Although I visit the Greek island of Zakynthos each year, last summer was the first time that I managed to take a look inside the old Venetian Fort or Kastro on top of the hill at Bohali and overlooking Zante town. I’ve often sat in one of the terrace cafes up there and admired the view over the town looking out to sea and even looked inside the pretty little church that is so sought after for weddings and christenings, but somehow I never got there at a time when the Venetian fort was open.
This time, I made a little more effort to arrive in the morning and was able to pass through the stone gateway with the Venetian lion carved on it and into the compound itself. The Venetian Fort dates back to the 15th century and is enclosed by a stone wall with steep drops on all sides and a near 360 degree view over the island, so it’s easy to understand why it would be situated on this hill. In 1460 the fort was destroyed by the Turks and later the islanders tried to repair it with the help of the Venetians at one point making it the capital of the island.
Inside the walls, there is a surprisingly large area that would once have been a bustling encampment, almost a small village catering for the many soldiers stationed here, but is now an open space, overgrown with shady pine trees. There was little left to indicate what would have once gone on inside the fortress with only a few stone buildings remaining, such as the prison cells and the munitions building. There were some canons lying around and a paved stone area by the walls where you could get a great view over the bay and imagine yourself to be on look-out for invasion from the sea.
At each of the different areas there were signs in English describing the buildings or activities that were once there. However, there was little else to bring the place to life and the whole fortress had something of an abandoned air. Thinking of the similar fortress of Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon which is one of the premier tourist attractions of the city, has an excellent museum and even a top class restaurant inside the walls, I thought what a missed opportunity this was for the island. Perhaps the local authorities are not interested in directing resources at this part of the island’s history or perhaps the package holiday makers who visit Zakynthos are not so interested in visiting this kind of historical attraction.
If you visit the island of Zakynthos, it’s worth looking around if you’re interested in the history of the island, perhaps combining with a relaxing coffee on the terrace admiring the view and a look inside the church if it happens to be open. I believe the little tourist train that stops in the main square of Zante town will take you up to the top of the hill to save your weary legs on the steep climb. The opening times are given below, although you may need to get your hotel to check these by ringing ahead, if you’re making a special visit.
From the 1st of November to the 30th of June: Every day from :08.30-15.00 and closed on Mondays.
From the 1st of July to the 31st of October: Every day from 08.00-19.00 and closed on Mondays.
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