The lie of the land and the structure of the natural landscape combine with historical and political developments in determining the formation of a settlement’s character, its ability to keep in touch with others, and the development of specific regions. The geographical configuration of a site greatly contributes to its safety. In periods of crisis the populations removed themselves to places off the beaten track, difficult of access and with a prospect of further retreat, while naturally fortified positions were utilized in creating defensive positions.
"Ο τόπος μας είναι γεμάτος κάστρα και πύργους. Περνάς από ερημιές, από ντερβένια άγρια και βλέπεις απάνου στα βουνά και στους γκρεμνούς χτισμένα τειχιά νεροφαγωμένα που στέκουνται βουβά και αμίλητα"
Φώτη Κόντογλου, Καστρολόγος
The diverse terrain of Greece fittingly mirrors the chequered history of its inhabitants.Different political systems and worldviews were created and flourished here: sundry raiders came to loot, and sometimes settled down. Despite the startling transformations which have occurred since antiquity, the geomorphology is a constant factor in the course of these historical events and in influencing the mental outlooks of the populations. The fragmented physical landscape consistently created local entities, promoting too a sense of their autonomy from any distant central authority. It is also a factor that plays a particular role in the creation of settlements, in establishing routes of communication and in assisting the likelihood of regional growth. More essentially still, a broad sense of security was critical for survival of the inhabitants: they often needed to fortify inaccessible places, distant from the routes that brought foreign invaders.
The Peloponnese, the southern segment of the Greek peninsula, has been inhabited since very ancient, indeed prehistoric, times: there is found the main wellspring of the earliest Greek civilization. Only a narrow strip of land, the Isthmus of Corinth, connects it with mainland Greece; otherwise it is surrounded by the sea. On the east, that is the side of the Aegean Sea, its shores are washed first by the waters of the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of the Argolid, and then lower down by the Myrtoan Sea; to the south are the Laconian and the Messenian Gulfs; while to the west, in the Ionian Sea, opens the Gulf of Kyparissia and further north that of Patras. Through the RioAntirio Straits the Corinthian Gulf forms the northern boundary with mainland Greece, right up to the Isthmus.
The Corinthia is located at the crucial nodal point of the Peloponnese, at its northeast corner. Here the area of the Isthmus is sandwiched between the ends of two seaways: from the East (the Saronic Gulf and the Aegean Sea) and the West (the Corinthian Gulf and the Ionian Sea). At the same time it constitutes the only land passage that connects the North (Central Greece, and Attica) with the South (the Argolid, Arcadia – and the rest of the Peloponnese). Apart from that part of Corinthia that extends north and east of the Isthmus into Central Greece, the rest is divided into west, east and south segments.
The west includes the mountains Apelavro, Skipiza (Oligyrtos), Saita (Oryxis), Dourdouvana (Pentelia) with the highest peak at Zireia (Kyllini). To the southsouthwest are respectively the mountain plains of Stymfalia and Feneos. Two more mountain ranges, the Black Mountain (Chelydorea) and Vrostina (Evrostina) stretch down to the coastline. At the south the region communicates with Arcadia.
The eastern part of Corinthia includes the plain of Corinth, the rocky hill of Acrocorinth, the Oneia Mountains and the small heights of Kenchreai. South of the mountains of Spiria, Phoukas (Apesas) and Paloukorachi, extend the plains of Flious and Kleonai. Mountainous too is the peninsula of Sofiko to the east, with the Gavria and Veseza Mountains to the west. The valley of Nemea is important, along with those of Sofiko and Angelokastro further to the east. The natural boundary to the south between the Corinthia and the Argolid is provided by the mountain massifs of Trapezona, Kernikelo, Ag. Triada, Dervenakia (Tritos), Megalovouni (Karneatis) and Farmaka. In medieval times, however, the limits of the Corinthia reached southwards to Mount Arachnaio in the eastern Argolid, and included Epidaurus, Old and New, as well as the region of Ligourio.
The rivers of Corinth are more like torrents. Typical are Fonissa (Krios), Trikalitiko (Sythas), Lechova (Elisson) and Aigiorgitiko (Asopos) rivers. In the basins of Stymfalia and Feneos lie the lakes of the same names. The Feneos lake flows into the river Foniatiko (Olvio). Correspondingly, the valley of Nemea is crossed by the river Koutsoumadiotiko (Nemea), while the valley of Kleonai has the Longopotamos. Further east lies the Solomiotiko river.
A few small islands lie off the coasts: in the Corinthian Gulf are the Kala Nisia, and in the Saronic the Evraionisi and Platourada.
Natural harbours are not to be found on the Corinthian side: the artificial harbour of Lechaio dates back to antiquity. On the other hand, the Saronic Gulf offers several bays suitable for anchorage, like Kenchreai and Schoinous at the end of theDiolkos, by which ships were carried over land from the Corinthian Gulf to the Saronic. The diolkos, a paved street running between them, was the most effective solution for centuries for getting ships from one sea to the other.
The climate is quite warm with some rain in the east part, but wetter and cold in the mountainous west.
The Argolid is located south of Corinthia and east of Arcadia. Due to its proximity and close contact with the first, it is often combined with Corinthia as a single region, known as ArgolidCorinthia. It consists of the Argolid Peninsula in the east and the region of Argos in the west. The Peninsula is surrounded on the north by the Saronic Gulf and to its south by the Argolid Gulf. The latter gets rain, as does the eastern coast of the westmost part of the region.
At its land boundaries, the Argolid is separated from Corinthia in the northeast by the mountains of Arachnaio, Megalovouni and Farmakas; and to the northwest by Kyllini, Oligyrtos and Lyrkeios. A little further south, and to the west, Artemision and Parthenio define the western end of the Argolid with Arcadia.
The coastline has bays, capes and peninsulas.
Amongst the islands are noteworthy those between Iria and Tolon: Hypsili, Plateia, Romvi, Daskalio and Kokoronisi, as well as the Bourtzi in Nafplio harbour.
In plains the Argolid is the richest of these three regions, but poorest in rivers – Inachos, Alea, Skoteini, Achladokampos, Berbati in Prosymna. In the Nafplia area are Ligurio, Dimaina, Piada, Epidaurus and its beach, Iria, Hermione, Kranidi and Didyma.
The area is crossed by torrents, such as Inachos, Erasinos, Pontinos, Lerna, Charados, Fonissa (Krios) from Karia and the Black Mountain. In the region of Argos is the river Kefalari.
Of the ports there stand out those of Old and New Epidaurus, Kranidi, Tolon, Nafplio and the bay of Myloi.
The climate is characterized by rain, snowfalls and low temperatures in the mountains; the coastline is hot and arid.
Arcadia is the central area of the Peloponnese. It communicates with west part of Corinthia through the mountains of that region and with the west part of the Argolid through the region of Karia and Myloi. The Kynouria areis the only part that has a coastline, at its southeast where it borders the Myrtoan Sea.
It is mainly a mountainous place: as Strabo (1st BC1st AD) puts it: Arcadia is in the middle of the Peloponnese, most of it made up of mountains. The current administrative division at county level does not correspond to the geographical boundaries of ancient Arcadia. That covered a greater extent than it does now. Then a large part of today's southern and southwestern Achaia was included, such as the areas of Kalavryta, Lousoi, Kleitoria and Psofida. Also embraced were the mountainous areas of Feneos, Stymfalia, Skoteini and Alea, which today lie in the west part of Corinthia. In ancient Arcadia too belonged the present southwest region of Elis, and in particular Alifeiras, Figaleia and Bassoi, Theisoa of Loukaio and the area of Andritsaina.
Although the residents of Kynouria are considered as of Arcadian origin, their region was a bone of contention between Sparta and Argos. Most, if not all, of the province of Kynouria that today belongs to Arcadia, was during the Middle Ages part of Laconia, while the very southeast of Kynouria, up the foundation of the modern Greek state, was part of the Argolid.
Arcadia was limited to the mountainous inland region.Arcadia is bounded by mountains. Starting from the north of the county and moving clockwise round its borders are to be encountered the mountains of Afrodisio, Saita, Oligyrtos, Trachy, Lyrkeio, Artemision, Ktenias, Parthenio, Zavitsa, Parnon, North Taygetos and Lykaio. Mainalo, in the middle of Arcadia, cuts it roughly in two – east and west. Apart from the mountains, rivers, fertile valleys and plains are characteristic natural features of the area.
Water in Arcadia is plentiful. In the eastern (more enclosed) portion it plunges down sinkholes, only to emerge elsewhere in certain instances as the headsources of rivers. In the more open west the waters flow into the Ionian sea through the rivers Ladon, Alfeios and Erymanthos, which indeed made communication and contact by water possible.
The climate is quite cold with rain and snowfall, enough to encourage vegetation growth.
Intervisibility and Sight-lines
"Ἀναγκαία δὲ ἡ τῶν καμινοβιγλατόρων ὑπάρχει ὠφέλεια· καὶ χρὴ τὸν στρατηγὸν καὶ τούτων πολλὴν ποιεῖσθαι τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν καὶ ἐν ἐπιτηδείοις τόποις ἐφιστᾶν τὰ καμινοβίγλια, ὅπως, ἡνίκα κίνησις τῶν ἐχθρῶν γένηται, καὶ βιγλάτορες ταύτης αἴσθωνται διὰ τῶν καμινοβίγλων, καὶ ὁ στρατηγὸς τὴν ἐξέλευσιν τῶν ἐχθρῶν προγινώσκῃ καὶ ποίαν ὁδὸν ἐξελθεῖν μέλλωσι, καὶ αἱ χῶραι δι' αὐτῶν τε καὶ τῶν ἐκσπηλατόρων καταμηνυόμεναι τοῖς ὀχυρώμασι καταφεύγωσι καὶ τὰ τούτων θρέμματα."
Περί Παραδρομής του κυρού Νικηφόρου του Βασιλέως
A naturally protected position was often the most logical choice for siting a castle. The diverse terrain of Peloponnese offers both mountain elevations and isolated peninsulas for the purposes of fortification. Already in prehistory, such places were used to offer safety to settlements and cities. The towers and castles on the heights, in addition to the security given, had the important advantage of extensive, usually panoramic, views. They controlled plains, valleys, rivers, lakes and oceans, land and water passages. Moreover, they could communicate visually with other forts, transmitting and receiving essential information on raids, pillages and sieges.
When mountain massifs do not intervene, the field of view was a critical factor in their positioning. It is even possible to improve on what was naturally available: the walls and the towers rose to a still greater height above the ground-level. This is especially so in the case of the central tower, the so called donjon. This was usually built at a key point in the layout of the fortified area: either at the site’s highest point, providing a building could be there erected; or at the very least on some place of vantage where it might control both the entrance and exit to the castle. The visual range can be reduced to next to nothing by climatic factors, such as humidity, rainfall or snowfall, low cloud or fog.
Even in antiquity the system of beacons was well-known, of transmitting signals by fryktoi, flaming torches. In this way Medea is said to have warned the Argonauts to go to Colchis. Similarly, the Greeks, having got inside Troy by means of the Wooden Horse, summoned the Greeks to return from Tenedos island for the plundering of the city. Thucydides speaks of systems of one’s allies and enemies both. In the Middle Byzantine period, in the book De velitatione bellica (On Waging War), attributed to the emperor Nikiforos Fokas (963-969), reference is made to the usefulness of kaminoviglatores (watchtowers with beacons) that alert the general as to the movements of the enemy so that he can take measures and so that the population can take refuge in the forts along with their belongings and so be saved. Instructions on a similar transfer of information were available in the periods of the Frankish and Venetian rule.
For the transmission of such information usually some type of fortification, a castle or a single tower, was employed in the key points in the network. In the Argolid, Arcadia and Corinthia there are identified significant castles and positions where a visual connection exists. From the Acrocorinth, fortified as it was over a long period of time, at its height of 550 m, a wide range of field is to be had over land and sea. To the north, in the region of the Isthmus, the Hexamilion wall keeps guard; to its east is the area of Kenchreai and the Oneia Mountains where are also identified fortified positions. To the south it is in touch with the stronghold of Ampiditsa and also with Agionori. Westwards it communicates with the strategic high ground on Mount Fokas, which in turn has a sight line to the long-used castle of Larissa, at Argos.
In turn, this last can readily talk to the fortified positions of the Nafplio area (Acronafplia, the Bourtzi, Palamidi) to the south-east, while to the south it can do the same with the castle of Kiveri, which is also in touch with Nafplio.
Because of the multitude of intrusive mountains in Arcadia, the strongholds there have sight-lines limited to smaller geographical units. This applies to the castles that lie around the massif of Mainalo and the north of the Taygetos. North and east of Parnon, those forts scattered in the area of Kynouria-Tsakonia were perhaps intermediate stations that linked the coast to the Arcadian and Laconian hinterlands. Though the work is required, the effort it would take to establish with certainty the visual connections of the strongholds of Arcadia with the coastal regions that surround them is considerable, and would be difficult and time-consuming.
"Εἰ δέ γε ἡ ὁδός, ἣν ὑποστρέφουσιν, εὑρεθῇ φέρουσα τοῖς πολεμίοις ἐκ τῶν ἄνωθεν καὶ ἐφόμαλός ἐστι, μὴ ἔχουσα δυσχωρίαν τοῦ κατὰ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν ἀντιστῆναι, ἀλλ' ἡνίκα πρὸς τὸ καταφερὲς ἐπικλίνει, τότε στενὴ καὶ δύσβατός ἐστι, συγχέουσα τὰς παρατάξεις αὐτῶν καὶ ὀλίγους διέρχεσθαι ἀναγκάζουσα καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ὁμοίως παρασκευάζειν ἐπακολουθεῖν καὶ διέρχεσθαι, ἐν ἐκείνοις τοῖς στενωποῖς δέον πεζικὰς τάξεις καταστῆσαι ἔνθεν κἀκεῖθεν τῶν πολεμίων, δύο μὲν κατὰ τὸ δεξιόν, δύο δὲ κατὰ τὸ εὐώνυμον, ἀπ' ἀλλήλων διακεκριμένας."
Περί Παραδρομής του κυρού Νικηφόρου του Βασιλέως
The varied relief of the terrain in Greece is the reason for the atypical communications network by land and sea. The mountains are often impenetrable. The sea in ancient times thus became the most convenient way to move from one area to another. But despite the difficulties, land communication had already been developed prior to historical times.
In the Peloponnese overland routes gave access from the north; sealanes were available in the Aegean, Ionian and Cretan seas. From Corinth, the leading terrestrial and marine hub, coastal roads led west to Patras. If one were heading south to Sparta and the ports of Gythion and Monemvasia, one could use internal and landlocked roads that passed through the urban centres of the central Peloponnese. Other routes from Patras led to the interior of the country, and to the western and southern ports of the Peloponnese, such as Methoni and Koroni.
In the Roman Empire, remarkable road networks in its territory were created. The opening of new roads and their paving, the addition of signs, bridges and stations for overnight accommodation (including facilities for dining, bathing and the changing of animals) all came into being at that time. The safest routes for travellers were thought out. Roads were classified as public and highways, main routes, general ones, routes for carrying wood and others suitable for wagons. However, in the Peloponnese, as no passageways were required for troops, there were no new roads established. Some of the ancient routes were maintained and used even in later years, in the Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman periods of domination. These paths are sometimes changed by political, military and economic events: some get abandoned, others adapted and still others revived. But generally speaking major changes in the pattern of land routes did not occur over the centuries – despite the fact that the residential centres so linked had their ups and downs: they flourish, decline, get abandoned and refounded.
In particular Corinthia and the Argolid developed an important road network between them, and with Arcadia too. Research has identified several ancient roads, thanks to the marks left by the wheels of the wagons in the calcareous soils.
An important route in Corinthia lay to the east. From the Isthmus the road ran to Epidaurus and Troezen, passing by Kenchreai and the valley of Sofiko, while a secondary road connected Corinth to Epidaurus, through Agios Ioannis and Angelokastro. The roads to Argos went through narrow passes in the extensive mountain ranges between the Argolid and Corinthia (Megalovouni, Ag. Triada, Arachnaio): they are reported on by ancient and medieval writers like Pausanias and Choniates respectively. The basic way was via Kleones: one could get there from Sicyon directly and without having to go near the Ancient Corinth. From that town most of the main roads went to Kleones. The western road, the smoother if longer route, starting from Corinth went to Agios Vasileios before reaching Ancient Kleones; thence it passed south of Agios Gorgios at Nemea, ending up in the Argolid plain. Following first the same path to Kleones, one could then take the more southerly and shortest path, going through the Pass of Dervenakia to the Argolid plain. This route was the busiest. It is the same one described by Pausanias, that which went from the mountain of "Tritos". During the Ottoman period it was characterized as the afentikosway, i.e. the main one.
Also, there exists the Pass of Agios Sostis, just east of Dervenakia, which ends up in the Mycenae area. Another route, again from the plain of Kleonai, leads to Ag. Vasileios, but before getting to the Argolid plain, it climbs up to a great height, passing to the west of Stefani. These last two routes had the disadvantage of ascending to a high altitude: they were not practical for wheeled transport.
The road that is associated more closely with that reported in the ancient and medieval sources as the Kontoporeia (Short way) takes another route again. From Corinth, the road runs alongside the river in the area of Solomos, until it reached Chiliomodi; thence it continued the defiles of Agionori and Prosymna (Berbati), before debouching onto the Argolid plain. Given its short length and its key position, it was the most popular in ancient and Byzantine times, and was the only one that led directly to Nafplio.
In addition, from the port of Kenchreai, there was another minor road that reached the new Phaneromeni Monastery, joining with the Agionori road, before the entrance to Klissoura.
Fleiasia, in the western Corinthia, was a communications hub for the Argolid, Arcadia and the rest of the north Peloponnese. It is believed that there were three roads leading to the west Argolid. There were an equal number of roads for Arcadia too, through the mountains of Farmakas and Gavria, while another seems to have been opened to exploit the timber available on Farmakas. The communication of Fleious with Arcadia was only possible through this particular pass.
In the west of the Argolid the major road junction was that of Oinoa, which was linked to Arcadia by three basic avenues. Pausanias mentions one by Klimaka, one by Prinos and Trochos. However, the most central way to Arcadia was by the south: from Myloi, this passes through the village of Achladokampos (Ysies) and continues to Mouchli and TegeaNikli on the Arcadian mountain plateau. In more modern times the road is known as Tourkostrata.
This route is dotted with fortifications. Castlebuilding depended on the circumstances of each era. In the Byzantine Empire, the central government was responsible for the safety of the provinces: it considerably strengthened ancient castles existing within current urban spaces, such as Acrocorinth, Larissa at Argos, Acronauplia and Tegea. It also created fortifications in coastal settlements, such as at Old Epidaurus, Hermione and the islet of Romvi, whereby they could exert better control through the imperial fleet at the time the hinterland was prey to the Slavic invasions. The needs for secure fortified positions multiplied in the period of Frankish rule. The western feudal system was transplanted essentially unaltered into Greece: each of the numerous local rulers needed a safe fortified house, a small castle.
In the Peloponnese, areas controlled by the Franks, the Venetians, the Byzantines and later the Turks were so close to each other that the ruler of a region needed to feel protected from the expansionist aspirations of each and every neighbour. This political fragmentation multiplied the need for new defensive points. Accordingly at key points of the road network many important castles went up. In addition to the Acrocorinth and Penteskoufi, the fortresses of Agios Vasileios, Polyfengos, Agionori, Alataria, Choriza, Angelokastro, Kazarma, Larissa, Acronafplia, Kiveri, Karytaina, Akova, Davia, Leontari, Mouchli, Tsipiana and dozens more controlled areas and roads, aspiring thereby to offer some security to their respective Lords and castellans. Later, during the Ottoman domination, the castles of the main cities of the region were once again, as in the Byzantine Empire, sufficient for the new strong central power; and so many inland ones were abandoned forever. Moreover, the danger for the Ottomans came from the sea routes and the coastal castles which the Venetians always laid claim to and used as their bases. This fear was realized during the brief Second Venetian Occupation (16851715), when in a lightening campaign the whole Morea passed into the hands of the Serenissima. Their dominance at sea allowed the Venice military to avoid the land routes in the Peloponnese, leading to complete exclusion of the Ottomans. They regained control but a few years later. The roads and the strongholds in the Peloponnese experienced their last dramatic moments in the Orlov Event (1770) and during the Revolution of 1821: then places such as Tabouria in Trikorfa, Tripolitsa, Dervenakia and many others were marked by the battles and the massacres involving Greek, Philhellene, Turkish and Egyptian troops and the unarmed civilian population.
In more recent years these ageold roads were assigned to oblivion as their place was usurped by the contemporary ones. Researching the Old Roads is now a challenging subject for investigation.