There is an old saying that our sailors used to say about their favorite places: the ports are not usually pretty, and that’s ok, as they’re something greater. They are interesting. They’re places with stories, and the stories give a place character, not the beauty. Pyrgos might not be a port, but this old saying will probably come to your mind as you stroll on its streets.
With a population of 25.000 people and an urban web clearly made in the light of functionality, rather than aesthetics, the capital and biggest city of Ilia is not a tourist destination. It definitely worth a stop though, as it has some very interesting stories to narrate through its sights. It can also be a wonderful base of trips to Ilia (Ancient Olympia, let’s say, is just 20 kilometers away from here) if you don’t really like the outskirts and their quietness, or if you want to be at night on a place with some action.
Strolling and sightseeing in Pyrgos
The Archaeological museum
It is housed on the wonderful neoclassical building, designed by Ernst Ziller in 1890, which originally hosted the Public Market of the city. Today, its halls tell the long History of Ilia through the findings from the excavations that start from prehistory and reach until short after the Byzantium. The collections are separated in thematic units that include the dwellings, the religion, the people, their ideas and their everyday life. The result is one of the most interesting, and comprehensible, archaeological museums you’ve ever seen.
Agia Kyriaki church
Do we have in Greece Gothic churches? If you hurried to answer “no” you haven’t seen the impressive, red church of Agia Kyriaki in Pyrgos, with the twin towers on its front and the interesting wall paintings of the Zakynthian hagiographer Tamvakis on the inside.
The Eparcheion (Courthouse)
It is a well-maintained, green hill in the center of the city, very close to the central square, perfect for cool walks during the hot summer evenings. The families with children will also appreciate the playground here.
A ”jewel” on the big, open central square of the city, one of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings that hosts, apart from the services of the municipality, a small but rather interesting folklore collection. The impressive neoclassical’s construction started in 1977 and finished in 1985.
Agios Athanasios church
Also designed by the 19th
century architect, Ernst Ziller, Agios Athanasios stands with its big dome on one of the seven hills of the city.
Another interesting neoclassical building of Pyrgos, the ultimate peach colored building that hosts the Apollo Theatre started its construction in 1850 and today hosts theatrical performances and other cultural events
The best trips around Pyrgos
Ancient Olympia is just the beginning. Ilia, which in the most part is undiscovered, has more aces on its sleeve to fill not just a weekend, but also regular long holidays. In the “must” visit places are the Lake and Beach of Kaiafas and the beautiful oak forest of Foloi, plus all the places that follow.
It is considered as the seaport of Pyrgos, from which is 15 kilometers away. It is a small, picturesque port with colorful, tiled buildings decorating its coastal walkway and an interesting Museum of Ancient Greek Technology
included in its sights. About two and a half kilometers outside Katakolo, there is Pontikokastro,
a Frankish fortress built on top of an older byzantine fortress, which in turn was built on top of the citadel’s remnants of Ancient Feia. There are just a few remnants of the castle that survived till today, but the amazing view to the Ionian Sea worth the climbing of the (whatsoever low) hill.
43 kilometers from Pyrgos, very close to Killini, there is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved castles of the entire Peloponnese. Its most important castle of the (back then) Principality of Achaia was built in 1233 and on the one hand is the biggest castle that the Franks built in the Balkans, and on the other hand it is the most representative specimen of a Frankish castle in Greece that we have today.
Chelmoutsi, which the Franks called more elegantly “Clermont”, was built by Godeff Villehardouin, one of the leaders of the forth Crusade that later became the first Prince of Achaia, as a fortress and a personal palace. The outrageous sum of money that he spent (actually, abused by the church) for its construction forced the Pope to excommunicate him- Godeff though, managed to convince him that the castle was necessary to protect the region and make him aside his excommunication. Eight centuries passed and the castle became Catalan, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian until it reached today and become one of the most interesting sights of Ilia.
The gigantic, sandy beach of Amaliada, from which it’s just 6 kilometers away, is probably the most popular beach of Ilia, and it makes sense why. Its fluffy, golden red sand, the amazing turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea that wets it, the spectacular sunset and the potential of choosing either the organized part and the beach bar, or to lay your towel on one of the free parts make it very popular. Its shallow waters and the sand inside and outside the water make it ideal for families with children. For those who don’t like crowded beaches a bit southern, at Palouki, there is another sandy beach, also dreamy. The small harbor with the fish taverns next to it is perfect for ouzo with meze after swimming.
Monastery of Skafidias
It is an impressive Castle-monastery of the 11th
century, 12 kilometers from Pyrgos at the village that is also called Skafidias- the organized beach of which is sandy and popular. The most remarkable part of the monastery is its Tower, which we don’t know exactly when it was built and it looks like no other tower of castle or monastery in Greece. Its western architectural characteristics lead the researchers to suppose that it is a Frankish or Venetian building, without having actual evidence to support the one or the other theory. Despite all that, the monastery is open to visit and hosts a small ecclesiastical museum
with relics and manuscripts, apart from the chance to see the tower from up close and draw your own conclusions about its origins.
We would not exaggerate if we say that Ilia, along with Messinia, has the best beaches in Peloponnese. Sandy in the most part, organized and free, popular or “secret”, enough beaches in general to fit every taste. The big organized (but with also free parts) beach of Hrisi Akti, under the shadow of Chlemoutsi castle, has the nicest sand of the area, Arkoudi beach gathers the youngest people that love its beach bars, Glyfa and Thines Vartholomiou beaches have an ideal scenery and pine forests that reach the waves, like Loutra Killini beach, the sand dunes of which are covered in white lilies.