The Crusader castle of Chlemoutsi in the Peloponnese

19 January 2021
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Imposing, and rich in history, Greece hosts countless medieval castles and fortresses. Each one has a different story to tell…Some are in better condition than others, while others have seen innumerable battles with their walls nearly battered completely down.

One of the few exceptions is the castle of Chlemoutsi or the Castel Tornese situated in the northwest of the Elis regional unit in the Peloponnese peninsula of southern Greece, in the Kastro-Kyllini municipality. The medieval stronghold was built in the early 1220s by the Crusader rulers of the Principality of Achaea as their main stronghold and is perhaps the finest fortification of the early period of Frankish rule in Greece preserved in the country today.

The fortress stands on a hill at the westernmost point of Peloponnese; it was very visible from the sea and thus to ships on their route to the Levant; it was a sort of symbol of the newly founded state.
Geoffrey I of Villehardouin who built the fortress was a French knight who joined the Fourth Crusade. Rather than freeing Jerusalem, the crusaders ended up conquering Constantinople in 1204. They partitioned among them several territories of the Byzantine Empire. Geoffrey was involved in the conquest of Morea (Peloponnese) which was completed in a few years and in 1209 he was appointed ruler of the new state which was called the Principality of Achaea.

You will find it travelling to the village of Kastro in the prefecture of Ilia and there is no way you will not recognize it from afar. The images you see here from above can make you get a taste of how big and important a fortification center this castle once was.

You will see it dominating a hill about 200 metres high very close to the sea. From there you will have the opportunity to enjoy a view of the Ionian Sea almost being able to see Zakynthos. It is a truly stunning vista.

Chlemoutsi was originally called Clermont Castle. That was what the Franks called it. Later, the Greeks named it Chlemoutsi as it appears in the Chronicle of Morea or Chlemoutsi. Later, there is another change in the name of the castle. More specifically, during the period of Venetian rule in the region, the fortress in Kyllini was named Castel Tornese. The reason was specific. The Venetians believed that the coins of the principality of Achaia, the Tornese, were minted there.

Today the fortress is visitable and is one of the most impressive though not so well known sights in the Peloponnese and generally in Western Greece. The castle was the largest building built by the Franks in the Balkans. And it’s worth seeing up close…

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