Greek Game of Thrones — Acrocorinth Castle

by Sally Steele

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Acrocorinth apex, photograph by Kim Steele

Who could resist the temptation whilst in ancient Greece to visit a mysterious site, the Temple of Aphrodite, at Acrocorinth, marked only with a lone column, where legend reveals that more than 1000 sacred prostitutes associated with the temple. Acrocorinth is the acropolis (the upper or higher town) of ancient Corinth. When The Boulevardiers arrived in Corinth, we couldn’t stop looking up, wayyyyy up, at this castle on the hill–Acrocorinth indeed. It’s mesmerizing, something you see mostly in CGI today. We asked everyone and were told to go there in the early morning, to revel in its history, quiet, energy and majesty.
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Acrocorinth outer walls, photograph by Kim Steele

Acrocorinth has a fractuous history of occupation, from ancient times through the 19th century: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Venetians and Ottoman Turks perched there. Saint Paul is supposed to have stayed there on a mission of preaching to the citizens of Acrocorinth. It served as a sentry point for minding marauders to the town below and to all of The Peloponnesus. Everything happened here, from peace to war to trade to intrigue.

From Gadling.com: “Its strategic location close to the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow strip of land connecting the Peloponnese with the rest of Greece, makes it one of the most important castles in the country. The Corinthians even built a seven mile track of wood to transport their ships from one body of water to the other. Acrocorinth is such an obvious point for defense that there’s been a castle here for more than 2,500 years. The ancient Greeks built a temple to Aphrodite at the top and built walls made of massive stones to serve as a refuge for the Corinthians against pirates and invaders.”

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Acrocorinth watch tower,  photograph by Kim Steele

Corinth has it’s own beyond rich history – the intersection of mythology and archaeology is almost unimaginable as well. Wikipedia: “Neolithic pottery suggests that the site of Corinth was occupied from at least as early as 6500 BC, and continually occupied into the Early Bronze Age, when, it has been suggested, the settlement acted as a centre of trade. According to Hellenic myth, the city was founded by Corinthos, a descendant of the god Helios (the Sun), while other myths suggest that it was founded by the goddess Ephyra, a daughter of the Titan Oceanus, thus the ancient name of the city (also Ephyra).”

“According to Hellenic myth, the city was founded by Corinthos, a descendant of the god Helios (the Sun), while other myths suggest that it was founded by the goddess Ephyra, a daughter of the Titan Oceanus, thus the ancient name of the city (also Ephyra). There is evidence that the city was destroyed around 2000 BC. Some ancient names for the place are derived from a pre-Greek “Pelasgian” language, such as Korinthos. It seems likely that Corinth was also the site of a Bronze Age Mycenaean palace-city, like Mycenae, Tiryns, or Pylos. According to myth, Sisyphus was the founder of a race of ancient kings at Corinth. It was also in Corinth that Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, abandoned Medea. During the Trojan War as portrayed in the Iliad, the Corinthians participated under the leadership of Agamemnon.”

The Romans under Julius Caesar took a constructive interest in Corinth, who refounded the city as Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis (‘colony of Corinth in honour of Julius’) in 44 BC, shortly before his assassination.

Wikipedia: “In a Corinthian myth recounted to Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, Briareus, one of the Hecatonchires, was the arbitrator in a dispute between Poseidon and Helios, between the sea and the sun. His verdict was that the Isthmus of Corinth belonged to Poseidon and the acropolis of Corinth (Acrocorinth) belonged to Helios. Thus, Greeks of the Classical age accounted for the archaic cult of the sun-titan in the highest part of the site.

Gadling.com: “In AD 146 the Romans destroyed Corinth and its castle and for many years they lay abandoned. The temple was replaced by a church in the 5th or 6th century AD. By this time the Western Roman Empire had collapsed and the Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantium, was a powerful Christian state ruling over much of the eastern Mediterranean with its capital at Constantinople, modern Istanbul. Corinth and Acrocorinth became important again as a Byzantine regional capital. The Byzantines had their hands full fighting Muslim armies and were seriously weakened when they lost most of what is now Turkey. Little did they expect the next blow to come from fellow Christians. As knights from Western Europe set out on the Fourth Crusade, they originally planned on retaking Jerusalem from the Arabs. Instead they diverted to Byzantium and sacked Constantinople in 1204. The Crusaders surrounded Acrocorinth but saw that an assault would be foolhardy and settled down for a long siege. Acrocorinth was defended by the Greek lord Leo Sgouros. For four years he kept the Crusaders at bay, but the strain of living within the walls eventually drove him mad. One day he mounted his horse and galloped over the cliffs to his death. This didn’t deter his garrison, however, and they continued to hold on until 1210, when the situation became so hopeless that they finally surrendered.”

Acrocorinth, photograph by Kim Steele

Acrocorinth, one of the three gates protecting the city, photograph by Kim Steele

“The French knight William de Villehardouin built a castle on Acrocorinth and strengthened the walls. The Byzantines slowly pushed the crusaders out of their empire and Acrocorinth was retaken in 1395. The ravages of the Fourth Crusade permanently weakened Byzantium. The Ottoman Turks were moving in from the east and took Constantinople in 1453. The Peloponnese held out for a time and Acrocorinth didn’t fall until 1458 after a long siege during which Greek soldiers snuck through Turkish lines and climbed the cliffs to bring supplies to the beleaguered defenders. The Venetians took the castle from the Ottomans in 1687 and many of the walls visible today are their handiwork. After a long war, the Ottomans retook Acrocorinth, only to lose it for good to the Greeks in 1823 during the War of Independence.”

Acorcorinth Map

Acrocorinth Map

FeelGreece.com: “The moat and the first gate were built around 14th century. The Venetians built the second gate and placed a large tower next to it. The third gate is flanked by two towers, with few more towers along the big stone walls. Most of the last gate and walls date back to Byzantine times. Once behind the walls there is flatter area where settlement developed with houses, barracks, churches, mosques, water cisterns, fountains and baths. On the rocky high southwest side there is Frankish castle with a keep. On the highest hill point there was the Aphrodite temple, succeed by church and later by mosque. The Upper Peirene spring is in the southeast plateau part.”
Acrocorinth, photograph by Kim Steele

Acrocorinth cobblestone path to gate, photograph by Kim Steele

The Upper Peirene Spring is featured in many legends. One tale says that Zeus gave it as a gift. Other legend says that the mythical winged horse Pegasus touched the ground and created the spring. The spring is an underground chamber, protected by arches. It has crystal blue water and never dries up…this water fed Acrocorinth and the City of Corinth below…Áriston mèn hýdōr. “Greatest however [is] water” — Pindar, Olymp. 1, 1.

Acrocorinth, photograph by Kim Steele

View to Gulf of Corinth from Acrocorinth, photograph by Kim Steele

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