Chania Gramvoussa castle

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Location: Balos

On the western side of Crete, near Balos Beach, there are two remote uninhabited islets: Agria (Wild) and Imeri (Tame) Gramvousa. Out of the two, the latter is famous for its gorgeous beach, the carcass of a shipwrecked boat, and its impressive medieval castle.

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Top Tours and activities

  • Boat cruise to Balos Lagoon and Gramvousa

    Category: Boat Tours, Shore Excursions

    Have a relaxing experience in golden sands and turquoise waters, see an old shipwreck, a historic castle, and the overall beauty of Balos and Gramvousa.

    6.5 hours Map
    from € 38.00
    Book now


Constructed between 1579 and 1584 by the Venetians to guard the island against the Turks, the fort was based on the plans of the architect and diplomat Latino Orsini. Its name comes from the Italian word Garabuse (meaning ‘promontory outpost’), while the location’s ancient name was Korykos.

After the Ottomans occupied Crete in 1669, the Venetians remained in possession of Gramvousa for another 23 years and organized it as best they could. Nevertheless, in 1692, the Turks managed to capture it by bribing the Venetian commander.

Despite its considerable size and capacity to accommodate 3,000 men, it seems the Venetians never used the castle in the course of a major battle. During the 1821 Greek War of Independence, though, things changed. In the summer of 1825, a group of Cretans disguised as Turks seized the fort, making it the first piece of Cretan land to be liberated. Over the next few years, they used it as their base, ambushing the Turks at night and launching a kind of guerilla warfare against them, which revitalized the Cretan insurgency. Due to the lack of food and other supplies, though, these fighters soon resorted to piracy, attacking not only Turkish but also European ships. Thus, Gramvousa became notorious all over Europe as the ‘pirate island’. The community organized itself with a temporary command, the Cretan Council, and issued its own seals. A school was also built for the children, as was a church dedicated to the Annunciation of Mary. This chapel has become more commonly known as Panagia Kleftrina, which can be translated as ‘Virgin Mary protectress of thieves’.

It goes without saying that European powers did not take kindly to this activity. So, with the approval of Kapodistrias’ government, English and French forces attacked the fort in January 1828, stationing a multinational guard on it under the orders of Hatzimichalis Dalianis. The garrison remained there until 1830-1831 when Gramvousa was occupied by the Egyptians; it has remained deserted ever since.


Standing 137 meters above sea level, the fortress’s location was strategic, as it offered an unimpeded view of the entire northeastern part of Crete. The construction is triangular, each side being more than one kilometer long, and straight stretches of ramparts alternate with small bastions. The northern side is naturally guarded by craggy rocks, so no walls were necessary. Except for the cordon, which consists of chiseled sandstone, the walls are made of local limestone. It is only accessible from the eastern side, through a narrow winding path. The main gate was heavily protected, featuring a domed gallery that leads to the interior.

Inside the walls, there are two large underground cisterns, the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and a powder storehouse later used as a mosque. Visitors can also see the foundations of the ruined barracks, the command post and other facilities. The way up to the castle is difficult due to the rocky terrain, but the view of the Aegean Sea is breathtaking.

Bonus info: Gramvousa has been declared a NATURA-protected area. Though its flora consists mainly of cactuses, more than 100 bird species live there during the summer months. The Mediterranean seal uses its caves to give birth to its young, while caretta caretta turtles also come here looking for food.



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