Nestoras, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit.[2] It was the capital of the former Pylia Province. It is the main harbour on the Bay of Navarino. Nearby villages include Gialova, Pyla, Elaiofyto, Schinolakka, and Palaionero. The town of Pylos has 2,767 inhabitants, the municipal unit of Pylos 5,287 (2011).

Mycenean Pylos is an important archaeological site located on the western coast of the Peloponnese in Greece. The Bronze Age site, located at modern Epano Englianos some 9 km north-east of the bay, was first excavated by Carl Blegen in 1952. Blegen dubbed the remains of a large Mycenean palace excavated there the Palace of Nestor, after the Homeric ruler Nestor, who ruled over "Sandy Pylos" in the Iliad. Linear B tablets recovered from the site by Blegen clearly demonstrate that the site was called Pylos (Mycenaean Greek: Pulos; Linear B: 𐀢𐀫, Pu-ro) by its Mycenean inhabitants. The site of Mycenean Pylos was abandoned sometime after the 8th century BCE, and was apparently unknown in the Classical Period.

The Mycenean state of Pylos (1600 - 1100 BC) covered an area of 2000 square km and had a minimum population of 50,000 according to Linear B tablets, or even perhaps as large as 80,000 - 120,000.[3][4]

Old Pylos, the location of the town in Classical times, is to the north of the bay, see also Old Navarino castle.

The bay of Pylos was the site of two important naval battles:

The name of Navarino[edit]

Pylos appears after the Frankish conquest under two concurring names :

  • a French one, Port de Jonc ("Cane Harbour") or Port de Junch, with some variants and derivative (in Italian Porto Giunco, Zunchio, Zonklon etc.). It is explained by the marshy surrounding of the place.[5]
  • a Greek one, Avarino (Αβαρίνος), later transformed in Navarino by epenthesis, which took over the French one after the end of the Frankish period. Its etymology is not certain: it could originate from a body of Avars who settled there[6] or more probably[7] from a Slavic name meaning "place of maples".[8] Karl Hopf's theory that the name came from the Navarrese Company[9] is chronologically unsustainable.[10]

The Turkish name (1498–1821) was "Anavarin" (with another round of epenthesis), and the local Greek name (for the modern town) "Neokastron" 'new castle'.[11]

Other names recorded for the town and the castles are Avarmus, Abarinus, Albarinos, Albaxinus, Coryphasium, Iverin, Nelea.


Pylos from the north

The soil about Navarino is of a red colour, and is remarkable for the production of an abundance of squills, which are used in medicine. The rocks, which show themselves in every direction through a scanty but rich soil, are limestone, and present a general appearance of unproductiveness round the castle of Navarino; and the absence of trees is ill compensated by the profusion of sage, brooms, cistus, and other shrubs which start from the innumerable cavities of the limestone.

The remains of Navarino Vecchio, or ancient Navarino, consist of a fort, covering the summit of a hill sloping quickly to the south, but falling in abrupt precipices to the north and east. The town was built on the southern declivity, and was surrounded by a wall, which, allowing for the natural irregularities of the soil, represented a triangle, with the castle at the summit—a form observable in many of the ancient cities of Greece.

Bay of Pylos[edit]

Pylos' bay is formed by a deep indenture in the Morea, shut in by a long island, anciently called Sphacteria or Sphagia (modern name Sfaktiria), famous for the defeat and capture of the Spartans, in the Battle of Pylos during the Peloponnesian War, and still showing the ruins of walls which perhaps formed their last refuge. This island has been divided into three or four separate sections by the violence of the waves, and boats could pass from the open sea into the port, in calm weather, using the channels so formed.[citation needed] One such section contains the tomb of a Turkish saint, or santon, called the Delikli Baba. This same section also contains a monument to the French sailors who died at the Battle of Navarino; the monument to the Russian dead of the same battle is on the island of Sphacteria, while the monument to the English dead is on another very small island near the centre of the port. Monuments and tombs from the Greek War of Independence are on the island of Sphacteria, the most important being the monument to the Italian philhellene Santorre di Santa Rosa.

Flora and Fauna[edit]

The Gialova wetland is a regional blessing of nature. It is one of 10 major lagoons in Greece.[12] and has been classified as one of the important bird areas in Europe.[13] It has also been listed as a 1500-acre archaeological site, lying between Gialova and the bay of Voidokilia. Its alternative name of Vivari is Latin, meaning 'fishponds'. With a depth, at its deepest point, of no more than four meters, it is the southernmost stopover of birds migrating from the Balkans to Africa, giving shelter to no fewer than two hundred and twenty-five bird species, among them heron, cormorant, the lesser kestrel, Audouin's, gull, flamingo, osprey,the imperial eagle, and other aquatic species.[14] It is Gialova, too, which plays host to a vary rare species, nearing extinction throughout Europe, the African chameleon. The observation post of the Greek Ornithological Society allows visitors to find out more and to watch the shallow brackish waters of the lake, they can walk the paths that circumscribe Gialova's different ecosystems.[15]


The port
Pylos harbour by boat, September 2010

The continuous human presence, of which there is evidence from as long ago as the Neolithic Age. In later times -in the Bronze Age, Pausanias tell us - there was a prosperous settlement. Homer also quote 'Sandy Pylos' in Book 17 of the Odyssey about Telemachus travelling to Sparta in search of news of his father Odysseus.

We left for Pylos, Nestor too
the shepherd of the peoples,
And He, receiving me the king,
within his halls so lofty,
Embraced me with all
eagerness as father does
his youngling
His son back from long time abroad.

Homer, Odyssey
IX 108-112

In the Geometric period, probably, there was a battle with Sparta, a grievous page in the military history of the Pylians. Thucydides devotes several chapters to their conflict with Athens, and there is a famous marble statue, Paeonius Victory - dedicated by the people of Naupactus and Messenia and now in the museum of Ancient Olympia. Archaeological finds in the area have mostly been from tombs, bearing witness to the fact that in the following periods of history - Hellenistic and Roman times- Pylos remained a flourishing burgh.

Bronze Age Pylos[edit]

Bronze Age Pylos was excavated by Carl Blegen between 1939 and 1952. It is located at modern Ano Englianos, about 9 km north-east of the bay 37°01′41″N 21°41′42″E / 37.028°N 21.695°E / 37.028; 21.695. Blegen called the remains of a large Mycenean palace dating from 1300 BC. found there the "Palace of Nestor", after the character Nestor, who ruled over "Sandy Pylos" in the Homeric poems. Linear B tablets found by Blegen clearly demonstrate that the site itself was called Pylos (Pulos in Mycenaean Greek; attested in Linear B as 𐀢𐀫, pu-ro) by its Mycenaean inhabitants. This site was abandoned sometime after the 8th century BC and burned to the ground. The ruins of a crude stone fortress on nearby Sphacteria Island, apparently of Mycenaean origin, were used by the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War. (Thucydides iv. 31)

Classical Pylos[edit]

According to the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, the area was "together with most of the country round, unpopulated" (iv, 3). In 425 BC the Athenian politician Cleon sent an expedition to Pylos where the Athenians fortified the rocky promontory now known as Koryphasion or Old Pylos at the northern edge of the bay, and after a conflict with Spartan ships in the Battle of Pylos, seized and occupied the bay. A little later the Athenians captured a number of Spartan troops besieged on the adjacent island of Sphacteria (see Battle of Sphacteria). Spartan anxiety over the return of the prisoners, who were taken to Athens as hostages, contributed to their acceptance of the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC.

Byzantine period and Latin occupation[edit]

Little is known of the area under Byzantine rule. In 1204, following the Fourth Crusade, the Peloponnese became the Principality of Achaea, a Crusader state. In the late 13th century Nicholas II of Saint Omer, the lord of Thebes in the Principality, built a castle at Old Pylos. By the mid-14th century it had fallen into the hands of the Genoese, who used it as a base in their conflicts with Venice, raiding Venetian colonies in Messenia. In the 1360s, the castle was occupied by Marie de Bourbon during her attempt to claim the Principality following the death of her husband, Robert of Taranto. By 1381, the castle was occupied by the Navarrese Company.

First Venetian period[edit]

Worried about the threat to their trading interests, the Venetians occupied it in 1417 to prevent the Genoese from doing so, and finally secured its sale from the Prince of Achaea, Centurione II Zaccaria, in 1423. Venetian control survived the First Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–1479) but not the Second (1499-1503). Following the Venetian defeat in the Battle of Modon (1500), the Pylos garrison surrendered to the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman period[edit]

The new fortress of Pylos (Neocastro).

The Ottomans rebuilt the castle amd renamed it Anavarin-i atik. In 1573 they built a new castle opposite the southern entrance to the bay, Anavarin-i Cedid or in Greek, Neocastro.

In 1668, Evliya Çelebi describes the city in his Seyahatname:

Anavarin-i atik is an unequalled castle... the harbor is a safe anchorage...
in most streets of Anavarin-i cedid there are many fountains of running water... The city is embellished with trees and vines so that the sun does not beat into the fine marketplace at all, and all the city notables sit here, playing backgammon, chess, various kinds of draughts, and other board games....

Second Venetian period, Ottoman reconquest and Greek Independence[edit]

Surrender of Neocastro during the Greek War of Independence by Peter von Hess

Administratively, Anavarino was a kaza.

Monument to the Battle of Navarino

In 1686, the Venetians under Francesco Morosini retook both castles and the rest of the Morea, and held them until defeated by the Turks in 1715. The Ottomans rebuilt the Neocastro fortress (which had been heavily damaged) immediately thereafter. In 1770 there was another round of repairs following a brief occupation of the fortress by the Russians during the Orlov Revolt.

During the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire, a general massacre of local Turks occurred after the capture of Navarino by Greeks on August 19, 1821.[16][17]

The Turks under Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt retook most of the Peloponnese in 1825, including the Pylos area, but in 1827 were defeated in the bay at the Battle of Navarino by allied navies of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

The modern town[edit]

The framework of the modern town of Pylos, outside the walls of Neocastro, was built by the troops of General Maison during the subsequent French Morea expedition of 1828-1833.

The western end of Greek National Road 82 begins in downtown Pylos. The highway runs west to east and links Pylos with Kalamata and Sparta. The area enjoys a famously favorable climate, with especially mild winters.


The municipal unit Pylos is subdivided into the following communities:

Historical population[edit]

Year Town population Municipality population
1981 2,594 -
1991 2,014 5,340
2001 2,104 5,402
2011 2,767 5,287

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Detailed census results 2011 (Greek)
  2. ^ Kallikratis law Greece Ministry of Interior (Greek)
  3. ^,000&hl=da&sa=X&ei=nZswU4S8GLDb7AbsvoGgBg&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=population%20of%20athens%20from%20500%20bc%20of%20150%2C000&f=false
  4. ^
  5. ^ Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. p. 415. 
  6. ^ an etymology proposed by Fallmereyer in 1830 (Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea, I p 188)
  7. ^ Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d’Achaïe (in French). Paris: De Boccard. p. 416. 
  8. ^ Max Vasmer. Die Slaven in Griechenland, 1941, as cited in 1)W.A. McDonald, G.R. Rapp. The Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment, University of Minnesota Press, 1972, p.65. ISBN 0-8166-0636-6 2)Kenneth M. Setton, The Bulgars in the Balkans and the Occupation of Corinth in the Seventh Century in Speculum, 25, 4, 1950, 502-543 3)A. Bon, La Morée franque, p. 416
  9. ^ Hopf, "Geschichte Griechenlands vom Beginn des Mittelalters", in Allgemeine Encyklopaedie
  10. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam s.v. Navarino; William Miller, "The Name of Navarino", The English Historical Review 20:78 (April 1905), pp. 307-309
  11. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1911, s.v. Pylos
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Mediterranean Wetlands Conference, June 5th-9th 1996, Venice, Italy". Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  14. ^ "Surfbirds Birding Trip Report: Gialova Lagoon, near Pylos, Greece". Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  15. ^ "EUROPA - Youth - European Voluntary Service - Accredited organisations". Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  16. ^ "Greek War of Independence". Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  17. ^ "Pylos-Neokastro". Greek Monuments. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 


  • John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, Fariba Zarinebaf-Shahr, "Pylos Regional Archaeological Project, Part III: Sir William Gell's Itinerary in the Pylia and Regional Landscapes in the Morea in the Second Ottoman Period", Hesperia 69:3:343-380 (July–September 2000) at JSTOR
  • Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennet, and Jack L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th century, Hesperia Supplement 34, Princeton, 2005. ISBN 0-87661-534-5. A study combining archaeological and survey results with information from the Ottoman archives.
  • Diana Gilliland Wright, book review of Zarinebaf et al., Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies 8:10:1-16 (2005). A very complete summary of Zarinebaf. PDF.
  • Jack L. Davis (ed.), Sandy Pylos. An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino. Second edition. Princeton, NJ: ASCSA Publications, 2008. Pp. lix, 342; figs. 135.

External links[edit]