Bourtzi – Nafplio, Greece - Atlas Obscura


This 15th-century island fortress later served as home to the executioners no one wanted to live near. 


An executioner’s life is not an easy one. The men who spent their days carrying out the death sentences of the criminals incarcerated in the Greek prison of Palamidi in the latter half of the 19th century lived alone on an island, because most people did not want to live near them.

The imposing island fort of Bourtzi off the coast of Nafplio was home to executioners for several decades, after it stopped serving a military purpose. Bourtzi, meaning tower in Turkish, was built by the Venetians, invaded by the Turks, and is now a part of Greece.

When the Venetians, in the 15th century, discovered the strategic importance of the small island, situated right near the Nafplio port, they built a fortress in the shape of an imperfect hexagon to match the shape of the narrow landmass. The stairs were made movable in the 3-storey tower structure, and cannons and flamethrowers were positioned such that they could be unleashed at short notice.

A major threat at the time came from the pirates wandering the nearby seas. But the fort eventually fell, in 1715, into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, who went on to strengthen the fortification even further. They also dropped hundreds of large stones in the surrounding waters, to ensure that no big ships could reach the island.

During the time of the Greek Revolution, between 1821 and 1832, it was won back by the Greeks, who used it to shelter their leaders from the chaos that was taking over the rest of the land. When the strife subsided, Bourtzi was no longer required as a defensive fortress, and the executioners were housed there for the second half of the century. 

If the people in the 19th century had qualms about living near these men, 20th-century tourists had no such misgivings about staying in the very spaces previously occupied by them. The fortress was converted into a hotel in the 1930s, functioning all the way till the 1970s. 

After serving in all these different roles, it now sits empty aside from visits by curious tourists wanting to see the vacant castle and its great views of the city, and the music festival occasionally held there.

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The roundtrip boat ride costs around 5 euros and boats leave every 30 minutes during the day.

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