Although Nafplio is a charming town featuring elegant Venetian homes and towering fortresses over the harbor, the town is also a good place to use as a base for shore excursions to two nearby World Heritage sites -- Epidaurus and Mycenae.
Epidaurus is one of the most famous ancient sites in Greece. Greeks recognized Epidaurus as the birthplace of Asclepius, the god of healing. As such, Epidaurus was renowned for its sanctuary that had unique spa medical facilities and healing treatments. The ancient Greeks believed that licks from snakes were curative, and Asclepius is often shown holding a snake. Unfortunately, only some of the foundations of the sanctuary remain. The setting in the peaceful green foothills of Mt. Arahneo certainly is relaxing and conducive to healing.
Although the ancient sanctuary is famous, most of today's visitors flock to Epidaurus to see the 3rd century theater, which is one of the best preserved classical Greek buildings. The theater at Epidaurus has amazing acoustics. A coin dropped in the center of the 14.000 seat theater can be heard from the highest seat. In the summer, special performances are held at the theater at Epidaurus.
Epidaurus may be famous for its link to the god of healing and its wonderful theater, but Mycenae is famous for its link to Homer's tales of the glory of war. Mycenae may have been founded as early as the 14th century BC. The highly developed Mycenaean civilization of the Bronze Age was based in the area. Unfortunately, invading tribes destroyed most of Mycenae in 1100 BC. For centuries, it was difficult to tell which part of Mycenae was truth and which was myth. Homer wrote about Mycenae in his 9th century BC epic poems the Illiad and the Odyssey. Scholars read these masterpieces but could not definitively link them to history until the 19th century.
Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) was an amateur archaeologist who was derided by professional archaeologists when he began digging at Troy and Mycenae. He got the "last laugh" when he made spectacular finds of gold masks, jewelry, cups, and weapons at both sites. Today many of Schliemann's riches are in the Athens' Archaeological Museum, but visitors to Mycenae can still explore the site.
A tour of the ruins at Mycenae will go to the citadel or Acropolis (high city) through the Lion Gate, which is believed to have borne the insignia of the Royal House of Atreus. Other interesting features at Mycenae include the Cyclopean Walls, the Circle of Tombs, and the well preserved Beehive Tomb.
Cruise passengers whose ships anchor at Nafplio (Nafplion) for the day will most likely have to choose between half-day tours to one of the two sites above. For those who cannot decide, a day spent in Nafplio can be worthwhile. A good selection of shops selling jewelry, ceramics, olive oil products, and handicrafts can be found along Amalias Street and around Constitution Square. Hiking the 999 steps to the top of the Palamidi Fortress is certainly something to brag about when you get home, and the view might be worth the hike. Alternatively, a taxi to the fortress runs less than 5 euros. Nafplio is a wonderful city on the Aegean Sea. Maybe your Greek cruise will include a stopover at this port of call on the Peloponnese.