Pylos has been inhabited since Neolithic times and during the Bronze Age was the site of the Kingdom of Nestor. Some twenty kilometres north of the modern town of Pylos lies Nestor’s Palace, the administrative and economic centre of the Mycenean civilisation in western Greece. Much of what we know about the history of this period comes from the Linear B tablets over a thousand of which were preserved by heat when the palace burnt down. The natural harbour at Pylos is the largest in the Peloponnese and has witnessed two major sea battles, the first in the 5th century BC Peloponnesian War and the second in the Greek War of Independence.

Pylos was the original name during the Bronze Age according to tablets found at Nestor’s Palace. But over the centuries it has been known by a variety of names including “Zoglos”, “Zonklon”, “Zunchio”, “Port-de-Jonc”, “Porto Junco”, “Avarinos”, “Varinos”, “Anavarinos”, and “Navarino”. When the modern town was built in 1829 it was named “Pylos” after the original name from the Mycenean Era. For simplicity Pylos will be used here.


Archaeological evidence has been found of human habitation from as far back as 7000 years ago. It appears there were several Neolithic settlements in the area, including at modern day Voidokilia and at Nestor’s Cave.

During the Bronze Age the region of Pylos became a major centre of the Mycenean civilisation and was the Kingdom of Nestor whose palace was discovered in 1939. Nestor was a legendary hero in the Trojan War and his kingdom (“sandy Pylos”) is described by Homer in both the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The Palace was destroyed by fire at the end of the 12th century BC, the time of the “Bronze Age Collapse” but thousands of clay tablets were preserved with inscriptions in Linear B, the earliest known form of Greek. These show that the kingdom covered an area of around 2000 square kilometres and had a population of between fifty and a hundred thousand people. Nestor’s Palace itself was the third largest Mycenean citadel after Mycenae itself and Tiryns. However it is only one of several palaces, administrative centres and settlements in the kingdom; others have been found at Nichoria, Iklaina and Malthi.

The tablets also show that just before the fire, coastal defences were hastily organised (the Palace of Nestor was unusual in lacking city walls or other fortifications) which suggest that an attack from the sea was expected. After its destruction the site was abandoned and was unoccupied during the Dark Ages (1100-750 BC) and for much of the Archaic period (750-500 BC) and the Classical era which followed.

During the Second Messenian War in the mid 7th century BC, Pylos was one of the last places to hold out against Spartan subjugation. But after this the inhabitants left and went to Kyllini (near Corinth) and then on to Sicily.

Pylos next appears in Greek history during the Peloponnesian Wars and was the site of a major sea battle between Athens and Sparta although the area itself was sparsely inhabited (Thucydides describes it as a “deserted headland”). The Athenians planned to establish a naval base with the aim of encouraging the local Messenians to rise up against Spartan rule. In 425 BC The Athenian general, Kleon, sent a fleet to Pylos and seized the bay and the town (then on a rocky headland at the north end of the bay).

Shortly after this and following a land battle, he captured nearly 300 hoplites who were stranded on Sphacteria, the island which protects the bay. He then took the prisoners to Athens as hostages to deter Spartan invasions of Attica. The prisoners were also used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations which led to the treaty between Athens and Sparta known as the Peace of Nicias (421 BC).

Relatively little is known of the history of the area under Byzantine rule and it is scarcely mentioned again until the 13th century AD. In 1204, the Peloponnese was captured by the Crusaders and so Pylos became part of the Frankish “Principality of Achea” as is noted in the Chronicle of the Morea. At the end of the 13th century a castle was built on the rocky promonotory at the north end of the bay (known today as Paleokastro). In the 14th century the fortress and bay attracted the attention of the Venetians and Genoese and was the site of a naval battle between them.

Over the following centuries, the strategic advantage of the large natural harbour made Pylos a target for Franks, Byzantines, Venetians and Turks who after capturing it each made efforts to improve coastal fortifications.

The first Ottoman attack took place in 1423 and this was repeated in 1452. By 1460 Pylos was one of the few remaining pockets of resistance still held by Christians but in 1500 the Venetian garrison surrendered to the Ottoman forces. The Ottomans then used Pylos as a naval base and built a new fortress on the headland at the southern end of the bay (where the modern town is) which became known as “Neokastro” (to distinguish it from paleokastro, the old castle, to the north). The Venetians captured Pylos in 1685 and held it until 1715 when it was recaptured by the Ottomans.

In 1822, the second year of the War of Independence, Greeks besieged the town for 4 months until the Ottomans surrendered. But in 1825 the Ottomans recaptured it with the help of the Egyptian forces under Ibrahim Pasha.

In 1827 the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) sent 27 ships to the bay as a show of force. In the Battle of Navarino which followed, the combined Egyptian-Otttoman fleet of some 60 ships was destroyed and this helped to ensure the independence of Greece.

In 1828 the area was formally liberated by the French forces of the Morea Expedition and a year later work started on building a new town at the foot of Neokastro at the southern end of the bay. After Methoni it was only the second town in modern Greece to be constructed according to an urban plan and in 1833 was given the name “Pylos” after the Mycenean kingdom

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Nestor's Palace

Nestor's Palace

Nestor's Palace

Tholos tomb near Nestor's Palace




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