The fortress of Assos
The Fortress is one of the largest Castles in Greece.
The trip to the fortress is stunning, providing you with plenty of wonderful scenery. The Venetian fortress can be reached by a zigzag trail through woodland and terraces. Most of the steep track leading up to the fortress is of typical dirt track character with a large amount of loose road surface too. Some edges of the track have crumbled away, and vehicles are no longer permitted to drive to the fortress. The walk up can be hot on warm days so have a hat and remember to take fluids, as there are no facilities at the top!
Tucked away in the hillside beneath the Fortress is the tiny Chapel of Panayia Plakoula.
Once at the Fortress you pass through the entrance, otherwise known as the tunnel from there you are free to wander the special historical grounds of the Fortress. The area is quite large and the walls of the Castle measure over two kilometers in length. While exploring around it is quite easy to imagine yourself back in time. Two of the castle’s original four gates are still standing. The main gate is the most interesting part of the castle. You can wander through the ruins which are more expansive than you may imagine from the usual views you have when observing the Fortress from the main mountain roads.
The Fortress was built back in the sixteenth century to defend the Island from Pirate attacks. Plans to build the fortress began in 1584 when the Kefalonian council sent a delegation to Venice, asking for the construction of a new castle to help protect the residents from Turkish and pirate raids.
The Venetian’s endeavour was to build a dominant fortress-city, inside which a population of the community would permanently reside. Agios Georgios (St Georges Castle) was the only castle on the island at the time, due to locality it could not provide adequate defence for the island. Assos peninsula was chosen as the location of the new castle as it was considered that the sheer cliff drops of the peninsula with a height of 155 metres made the area naturally fort-like and virtually unconquerable. Shortly after the castle was built, Assos became the capital of the northern Kefalonia for a few years.
There is a lot of wild vegetation which has taken over and it is very difficult to locate the 200 homes and 65 public buildings which stood originally, however there are traces of the small Catholic Church dated 1604.
Towards the middle of the Fortress it is still possible to make out ruins of a prison with some cells still remaining along with parts of a Venetian building. The prison was used again by the Germans in World War II as there are no way of escape. After the war a prison farm was set up for political prisoners who made terraces for their vineyards and crops of cereal. The prison was in use until 1953. The latest inhabitants lived within the castle walls up until the late sixties. They were known as the Kastrini people and were groups of large families who lived off the land by cultivating olives and grapes. The Kastro housed more than double the residents of today’s village of Assos with around 200 houses as well as many public buildings.
The Destounis family lived in the fortress until 1968. The outside walls are in good condition, taking into account the building been abandoned for over half a century, and also survived the well-documented disastrous earthquake, which struck on the 12 August 1953. This cataclysmic earthquake flattened most of the fabric of the island. As the island lies close to the fault line it makes this one of Greece’s most active seismic areas, Zakynthos, Lefkas and Ithaca suffered too. Yet again the sea views are stunning so a camera is an essential accessory. If you love landscapes and nature it’s worth having a small pair of binoculars with you.
Assos Fortress has never been excavated to this day, but the fortress has been designated a European Heritage Site.