The castle of Zarnata is situated at the northwestern border of Mani, close to the town of Kambos, in Avia. It is one of the most important castles in the area, built on a hill amidst a verdant valley. The discovery of polygonal walls in the castle’s foundations reinforces the view that it was built on the site of an ancient acropolis, probably Enopi. Many identify the area with ancient Gerenia, one of the 18 cities that comprised the League of the Eleftherolakones.
The castle seems to have been built during the mid-17th century, on the ruins of an older castle. Regarding its provenance, there are several opinions. Some believe it was built by the Franks, others by Venetians and others by Turks. This last view seems to be the most prevalent one, since many sources mention Vizier Achmet Kiupurli as its founder.
The castle was used extensively during the Greek Revolution also. Theodoros Kolokotronis also fought here; he had come to help Panaghiotis Koumoundourakis, Bey of Mani, when he was deposed and had Turks and Maniates turn against him.
Zarnata, a large district belonging to the prefecture of Messinia, once began at the area between Kardamyli and Kitria and reached the peaks of Taygetus. An important site in the area is the castle with the same name, standing on a hill close to the Valley of Avia. This is not a very large castle, but it played a crucial role in the historical events of Mani.
The Castle of Zarnata is also called the Castle of Koumoundourakis, from Panagiotis Koumoundourakis, the Bei of Mani, with whom Theodoros Kolokotronis found refuge when he was persecuted. The castle is possibly a Turkish construction, although several sources talk about a possible Frankish or Venetian origin. The majority of sources, however, concur that the castle was built by Visier Achmet-Cupurli, who wanted to control the movements of the Maniates.We know that the castle existed in the 15th century, as there is reference to its concession by Theodoros II Palaiologus to Constantine, Despot of Mystras and his successor. In 1460 it was conquered by the Turks, who caused significant damage. In 1669, on the ruins of the old castle, they built a new one, which had a mosque and baths. Parts of the medieval wall from its first phase survive today, as well as some frescoes dating to the 15th century, in the abandoned church of Saint Nicholas and the church of Zoodochos Pigi, which was built in the middle of the castle in 1776.
The castle is surrounded by a polygonal wall, at a length of 364 metres, and which was between eight and ten metres tall, with six towers – two round and four square ones – while in the centre stood a large tower with six canons, of a total of 51 which the castle had. Two gates, one in the south-east and one in the north-west, led to the castle’s interior, which covered an area of 23,000 square metres. Today, on the highest point of the hill stands a three-storey tower, 15 metres tall, and next to it a five-storey house where the captains of the area once lived. Both of these buildings belonged initially to the Koutifari family and then passed to the Koumoundourou family.
The Castle of Zarnata has borne witness to many adventures, with its various occupants throughout the ages. From the Turks, it was handed over to the Venetians – to general Morosini – in 1685; and in 1776 came into the possession of the Maniates. The Castle of Zarnata held a leading role in the tumultuous history of Mani, one more reason that makes it important.