History of Ermioni

Ermioni (Ancient Hermione) was originally founded by mythical hero Ermionas and the ancient Dryopian tribe, and dedicated to the 'messenger' god, Hermes. During the Mycenaean period, the city was honoured to Hermione, daughter of Helen and Menelaus, King of Sparta.  When Helen and Paris sailed together for Troy, Hermione was cared for by Helen's sister Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, King of Argos and Mycenae.  Hermione later married Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus), son of the Greek hero Achilles. In the Iliad, Homer mentioned ancient Hermione's involvement in the Trojan War, under the command of the Argive King Diomedes, also the number of warships that sailed from Greece to bring back the beautiful Helen of Troy, Queen of Sparta. Over a thousand years later, the Augustan Roman geographer Strabo wrote about ancient Hermione as 'the town lying on the South-Eastern end of the Argolid, whereby its history goes far back in time', and stated clearly that 'it is not one of the lesser towns'

In the 8th Century BC, a large expansion of settlements began in the Southern Argolida region, as elsewhere in Greece.  By the 6th Century BC some of these villages had grown into real towns and large cities, such as Hermione (Ermioni), Halieis (Porto Heli), Mases (Kilada) and Eileoi (Iliokastro). This laid the foundations for the archaic Hermionis Kingdom, ruled from the city of Hermione. Today, this geographical area of the ancient Hermionis Kingdom is called Ermionida, with Ermioni being the largest coastal town.

Ancient Hermione was originally divided into two areas, with a commercial sector and a fortified citadel.  The commercial sector had a port and harbour situated at the South-Western side of Hermione, within the present Kapari Bay area.  The town developed around the harbour and up the ancient Hill of Pronos, where today you will find the mid-18th Century church of Aghia Ermioni, built on the foundations of an ancient temple to the goddess Hera.  The citadel was built on the present Bisti peninsula, originally called Poseideon.  This was a military, administrative and cultural centre, which would have included a small royal palace, a number of temples, including the temples to the sea-god Poseidon and the goddess Athena, and a stone and marble built theatre. Today, you can still see some foundations of buildings from the ancient city, now under the sea, along the Southern Mandrakia-Bisti coastline.

The Poseideon citadel was encircled with stone walls and a fortified inland entrance, for defence of the whole population in times of attack by rival cities or marauding pirates. The military fleet would have been stationed close to the citadel walls, on the Northern side of the Poseideon peninsula, in the present Limani Bay.  Ongoing archaeological excavations have discovered that the stone walls were extended beyond the Poseideon Bisti citadel area during the Byzantine and Venetian periods and eventually included most of the modern town.  The excavations prove that the outer Western perimeter wall of the city extended from the present school and market area at Limani, and arched across to the Mandrakia waterfront, enclosing the present Byzantine church of Agioi Taxiarches.

Hermione continued to flourish in the 5th and 4th Centuries BC, and during the Classical period it became important due to its agriculture, ship-building and fishing.  The town grew during the Hellenistic and Roman periods and had a population of over 7,000 inhabitants (there are just over 3,000 permanent residents today).  Hermione gained a reputation for the wealth of its coastline, which was attributed to the rare species of murex seashells and the purple mollusc, porphyra, whereby the local inhabitants obtained a deep red and purple dye through a special process.  This deep red coloured dye was used for dyeing the military cloaks and tunics of Greek armies, such as the famous crimson red of King Leonidas and his Spartan warriors (right) and the exclusive Tyrian purple dye used for the cloaks (palliums) of nobility and royalty, such as the elite Macedonian Companions and their supreme commander and King, Alexander the Great.  Archaeological finds in Ermioni have included silver and bronze coins which show Demeter, the goddess of Earth, which date back to 550 BC, giving evidence to the importance and affluence of the old Hermionis Kingdom.  Many other ancient artifacts have been discovered during excavations of Ermioni and the Poseideon Bisti peninsula by archeologist Alex Philadelpheas from 1908.  A bronze Corinthian style hoplite warriors helmet was discovered here, today it is displayed with many other interesting exhibits from Ancient Hermione, in the new Archaeological Museum of the Peloponnese, in Syntagma Square, Nafplio. 

Hermione had always been historically allied with Mycenae and Sparta, and later belonged to the Peloponnesian League.  The city sent 3 trireme warships to fight the Persians at the great sea-battle of Salamis in 480 BC and a year later sent 300 heavily-armed hoplite warriors, and an equal number of support troops, to fight the Persian invaders at the battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Following these two important historic battles, with the total defeat of the Persians, the Hellene city-states experienced a brief Classical golden age of peace, trade and development.  This period ended when Hermione assisted Sparta and her allies in the Peloponnesian War, 431-387 BC, a long civil war against Athens and her allies.  During this conflict, from Epidavros the Athenians laid waste the territories of Troezen, Halieis and Hermione.  However, this bloody civil war finally resulted in the defeat of Athens and the destruction of the once mighty Athenian Empire.  Hermione finally got the chance to recover, rebuild and develop in peace.
 

The above historical paintings have been created by a local Ermioni artist, Mihalis Papafrangou.  The paintings depict the scenes of the Poseideon Bisti citadel of ancient Hermione.  

Hermione witnessed considerable prosperity during the Hellenistic and Republican Roman periods.  The aqueduct that carried water to a number of rock-hewn cisterns, which were found across the populated town, was built and completed during this time. Hermione's historical development continued to be influenced by Imperial Roman rule.  When the Greco-Roman Pausanias visited Hermione in the 2nd Century AD, he described with admiration the lavish temples, the theatre, the festivals, the music contests and swimming races that brought much glory to the old Kingdom of Ermionis and surrounding area.  The Roman Emperor Constantine transfered his imperial court from Rome to ancient Byzantium between 324-330 AD.  The city became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and later became known as Constantinople.  Initially, Latin remained the language of court and the military, but by the 7th Century, Greek was the only language of administration and government in the Roman Byzantine Empire, and Orthodox Christianity its dominant faith.  Many churches and monasteries were built in the Peloponnese and Greece during the Byzantine era.  A Christian three-aisled basilica with impressive mosiac floors, excavated next to today's Town Hall, provides the existence and predominance of early Christian worship in Hermione.  The present Metropolis church of Agioi Taxiarches (Archangels) in the old village and the small church of Panaghia within the monastery of Agioi Anargyroi, near Ermioni, were built during the 9th Century, with the monastery itself being constructed in the 11th Century, over the foundations of an ancient temple of Asclepios.

During the Norman and Frankish occupation of the Peloponnese (Medieval Morea) following the Crusades in the 12th and early 13th Centuries, Ermioni was encircled by stone walls that were erected on the remains of ancient structures, acquiring the name Kastri (castle). Due to various Crusader factions trying to control Greece during this period, the defensive walls of Kastri were extended by the Frankish Crusaders, with more entrance gates being constructed in the outer walls.  Some of these defensive walls can still be seen today, on the Northern side of the Bisti peninsula and at various points throughout the town, however, archaeologists still haven't found any trace of the main entrance gates to the town.  Close to Ermioni, on Lizard rock, near Thermisia, the Crusaders built a hill-top castle in the late 12th Century, which defended valuable salt-pans that were located in the lagoon area below.  The ruins of this coastal Medieval castle can be visited today, with a moderate 350 metre climb.

For the next few hundred years, the Franks, Venetians, Geonese and Byzantines vied for domination of the Greek mainland and her islands.  The Byzantines and Venetians built massive fortifications at nearby Nafplio, Argos, Acrocorinth, Monemvasia and Mystras, and would have influenced the whole Argolida region, if not directly occupying the Ermionida area.  During this period of political infighting, the Greek people kept a strong belief in their Orthodox Christian religion and national identity, as on the horizon a dark cloud decended in the shape of the Ottoman Empire, with the capture of Thessaloniki in 1430 and the fall of the sacred imperial city of Constantinople on 29th May 1453.

Ermioni eventually came under the control of Ottoman Turks in 1537, when the Kastri fortress on the Bisti was laid under siege and finally overpowered by numerically superior Ottoman forces.  As the Kastri was about to be taken, all the Byzantine Greeks and their Christian allies who had heroically defended the fortress managed to escape to safety.  What the besieging Ottoman army didn't know was that there were 17 secret escape points within the fortress, leading to an underground tunnel cut into the limestone rock, which the whole of Ermioni is built on.  This tunnel led the defenders to 3 concealed escape points outside the fortress walls. All three escape points have now been discovered, one being at the church of Aghios Athanasios, near the Bisti, another coming out opposite the present Mandrakia slipway, and the third exit point is close to the Byzantine Agioi Taxiarches church in the old village.  The Franks had already surrendered most of the Argolis region to the Ottoman Turks in 1460, although Nafplio remained in Venetian hands until 1540.  During the following period of Ottoman occupation, the Christian basilica and most of the defensive walls of Medieval Ermioni (Kastri) were dismantled and used for the reconstruction of Hydra.  This transfer of stone and marble also included the ancient temples and theatre, that had been constructed on the Poseideon peninsula during the 6th - 4th Century BC. 

Although there had been many unsuccessful revolts against the Ottoman Turkish occupation before, the Greek War of Independence was started within the Peloponnese in March 1821.  At the Monastery of Aghia Lavra, near Kalavrita, Metropolitan Germanos of Old Patras blessed the Hellenic battle standard and the revolution soon spread throughout Greece.  Ermioni had survived the Turkish occupation due to its powerful shipping, and later took part in several land and sea battles, alongside Hydra and Spetses, in fighting for the cause of Greek Independence. During this struggle for freedom, liberated Ermioni hosted the Third National Assembly of Greece, January to March 1827.  Many prominent leaders of the Hellenic revolution attended this historic meeting, including General Theodoros Kolokotronis, in a fortified house that today is the Ermioni Museum.

The President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, visited the Ermioni Museum of History and Folklore on Sunday 12th March 2017, to celebrate the 190th Anniversary of the famous and historic Third National Assembly held in Ermioni in 1827.

As the long and bitter fight for independence continued, the Great Powers (Kingdom of France, United Kingdom and the Russian Empire) decided to intervene in the conflict.  When news came that a large combined Ottoman and Egyptian fleet was preparing to attack the island of Hydra, the 3 Great Powers each sent a fleet to intercept.  The naval Battle of Navarino in October 1827 resulted in the total destruction of the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet.  It was the last naval battle in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships. Although it was a great victory for the Hellenic cause, it required two more military interventions, by Russia and France, to force the Ottoman forces to withdraw from central and southern Greece.  In 1829, after eight years of conflict, the Ottomans' capitulated and the Hellenic people achieved their independence.  At the Treaty of London in 1829 the Great Powers insisted that Greece became a monarchy, with the young philhellene Otto, Royal Prince of Bavaria, chosen to become the first King of Greece.  Greece was finally internationally recognized as an independent nation in May 1832, with the Treaty of Constantinople.  King Othon arrived at Nafplio, his provisional capital, in January 1833 on the British frigate HMS Madagascar.  He had already Hellenized his name, adopted the Greek national costume and started making plans to rule Greece and create a new capital for his Kingdom, in Athens. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia, countries that had all achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire, formed the Balkan League.  In October 1912, the League declared war on the crumbling Ottoman Empire.  After five Centuries of European occupation, the Ottoman Empire lost almost all of these territories within 7 months, as the First Balkan War ended with the Treaty of London.  The Second Balkan War broke out when Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece in June 1913, due to its dissatisfaction over the division of Macedonia. Greek and Serbian armies repulsed the offensive and counter attacked into Bulgaria.  As the Second Balkan War ended with the Treaty of Bucharest in July 1913, Greece had increased her territories by 68% from the start of the conflict.  These Balkan Wars were ultimately one of the major causes for the First World War.  The people of Ermioni fought for their beloved country in both World Wars for the Allied Nations, although the Kingdom of Greece tried to stay neutral in the First World War, due to its royal connections with the German royal family.  However, Greece finally declared war against the Central Powers in June 1917, partly as Greece was promised territorial gains of the defeated Ottoman Empire.  Since the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the birth of the Kingdom of Greece, the dream of most Greek people was the return of the sacred city of Constantinople to Greece and Christianity, together with all the historic Greek coastal cities of Asia Minor.  When the Great War ended in victory for the Allies, the Royal Hellenic army proudly took part in the 14th July 1919 Victory Parade in Paris. 

The dream for a resurrected united Greek speaking empire, the Megali Idea, led to the Greco-Turkish War in 1919-1922.  The Triple Entente ordered the Greek army to land at Smyrna, to protect the 2.5 million Greeks and Christians living in the old Ottoman Empire. This ill-fated military expedition which had started with so much confidence, led to the total defeat and eventual evacuation of the whole Greek army from Asia Minor.  Following the 'Smyrna Catastrophe' in September 1922, the city's role as a bastion of Greek and Christian culture, going back many thousands of years, came to an abrupt end.  The majority of the 1.6 million homeless Greek refugees from Asia Minor re-settled around Piraeus, Thessaloniki and the islands of Chios and Mitylene, with about 7,000 coming to the Ermionida area.  Ermioni's town boundries expanded to accommodate this huge increase in population and dwellings, however, by 1928 only about 35 refugees from Attaleia and Smyrna remained in Ermioni, as most had moved on seeking work into Attica.  These Ionian, Aeolian and Anatolian refugees brought little with them, apart from their ancestral traditions, culture and music.  Many local songs performed in Ermioni today, have their roots from the old Greek coastal colonies and cities of Asia Minor (Turkey) like Smyrna (Izmir) Miletus (Milet) and Ephesus (Efes), which were originally founded by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists in the 11th -10th Century BC, becoming greater and wealthier than most Greek cities on the mainland.

At the start of the Second World War, Greece was invaded by Mussolini's Italian forces.  Although the smaller Greek army threw the Italians back into Albania, this resulted in Nazi Germany coming to the Italians aid, bringing with them the full force of the 'blitzkrieg' and occupation of Greece.  In the Spring of 1941, following many battles against the Axis Italian and German forces, praise was given by friend and foe alike to the courage shown by the defiant Royal Hellenic army.  Even the Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler personally gave general praise to "the Greek soldier, who of all the adversaries that confronted us, fought with the highest courage and disregard of death" and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said "Hence we will not say that Greeks fought like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks". The Ermioni fallen are remembered by name on the white marble war memorial, with the mythical Phoenix rising from the flames at the crest, that stands at the centre of the Limani waterfront. This simple monument is the focal point for many of Ermioni's present day civic occasions and religious festivals.

The horrors and suffering inflicted on the Greek population during the Second World War, especially the civilian massacres commited by Nazi forces in the mountain villages in and around Kalavrita on 13th December 1943, continued after the liberation of mainland Greece, with the Greek Civil War, 1946-1949.  Ermioni escaped the brutality of this conflict as the Ermionida area was predominantly loyal to the King and government, initially supported by Great Britain and eventually by the United States of America, and did not endure the horrific hostilities against the smaller KKE and DSE partisan army in Northern Greece, funded by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria.  Greece is now officially named the Hellenic Republic, but this loyalty seems to continue today, as the exiled ex-King Constantine of Greece has been recently allowed to acquire a couple of private estates within Ermionida.

Having taken part in all the significant historical moments of the country, Ermioni has managed to preserve its past heritage into the present, and remains one of a few Hellenic settlments to be continually inhabited from pre-Mycenaean times to the present period. 

  

As a visitor, it is worth walking up to the Old Village, to see the recently restored 9th Century Byzantine Metropolis church of Taxiarches (Archangels), which was built on the same ground where the ancient temple of Demeter once stood.  The ancient streets can easily be detected around the surrounding walls of the church, which were in turn surrounded by Cyclopean walls, some of which still remain today.  A characteristic house of the period, which has been carefully restored, is located diagonally across from the Taxiarches church.  This building is where the Third National Assembly of Greece met in 1827, on the upper floor, attended by the famous Greek general Theodoros Kolokotronis, a national hero of the Greek War of Independence.  Today, this fortified building has become the Ermioni Museum of History and Folklore with the upper floor dedicated to the period of the Hellenic revolution.

Outside the museum, there is a small garden which has two marble statues of Ermioni's greatest Independence War heroes.  They are the Mitsas brothers who led the Ermioni rebellion against the Ottoman Turks.  One of the brothers, Yiannis, gave his life in the struggle for Independence, the other brother, Stamatis, survived and went on to become an admiral in the Hellenic Navy.  On 25th March, Independence Day, there are always tributes and blessings given to the Mitsas heroes by the people of Ermioni.  It was in March 1821, that the Metropolitan (Bishop) Germanos blessed the Greek standard, in the Monastery of Aghia Lavra.  This action ignited the Greek revolt in the Peloponnese, which spread throughout Greece against the Ottoman Turkish Empire. After much suffering and sacrifice, it brought to life a new independent Greek Kingdom, which has evolved to become the Hellenic Republic.   

Beyond the old village is the ancient Hill of Pronos.  This is where the local children and adults enjoy flying their kites each year on 'Clean Monday', accompanied by traditional Greek folk music and dancing.  At the crest of the hill is the mid-18th Century church of Aghia Ermioni (picture left) built on the foundations of the 5th Century BC temple to the goddess Hera.  This ancient Hill of Pronos, which was inhabited during the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, overlooked the ancient commercial port of Hermione. Today, this ancient port is under water (picture right) but can still be detected from the hill above.  The military port was located along the Northern side of the Poseideon Bisti citadel, beneath the original Mycenaean, and later Byzantine, Frankish and Venetian walls.  On the other side of the Hill of Pronos, running parallel to the present main road into Ermioni, one can clearly see the different sections of the Hellenistic and Roman aqueduct that supplied unlimited fresh water to the growing number of its citizens. This vital fresh water supply has been so important for the development of Ancient Hermione, Medieval Kastri and Modern Ermioni.

Archaeological excavations were carried out on the Poseideon-Kastri-Bisti peninsula in 1908 by Alex Philadelpheas, and continue within the Ermioni area (at various periods) to the present day by modern archaeologists.  Many important historical finds are on display, within the Ancient Hermione section, at the new Archaeological Museum of the Peloponnese, in Syntagma Square, Nafplio.

FURTHER READING:

'Beyond the Acropolis - A rural Greek past'  by Tjeerd van Andel & Curtis Runnels  Amazon   About ancient Hermione and region.

'Papas' Greece'  by Tessa and Bill Papas   Amazon    A humorous look at life in Ermioni and Greece during the late 1960s and 70s.

'Paradise Lost - Smyrna 1922 : Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance'  by Giles Milton. The catastrophe affecting ordinary people.   

 

Hermione:  Ancient name of the town.     Ermionis:  Ancient name of the Hermione Kingdom.     Poseideon:  Ancient name of the Bisti peninsula.   Kastri:  Medieval name of the town and citadel.   Ermioni:  Modern name of the town.   Ermionida:  Modern name of the ancient Ermionis Kingdom area.

Ermionida today includes the towns of Ermioni, Kranidi and Porto Heli, and the villages of Kilada, Thermisia, Dardiza, Iliokastro, Loukaiti, Kouverta, Petrothalassa, Aghios Emilianos, Kosta, Ververonda, Didyma, Salanti, Fourni, Porto Hydra, Pigadia, Plepi and Metohi. 

Location

Ancient Hermione - Poseideon
Medieval Kastri - Modern Bisti - Ermioni
Greece
37° 23' 3.3324" N, 23° 15' 28.0008" E
Picture Gallery
Artists impression of the Poseideon Bisti peninsula 1500 BC Stone fortifications of the military harbour of the citadel Ancient Hermione - Poseideon fortifications Medieval Ermioni - Kastri fortifcations Part of the Frankish defensive walls of the Bisti Kastri Cyclopean walls near the entrance to Ermioni Hellenistic walls beneath the new Ermioni library in the old village Cyclopean stones opposite the Byzantine Taxiarches church Pediments and columns of the ruined temple of Poseidon Foundations of the temple of Athena on the Bisti peninsula 5th Century BC foundation stones of the temple of Athina Christian basilica foundation stones on the Bisti peninsula Deep wells gave the defenders unlimited fresh water Church of Aghios Nikolaos next to the Temple of Poseidon Archaeological excavation site alongside Aghios Nikolaos Classical remains from the Temple of Poseidon Ancient warriors tomb on the Poseideon Bisti peninsula Bronze 'Corinthian' style helmet found in ancient Hermione Finds from Ancient Hermione on display in the Nafplio museum The sunken commercial harbour of ancient Hermione A town grew up around the harbour near the hill of Pronos Hellenistic aqueduct brought water to the growing population Various sections of the ancient Hermione aqueduct Marble Hellenistic residents of ancient Hermione Renovated Mitsas windmill (milos) on the Bisti peninsula Ermioni wedding dress on display (right) from the late 19th Century Household and garden items on display in the Ermioni museum Historic costumes on display in the Ermioni museum Military costumes, weapons and artifacts on display in the Ermioni museum Revolutionary heroes that attended the 3rd national assembly General Theodoros Kolokotronis, hero of the Greek Revolution, present at the 1827 National Assembly in Ermioni The Mitsas brothers, Ermioni heroes in the War of Independence 1821-1832 Fall of the sacred city of Constantinople - May 1453 Bishop Germanos blesses the Hellenic battle standard - March 1821 Greek Army - First Balkan War 1912 Greek Army - Second Balkan War 1913 Great War Victory Parade in Paris - July 1919 Greek Army in Smyrna 1920 Greek Army in Northern Greece 1940 Ermioni war memorial with military escort