The charming little town of Pylos in the Western Peloponnese overlooks huge Navarino Bay, regarded by some as one of the loveliest bays in Greece. The tree-lined shores have long sandy beaches and the deep clear blue water is sheltered by a long narrow island.
Intriguingly, a larger-than-life marble statue of a British Admiral stands in the main square of Pylos and a Russian chapel has been built on the island. Why? Because this peaceful and enchanting bay has been at the centre of Greece’s dramatic war-torn history.
Fascinated tourists take boat trips from Pylos to explore the bay. They climb steps and paths on to the island, called Sphacteria, and clamber on to islets to see memorials to those who died in this bay. And they peer through the clear water to spot wrecks of wooden warships still visible on the seabed.
Classical battle As you drive into Pylos from Kalamata there is a fantastic view of Navarino. Had you been enjoying the view in 425BC you would have seen an Athenian navy beat the Spartans there, one of the few times Spartans were ever forced to surrender.
Great escape Had you been there in 1825 you would have seen a band of Greek soldiers and sailors battle a combined Turkish and Egyptian army on Sphacteria and then make a valiant bid for freedom by sailing a brig through a fleet of Turkish warships. It was a time when the Greeks were struggling to regain independence from the Turkish Ottomans who had ruled their country for centuries.
Battle of Navarino Two years later in October 1827 you would have witnessed an Ottoman armada of about 80 Turkish and Egyptian ships being sunk in a brief and bloody battle with a combined fleet of British, Russian and French ships.
This Allied force, led by English admiral Sir Edward Codrington, went to Pylos to persuade the Ottoman leaders to honour an armistice. The Admiral, a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, led his fleet of 22 ships into the bay and the battle began before his ships had finished dropping anchor.
When it ended most of the Ottoman vessels were sunk and more than 4,000 of their sailors were killed or wounded. No Allied ship was sunk, although they suffered more than 500 casualties. It was the final chapter that led to Greece overthrowing the Ottomans.
Pride of Pylos Should you ever be in Pylos, go to the main square, the one shaded by huge plane trees. There are shops and restaurants on three sides and the harbour on the fourth. This is Three Admirals Square where pride of place goes to a statue of Sir Edward and the Russian and French commanders of the Allied fleet.
Walk round to the harbour and take a boat trip around the bay to see the memorials and the lovely Russian Orthodox-style wooden chapel on Sphacteria. On October 20, Britain, Russia and France send representatives to Pylos for a service of commemoration and celebration. And, as it’s Greece, the party usually goes on all day.
What else is there in and around the Bay of Navarino?
- Pylos, about 30 miles from Kalamata, has an outstanding castle and museum.
- The stylish resort of Gialova is also on Navarino Bay, also home to the Gialova Lagoon Bird Sanctuary which offers the best bird-watching in the Peloponnese.
- Voidokillia Beach, a horseshoe bay of golden sand and turquoise water at one end of the lagoon, is overlooked by a ruined castle and a cave that dates to mythical times.
- King Nestor’s Palace, a well-preserved Mycenaean site said to be home of a Trojan War hero, is 10 miles from Pylos.
- Sports facilities at Westin Costa Navarino, a luxurious five-star family resort beside Navarino sand dunes, include two golf courses.
- Methoni, a pretty seaside town with a Venetian castle, is eight miles south of Pylos.