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Late Medieval Bastioned Fortifications in Greece

Date of Submission: 16/01/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Greece to UNESCO
Ref.: 5855

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The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party







Ionian islands


19.928385 E, 39.624538 N


Ionian islands


20.891944 E, 37.789444 N




21.961826 E, 36.794382 N




21.700 E, 36.8150 N






22.790586 E, 37.569689 N

22.804472 E, 37.561486 N

22.795028 E, 37.563869 N




25.136743 E, 35.344548 N




24.013659 E, 35.518245 N


South Aegean


28.2270 E, 36.4450 N


North Aegean


26.561829 E, 39.110116 N

With the appearance and establishment, in the 15th century, of the use of gunpowder, a new, powerful and destructive means of warfare, city fortification practices changed. Since medieval fortifications were unable to withstand the constantly increasing artillery power, additional defensive structures began to be added to existing fortresses. This change was completed in the 16th century, establishing the “bastion system” or “fronte bastionato”, based on the principle of “flanking fire”. In the 17th century, the need to confront even greater artillery firepower led to the construction of a multitude of smaller fortifications outside the main moat, whose aim was to keep the enemy as far away as possible from the main fortifications. Finally, up to the end of the 18th century, fortification architecture would continue to be based on the principles of the 16th century, while of course following the development of artillery. This development is documented by a series of fortifications on Greek territory.

These fortifications are mostly found in areas that passed into Latin hands, such as the Peloponnese, the coasts of Western Greece, the Ionian Islands, Crete and the Dodecanese. Most were built on the site of older, ancient and/or Byzantine fortifications, but their main phase was constructed during the various phases of Latin domination.

These are particularly well-preserved fortification works, which largely retain their integrity and original layout intact to the present day. This is very significant, given that they were built by the leading engineers of the time and closely follow developments in the field of defensive art. In recent years restoration projects for their protection and enhancement have taken place preserving however their particular character and their relation to the surrounding area.

The fortifications also contribute to the study of the urban areas of which they form a part, providing valuable information on the organisation of urban planning, which they determined in several cases.

The proposed fortifications are strategically positioned on the hubs of the trade routes between West and East and also North and South, and therefore played an important part as trading stations in the East Mediterranean basin.


1. Methoni Fortress

The fortress of Methoni, a typical example of a citadel, built on an exceptional natural harbour, was in medieval times a stop on the pilgrimage route to the Holy Land and a port for cargo ships voyaging from the West to the East. Together with Koroni, the ports are known as the “two eyes” of the Serenissima.

The city reached the peak of its prosperity in the two centuries after 1204, when it became a Venetian colony and international trading station. That was when the fortress assumed its present form with two fortified enclosures, the south one protecting the city and the north one covering the side facing the interior. The fortress came under Ottoman dominion from 1500 to the early 19th century, with a brief interlude of Venetian rule (1685-1715). In 1828, when Ibrahim Pasha surrendered Methoni to the French expeditionary corps, the inhabitants moved to the present-day town outside the walls.

The fortress covers an area of approximately 9.3 hectares. The walls are defended by a wide dry moat and reinforced with towers at intervals. Two bastions rise below the main gate with its elaborately decorated posts. The fortress has another six gates which open onto the ground floors of towers and are protected by portcullis and machicolations. Bourtzi, an octagonal tower on the sea, forms part of the Methoni seaward defences, serving various functions through the ages.

Within the walls are preserved various buildings such as the church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour (1685-1715), a square building with a pyramidal roof that served as a powder-magazine (1500-­1686), two Ottoman baths and the ruins of the episcopal cathedral of the city, which was dedicated to St John the Divine and turned into a mosque after 1500.

2. Koroni Fortress

The fortress of Koroni, together with neighbouring Methoni, was one of the most important harbours of La Serenissima. The fortress, covering an area of approximately 4 hectares, was built in Byzantine times on the site of ancient Asine. In 1205 it was conquered by the Franks, before passing into the hands of the Venetians (1206-1500 & 1685-1715) and the Ottomans (1500-1685 & 1715-1821) due to its strategic location. For a brief period it was taken by the Genoese (1532-1534), while in 1770 it was held by the Russian Orlov brothers. In 1825 it was conquered by Ibrahim Pasha and in 1828 it was surrendered to the French expeditionary corps, before being ceded to Nikitaras, first garrison commander of liberated Koroni.

The two centuries of the First Venetian period (13th-15th c.) were the peak of Koroni’s power, and most of the fortifications date from that time. There are two fortified enclosures, one on the west, landward side and a larger one on the east. The enclosures are separated by a wall with rectangular towers, which is probably the only remnant of the Byzantine fortifications. This layout of the fortress was preserved unaltered throughout its long history. Today the west enclosure is occupied by the Monastery of John the Baptist (founded in 1920). The east side of the fortress was reinforced during the First Ottoman period (1500-1685) with a dry moat and two round bastions, of which the north bastion, now ruined, was used as a powder magazine and blown up by the Germans in 1941.

Within the fortress there stands today the church of St Charalambos, which was built in the late 17th c. as a Catholic church, was turned into a mosque (1715-1821), and later became an Orthodox church. The ruins of a three-aisled 8th- or 9th-century basilica, dedicated to St Sophia in early modern times, are also visible. It is worth noting that there are still people living within the walls of Koroni, as well as in the traditional village outside them.

3. Akronafplia Bourtzi Palamidi (Fortresses of Nafplio)


Akronafplia fortress formed the walled burg of Nafplio from antiquity to the end of the 15th century, when the Venetians built the lower town of Nafplio. During the Frankish period it was divided by a wall into two parts, the fortress of the Franks and the fortress of the Greeks, while in the First Venetian period another fortress, the “Castello di Toro”, was built at the east end of Akronafplia.


This is a seaside fortress built by the Venetians circa 1470, on a rocky islet in the mouth of Nafplio harbour, which it was designed to protect. In the centre rises a tall tower with three floors, with two smaller vaulted structures below it which served as canon batteries (gun emplacements), one facing the sea and the other the land. Thick chains were stretched out from the two sides of the fortress across the harbour, which is why it was known as “Porto Catena”.


The fortress of Palamidi was built by the Venetians and is a true achievement, as regards both the time taken to construct it (1711-1714) and its fortifications. It consists of eight bastions, one of which was left unfinished and was completed by the Ottomans, while the last was wholly constructed by them. The bastions were independent, with their own storerooms and water cisterns, and were connected by a wall.

4. Corfu

The Old Town of Corfu, strategically located at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, has been inscribed on the List of World Heritage Properties since 2007. It is one of the most important fortified towns in the Mediterranean. Its fortifications, technical works on a huge scale, are among the most perfect examples of Venetian fortification architecture. The present form of this impressive complex is mainly the result of the work of Venetian engineers (1386-1797), with modifications and additions dating from the period of the British Protectorate (1814-1864).

The basic core of the fortifications (Old Fortress-New Fortress-Perimeter Wall-Peripheral Forts) is preserved in good condition today. The oldest part of the fortifications is the Old Fortress, which has been through all the phases of the defensive art since Byzantine times. In its final form, it was linked to Michele Sanmicheli, who applied the “bastion system” to the west side of the walls, where the monumental gate of the Fortress stands.

The massive project of walling the town, completed in the late 16th century, included the construction of the New Fortress and the line of defence that isolated the town from the countryside and the sea. The fortifications of the New Fortress, which had two gates, one to the harbour and one to the town, were laid out on two levels. The first, lower level consists of a pentagonal bastion which protected the harbour. The Castello della Campana controls the ascent to the second level, where rise the twin bastions of the “Epta Anemoi”(Seven Winds) and one more known as Skarponas. The defences of the town were reinforced by the fortification of the three hills to the west in the first half of the 18th century and the fortification of the Vido islet by the Imperial French (1807-1814).

5. Zakynthos

The Venetian fortress at the top of the naturally fortified hill that rises over Zakynthos harbour is built on what was, according to travellers’ accounts, the site of the ancient acropolis of the island, although no traces of its fortifications remain. There is no evidence of the medieval fort that stood on the same site, except for the Byzantine church of the Saviour, part of which survives inside the Venetian fortress, and which is known to have been used as the Latin cathedral. The walls and fortifications preserved today were built in 1646-47 under the direction of Venetian engineers.

Zakynthos Fortress is a typical example of fortification architecture of the period. The enceinte is trapezoidal in shape, with an inner passageway for the movement of soldiers along the weaker east side, where most of the bastions are. The British contributed significantly to the conservation of the walls and the public buildings of the fortress, when they installed their garrison there in 1812. The fortress was abandoned by its inhabitants for good following the Union of the Ionian Islands with Greece in 1864. Excavations have brought to light archaeological material from prehistoric times to the Post-Byzantine period, demonstrating that the fortress is the longest-surviving settlement on Zakynthos. Inside the fortress there are also two Venetian powder magazines and the ruins of churches dating to the Venetian period, as well as the remains of the British government building and barracks.

6. Heraklion

Following its occupation of Crete in 1211, Venice originally preserved the existing Byzantine fortifications of the city. With the change in siege technique, it was decided to reinforce the fortifications and construct a new, extended fortified enceinte. The new Venetian walls of Heraklion (known as Candia to the Venetians) are among the greatest Venetian fortifications in the Mediterranean. They are built according to the principles of the bastion system. Their construction began in 1462, with constant modifications, supplements and additions up to the end of the Venetian period (1669). The basic design was drawn up by Michele Sanmicheli and rendered definitive by Giulio Savorgnan.        

The fortified enceinte, with a perimeter of approximately seven kilometres, is triangular in shape, with the base of the triangle on the seafront, and the apex (the Martinengo Bastion) pointing inland. It consists of seven heart-shaped bastions (Sabbionara, Vitturi, Jesus, Martinengo, Bethlehem, Pantocrator and San Andrea) which defended the intervening straight sections of the fortifications, the curtain walls. For better supervision of the surrounding area, raised cavaliers shaped like truncated cones were constructed on the bastions (Martinengo, San Andrea, Vitturi, Zane). The walls were surrounded by a deep dry moat, while the system was completed by the earthen counterscarps and the outwork of San Demetrio. The main gates (St George or Lazaretto, Jesus, Pantocrator) leading out of the city into the surrounding countryside were set, for reasons of defence, in the sides of the bastions. Other, smaller military gates led up sloping galleries to the low squares of the bastions.

Set into the walls all around the perimeter of the fortifications are relief plaques bearing the winged lion of St Mark the Evangelist, patron saint of Venice, and the coats of arms of Venetian noblemen and officials.

The defences of the coastal front were further reinforced by the sea fortress (known as the “Rocca a Mare”, “Castello a Mare” or “Castello” during the Venetian period and as the “Su Kulesi” or “Koules” during the Ottoman period) at the harbour entrance, and the fortress of Paleokastro on the north coast of Heraklion Bay, both also constructed according to the “bastion system”.

7. Chania

The design of the Venetian fortifications of Chania was entrusted to the Veronese Michele Sanmicheli. The work on Chania began in 1538 and continued up to the Ottoman conquest of the city, in 1645.

The form of the fortifications followed the basic principles of the bastion system, the natural terrain and the boundaries of the city outside the walls, which would have to be protected. The fortifications also included the harbour and a round tower from the original harbour fortifications built by the Genoese in the early 13th c. The walls formed a rectangle, parallel to the seafront, reinforced by four heart-shaped bastions and an equal number of cavaliers. These are the bastions of: a) Salvatore or Gritti, b) San Andrea, c) Piattaforma and d) Santa Lucia, and the cavaliers of Priuli, Lando or Schiavo or San Demetrio, San Giovanni and Santa Maria. Access to the city was via three gates, the Porta Retimiotta, the Sabbionara and the San Salvatore Gate. Further north, facing the sea, were the Sabbionara and Mocenigo bastions, and the harbour breakwater, with the bastion of San Nicolò del Molo. The breakwater ended in the small tower of the Pharos (Lighthouse), which was lower than the present-day structure, built after 1830. On the opposite side, the Rivellino del Porto, with the Firkas Fortress, protected the harbour mouth. Inside, the fortress was laid out with barracks buildings and military stores, while it was also the seat of the military governor of the city.

During the Ottoman period, some parts of the Venetian fortifications were restructured and added to.

8. Rhodes

The medieval city of Rhodes, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988, is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble illustrating the major period of history in which a military hospital order, founded during the Crusades, survived in the eastern Mediterranean area, in a context characterized by an obsessive fear of siege. Rhodes, from 1309 to 1523, was occupied by the Knightly Order of St John of Jerusalem, who transformed the island capital into a fortified city able to withstand sieges as terrible as those led by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and Mehmet II in 1480. It was later that the island came under Turkish and Italian rule.

The ramparts of the medieval city, partially erected on the foundations of the Byzantine enclosure, were constantly maintained and remodeled between the 14th and 16th centuries under the Grand Masters Giovanni Battista degli Orsini (1467-76), Pierre d’Aubusson (1476-1505), Aiméry d’Amboise (1505-12), and Fabrizio del Carretto (1513-21).

With the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Great Hospital and the Street of the Knights, the Upper Town is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of the Gothic period. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture coexists with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period.

9. Mytilini

The fortress is set on a peninsula, between the two harbours of the city: the ancient (north) and the modern (south) harbour. The fortress, which covers an area of 9.1 hectares, stands on the site of the ancient acropolis of Mytilini and was one of the strongest fortresses in the Mediterranean. It was originally built in the 6th c. during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, although only three features of the Byzantine phase survive: a small Byzantine gate on the north side of the walls, the east wall of the keep and the water cistern in the Middle Fortress.

In 1355 Lesbos passed into the hands of the Gattelusi family, who completely repaired the fortress in 1373, along the general lines of the existing Byzantine fortifications. The area is divided into two parts, now known as the Upper and Middle Fortress, where the lords lived and where most of the religious and administrative buildings stood, while the local population lived in the fortified suburb of Melanoudi. All that survives of this phase today is the central fortified keep (the donjon) and the ruins of the church of St John.

The major earthquake of 1384 devastated both city and fortress. The two last Gattelusi, Domenico (1445-1458) and his brother Niccolò (1458-1462), carried out reinforcement works to the fortress, placing the first cannon there and constructing bastions and revetments, embrasures, dry moats and watchtowers.

In September 1462 the Ottomans took the city of Mytilini, after a brief but violent siege. In 1501, in the reign of Sultan Bayezid, and again in 1643/44, under Sultan Ibrahim Khan, the ruined fortifications of the north harbour were repaired, two new large, round fortification towers with gun ports were built, new walls were constructed and a dry moat was dug. The most important of the Ottoman buildings inside the fortress are the Medrese (Ottoman religious school) which included a public soup kitchen and hospice (Imaret), and the Teke (Ottoman monastery), all dated to the first half of the 16th century.

New, extensive repair works were carried out after an earthquake in 1765/66. During the course of the 19th century, the barracks next to the Medrese were constructed, together with the neighbouring powder magazine.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

A particularly extensive network of medieval bastioned fortifications survives in Greece. The suggested fortifications are representative examples of the “bastion system”, characterized by the particular architectural features of the new system of defence invented to meet the constant developments of the art of war, with the widespread use of artillery. They also made masterful use of the geomorphological peculiarities of each area, exploiting their strategic location to a significant degree. Some of these fortifications are among the best-preserved fortification works in the Mediterranean area and were designed in the context of a wider defensive programme by great contemporary engineers, such as the Veronese Michele Sanmicheli.

criterion (ii): The construction of bastioned fortifications was originally developed by Venice in the context of the realisation of a wider defensive programme for the Mediterranean area. It therefore reflects the influence of Western ideas in the field of fortification architecture during the Late Renaissance/Mannerist period in the East Mediterranean, where Byzantine fortifications were still in use. The most interesting element is the appearance of a new system of fortification, the “bastion front” or “fronte bastionato”, a landmark in the evolution of fortification technology and architecture.

criterion (iv): The proposed fortifications are prime examples of the “bastion system” and defensive/fortification works in the East Mediterranean generally. They still preserve today, in good condition, basic features of fortification architecture, and illustrate important phases in the history of fortification architecture and, in some cases, of the towns and cities that lay within their walls, from the time they were first constructed to the later interventions they sustained, the latter being directly linked to the requirements, practices, choices and convictions of each period.

criterion (v): Apart from their importance to fortification architecture, the proposed fortifications are also trading stations which played a major role in the history of the East Mediterranean, and reflect the osmosis of ideas between East and West.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: The integrity of the bastioned fortifications of Greece is credibly expressed through their good state of preservation, despite later interventions, since large parts of the fortifications preserve features of their original form, design, materials and use, fully harmonised with the local terrain and their surroundings. The fortifications are protected both under archaeological legislation and by special protection acts (designations, etc.). 

Authenticity: Although they have been subject to structural modifications due to their strategic importance on the historic Mediterranean Sea, the bastioned fortifications have retained their authenticity. In recent years there have been extensive and ongoing interventions for their conservation, restoration (adhering to all modern restoration specifications) and promotion. Such interventions have played an essential part in the preservation, restoration and protection of the fortifications, as well as in the preservation of their spirit, feel and atmosphere.

Comparison with other similar properties

The bastioned fortifications of Greece form a wide network of monuments on the crossroads between East and West, and are worthy of representation as a whole on the World Heritage List.

The “bastion system” applied to the fortification works of the Mediterranean, and particularly their design by famous contemporary architects, is also shared by the fortifications of other cities, such as Verona and Lucca in Italy, Dubrovnik in Croatia, Valetta in Malta, and Vauban in France, all monuments already inscribed on the World Heritage List.

The bastioned fortifications of Greece, often built by famous Western architects and engineers, such as Sanmicheli, Savorgnan, Pallavicini and others, complete the picture of fortification architecture in Europe and raise the issues of the establishment and coexistence of culturally diverse populations, the creation of new centres and the development of new socioeconomic relationships around the Mediterranean. The fortifications sometimes became theatres of war, while at other times they facilitated the movement of people, goods and artistic styles. Soldiers and politicians, travellers and merchants, immigrants and ambassadors passed through the fortresses, leaving behind testimonies both material and immaterial, whose transmission and transformation were facilitated by the maritime routes.