Near the entrance to the port of Pylos lies Niokastro, otherwise known as Neo Navarino, which stands as a vigilant guard, protecting the area from the vulnerable side of the sea. As many of its construction elements testify, Niokastro is an Ottoman creation; its construction started sometime after 1573, after the defeat of the Turks in the naval battle of Nafpaktos two years earlier.
Niokastro was named thus in order to distinguish it from Paleokastro or Paleo Navarino, which was a Frankish creation and dominated the old port. Like almost all castles in the wider area that roughly belong to the same period, Niokastro was witness to many onslaughts of several ambitious conquerors (Venetians, Turks, Russians), who left their mark on its premises. For a short while it was also conquered by the Greeks during the Revolution, but they didn’t manage to hold on to it for long. Despite all the hardships it faced throughout the centuries, Niokastro is still one of the most beautiful and best preserved castles in Greece.
Niokastro is an impressive fort in the Bay of Navarino, built by the Ottomans in 1573. In was constructed in order to control the south entrance of the bay, since the north side (Sykia Straights or Faltsa Bouka) and its port could not be used due to sedimentation.
The Ottomans occupied it up until 1686, and it subsequently passed into the hands of the Venetians under General Morosini until 1715, when it was recaptured by the Turks. In 1816 it was captured by the pasha, Ibrahim and his army, while in 1828 it was liberated by the French general, Maison. It was later abandoned, to be used again during World War II by the Germans and Italians, who used it as a base for their operations. After the end of the war, it was shortly used as a prison until it was handed over to the Archaeological Service. The passage of all these conquerors naturally left its mark on the fort, which underwent several changes, additions and general interventions.
Niokastro is divided into two parts: Kato Kastro, the largest part, with a surface of 80,000 square metres and Epano Kastro, which contains strong embattlements and bastions. The fort today consists of a hexagonal acropolis and its rampart – which was created during the period of the Venetian occupation, offering an exceptional view to the island of Sfaktiria – a defensive wall, four cylindrical towers and two bastions; the west (the so-called “Seventh”, which is a little older than the rest of the fortification, controlling the entrance to the port) and the north one (“Cafer Pasha” or “Santa Maura”), which controls the port).
Very few buildings survive intact inside the walls. One is the gothic style Church of Metamorfosi tou Sotiros, which was built by the Franks, was later converted into a mosque and then became a Christian church again. The building of General Maison is also important, which today houses offices, and in the near future will house the Archaeological Museum of Pylos. Thus, Niokastro is slowly developing into a cultural venue, of unique importance for the region’s history.