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Spectacular fortress of Assos

Assos Fortress

Photo: fiftyfits

'one of the largest castles in Greece'.

Perched on the north west coast of Kefalonia, the Assos fortress is the larger of two beautiful castles on the island and is one of the largest in Greece. Building began in 1593, and today huge walls hug the contours of the terrain and provide memorable views from every angle. We strongly suggest that you attempt the terrifying journey to the summit.

The word 'stunning' is often overused in the world of travel writing. Few vistas can be described as truly stunning, but the fortress at Assos is certainly a contender. The experience has to be fairly impressive to justify the rather terrifying approach to this 16 century castle. More on this later.

Ancient builders got cracking in 1593 under the watchful eye of Ambrosius Cornelius. It was constructed following a petition in 1584 by islanders who were concerned that the existing castle (the castle of St George) was too small to decent the whole island. The building of the new fortress coincincided with ambitious Venician plans to better protect their territories in the east. The idea was to eventually build a small city from within the fortress walls.

Assos is unusual in the fact that it has remained virtually the same size throughout history. Even today, the quaint harbour is home to around 100 people. Despite the Venician wish to house residents within the fortress walls, it never really caught on. Islanders were understandably reluctant to move away from their charming seafront.

Getting to Assos Fortress can be challenging. You can either zigzag your way through dense woodland (there are a few paths, but signage is fairly poor), or drive on fairly terrifying roads and tracks. Those attempting the journey on foot are advised to take plenty of fluids, as there are few amenities when you get to the top.

Holidaymakers brave enough to do the journey in a vehicle are advised to take care. The road surface tends to be loose and edges have crumbled away in various places. There are many sections of the route where it would be impossible for two cars to pass safely.

Assuming you manage not to plunge off into a ravine, the journey should take you around 20 minutes. Passengers should be armed with cameras at all times as some of the best views can be seen during the journey. These include the tiny chapel of Panayia Plakoula which is tucked into the hillside underneath the fortress. A quick search on Flickr for 'Assos Fortress' will reveal some of the magnificent snaps other tourists have taken.

Once you get to the top you can explore the fortress itself, and it won't cost you a penny. The outside walls are in a pretty good state considering it's been abandoned for over half a century, but also survived the well-documented disastrous earthquake, which struck in August 1953.

Passing through entrance via a curved tunnel allows you to explore inside the outer walls. Being honest, this isn't overly exciting. Wild vegetation hides the 200 homes and 65 buildings which original stood at the site. However there are the remains of a small Catholic Church which was constructed in 1604.

Towards the middle of the Fortress it is still possible to make out ruins of a prison with some cells still remaining along with parts of an impressive Venetian building. Until the late 1960s, the Destounis family still lived in this part of the fortress.

At the end of the second world war, parts of the fortress were converted into a prison farm. This housed mainly political prisoners who would while away the hours tending the vineyards and crops of cereal. Sections of the prison are still intact despite it closing in 1953.

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