Acrocorinth is seen by every visitor to ancient Corinth – from a distance. It looms up in the background, its fortification walls clearly visible.
But few visitors see Corinth from Acrocorinth. Only the most dedicated archaeological tours take the trouble to drive up to this lofty fortress hill. If you are traveling by car then it’s easy to get to, or hire a taxi as it’s only a couple of kilometers from ancient Corinth.
Although it must have been an important place to the ancient Greeks, most of the remains are from medieval times. But the views are spectacular, and it’s well worth a visit. One big advantage is if you’re tired of crowds, then you’ll probably have the site to yourself, or half a dozen other visitors at the most.
Head for the summit!
If you’ve done any driving in Greece you’ll know not to expect too many signposts and here is no exception. Actually, there’re not necessary. Just head off towards the summit, and you’ll find your way.
There’s a car park in front of the summit, and a small museum. But before you reach it, you’ll find the remains of a 7th C BC sanctuary to Demeter, which is worth a look.
There’s also a small tourist shop which if you’re lucky will be open, and you can buy refreshments.
A long history
Acrocorinth was first a Greek acropolis, then a Roman citadel. Later it became a Byzantine fortress. The Franks captured it in 1210, and it then fell into the hands of one of the rulers of Naples. An arms manufacturer and banker then owned it, followed by the Knights of Rhodes, the Turks, the Venetians, then the Turks again, and finally the Greeks once more. Phew!
With all that lot knocking bits down, reinforcing other parts, or adding their own sections, you can see why there isn’t much left from ancient Greek times.
What to look out for
As you walk up from the car park, you get a good view of the three lines of defense and the three gates which protected the citadel from the west.
This was built in the 14th C. A moat was cut out of the rock to provide a defense against attack.
The Venetians were responsible for building this gate. You’ll see on one side they built a tower.
This gate has two rectangular towers on either side. The one on the right is mostly from the 4th C BC, while the other one is Byzantine. Most of the walls in this area are also Byzantine.
From this third gate the path takes you up through the old Turkish part to the rampart and the northern postern. It’s quite a steep climb. You’ll see the remains of the mosque and the minaret.
Then make your way back, and head towards the keep.
This is the Frankish sections, where you see the remains of the Frankish castle of the Villehardouin, who held it in the 13 C and 14 C.
From here there are magnificent views over the gulf of Corinth.
Once you’ve reached the keep, you retrace your steps and head back along the southern ramparts towards the Peirene Spring, which is next to the ruin of an old Turkish barracks.
Modern steps will lead you down into an underground chamber. This is from the Hellenistic period, with the roof being added by the Romans. There is a lower chamber, but it’s now flooded.
There’s a legend associated with this spring. The winged horse Pegasus stamped its hoof and created the spring. But while he was drinking from the water, he was captured by Bellerophon.
Temple of Aphrodite
It’s best to retrace your steps to just north of the southern rampart, and then make your way north west to the highest section, at 574m, about 1883 feet. Sadly only a single column marks the place where the temple once stood.
But it’s worth the effort to get to this point. The views are fantastic. You can see beyond Corinth to Mount Parnassus in the north, then towards Attica in the east, and on to the mountains of the Peloponnese in the south.
Aphrodite, who was worshipped here, was known in Syria as Astarte. The temple area was a center of religious prostitution. Some ancient authors claimed that over 1,000 prostitutes worked here, and as a result Acrocorinth was notorious for its licentiousness all over the ancient world. It’s been suggested that St Paul may have preached here during his visit to Corinth.
2021 Update: The Phaistos Disc from Crete is now associated with same goddess.