[pee-laws; Eng. pahy-los, -lohs]

This article is about the Greek geographical feature and town. For the mythological figure see Pylus (mythology). For board game see Pylos (board game).

Pylos (Greek: Πύλος, Italian: Navarino), is the name of a large bay and a town on the west coast of the Peloponnese, in the district of Messenia in southern Greece. It is the capital of Pylia Province. Nearby villages include Gialova, Elaiofyto, Schinolakka, and Palaionero. The town of Pylos has 2,561 inhabitants, the municipality of Pylos 5,402 (2001).

Old Pylos and New Pylos are distinct settlements and castles, several kilometers apart. Old Pylos (Navarino Vecchio) is located on the northwest of the bay, while New Pylos is located in the southeast.

The bay of Pylos was the site of two naval battles:

The Name of Navarino

In the Middle Ages, Pylos was named Avarino (Αβαρίνος), probably after a body of Avars who settled there, or perhaps a Slavic name. Hopf's theory that it comes from the Navarrese Company is chronologically unsustainable. It was later called Navarino, with the incorporation of the ν of the article τον.

The Venetian name was "Zonklon" (from Greek Ionchion), the Turkish name (1498-1821) "Anavarin" (with another round of epenthesis!), and the local Greek name "Neokastron" 'new castle'.

Other names recorded for the town and the castles are Avarmus, Abarinus, Albarinos, Albaxinus, Avarinos, Coryphasium, Iverin, Nelea, Port de Jonc, Porto Giunco, and Zunchio.


The soil about Navarino is of a red colour, and is remarkable for the production of an infinite quantity of squills, which are used in medicine. The rocks, which show themselves in every direction through a scanty but rich soil, are limestone, and present a general appearance of unproductiveness round the castle of Navarino; and the absence of trees is ill compensated by the profusion of sage, brooms, cistus, and other shrubs which start from the innumerable cavities of the limestone.

The remains of Navarino Vecchio, or ancient Navarino, consist of a fort, covering the summit of a hill sloping quickly to the south, but falling in abrupt precipices to the north and east. The town was built on the southern declivity, and was surrounded by a wall, which, allowing for the natural irregularities of the soil, represented a triangle, with the castle at the summit—a form observable in many of the ancient cities of Greece.

"The town within the wall," says Sir W. Gell, "is like all those in this part of the world, encumbered with the fallen ruins of former habitations. These have been generally constructed by the Turks, since the expulsion of the Venetians; for it appears, that till the long continued habit of possession had induced the Mahometans to live upon and cultivate their estates in the country, and the power of the Venetian republic had been consumed by a protracted peace, a law was enforced which compelled every Turk to have a habitation in some one of the fortresses of the country. But the habitatations," says our traveller, "present generally an indiscriminate mass of ruins; they were originally erected in haste, and being often cemented with mud instead of mortar, the rains of autumn, penetrating between the outer and inner faces of the walls, swell the earth, and soon effect the ruin of the whole"—it must be confessed, but sorry structures for the triple fires of an enemy. Sir William, on his visit, found the commandant in a state of misery not exceeded by the lot of his meanest fellow-citizens, except that his robes were somewhat in better condition. He received him "very kindly in a dirty unfurnished apartment," into which he "climbed by a tottering ladder from a court strewed with ruins;" here he gave him "coffee," after which he took his leave. What would a first lord of the Admiralty say to such a reception? and it must have been somewhat uncourtly to our traveller.

Bay of Pylos

Pylos' bay is formed by a deep indenture in the Morea, shut in by a long island, anciently called Sphacteria or Sphagia (modern name Sfaktiria), famous for the defeat and capture of the Spartans, in the Battle of Pylos during the Peloponnesian War, and yet exhibiting the vestige of walls, which may have served as their last refuge. This island has been separated into three or four parts by the violence of the waves, so that boats might pass from the open sea into the port in calm weather, by means of the channel so formed. On one of the portions is the tomb of a Turkish saint, or santon, called the Delikli Baba; on the same one is the monument of the French sailors who fell at the famous Battle of Navarino; the monument of the Russian ones died at the same battle is on the island of Sphacteria; and near the centre of the port is another very small island, or rock, where the English sailors' monument is erected. Other monuments or tombs, reminiscents of the Greek War of Independence are on the island of Sphacteria, the most important being the monument of the Italian philhellene Santorre di Santa Rosa.


Pylos is the supposed birthplace of the venerable Nestor, its king.


Bronze Age Pylos

Bronze Age Pylos was excavated by Carl Blegen in 1952. It is located at modern Ano Englianos, about 9 km north-east of the bay. Blegen called the remains of a large Mycenean palace found there the "Palace of Nestor", after the character Nestor, who ruled over "Sandy Pylos" in the Homeric poems. Linear B tablets found by Blegen clearly demonstrate that the site itself was called Pylos (Mycenaean Greek Pulos, Linear B Pu-ro) by its Mycenean inhabitants. This site was abandoned sometime after the 8th century BC and was apparently unknown in the classical period. The ruins of a crude stone fortress on nearby Sphacteria Island, apparently of Mycenean origin, were used by the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War. (Thucydides iv. 31)

Classical Pylos

The site of classical Pylos was probably on the rocky promontory now known as Koryphasion at the northern edge of the bay of Pylos. This site is described by the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War. In 425 BC the Athenian politician Cleon sent an expedition to Pylos, to seize and occupy the bay. The Athenians captured a number of Spartan troops on the adjacent island of Sphacteria (see Battle of Sphacteria). Spartan anxiety over the return of the prisoners, who were taken to Athens as hostages, contributed to their acceptance of the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC.

Byzantine Avarino or Navarino

Venetian and Ottoman Anavarino

The Venetians built fortresses both at Old Navarino and (much later) at New Navarino. The Ottoman Empire took Navarino from the Venetians in 1499. They rebuilt the Venetian old fortress in 1572, under the name Anavarin-i atik.

Administratively, Anavarino was a kaza.

In 1668, Evliya Çelebi describes the city in his Seyahatname:

Anavarin-i atik is an unequalled castle... the harbor is a safe anchorage...
in most streets of Anavarin-i cedid [New Navarino] there are many fountains of running water... The city is embellished with trees and vines so that the sun does not beat into the fine marketplace at all, and all the city notables sit here, playing backgammon, chess, various kinds of draughts, and other board games....

Starting in 1686, the Venetians tried to retake Navarino and the rest of the Morea, but were finally defeated in 1715. The Ottomans started rebuilt the fortress of New Navarino, Anavarin-i Cedid, (which had been heavily damaged) immediately thereafter. There was another round of repairs in 1770.

The Modern Town

Pylos has a school, a lyceum, a gymnasium, a church, banks, a post office, a port which was expanded in the 1990s and a square (plateia) called the "Three Admirals' Square" (see Battle of Navarino).

The western end of Greek National Road 82 begins in downtown Pylos. The highway runs west to east and links Pylos with Kalamata and Sparta.


Historical population

Year Communal population Change Municipal population Change
1981 2,594 - - -
1991 2,014 -580/-22.36% 5,340 -
2001 2,104 90/4.47% 5,402 62/1.16%


  • John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, Fariba Zarinebaf-Shahr, "Pylos Regional Archaeological Project, Part III: Sir William Gell's Itinerary in the Pylia and Regional Landscapes in the Morea in the Second Ottoman Period", Hesperia 69:3:343-380 (July-September, 2000) at JSTOR
  • Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennet, and Jack L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th century, Hesperia Supplement 34, Princeton, 2005. ISBN 0-87661-534-5. A study combining archaeological and survey results with information from the Ottoman archives.
  • Diana Gilliland Wright, book review of Zarinebaf et al., Electronic Journal of Oriental Studies 8:10:1-16 (2005). A very complete summary of Zarinebaf. PDF

External links

Northwest: Korynthos North: Chiliochora, Nestor and Papaflessa
West: Ionian Sea
Pylos East: Chiliochora
South: Methoni Southeast: Epia

See also

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