While sightseeing opportunities in Argos are slim, this bustling provincial city played an important role in ancient Greek history and otherwise today still shows evidence of both Roman and Ottoman rule.
Argos, since 2011 part of the municipality of Argos-Mykines, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited as at least a substantial village for the past 7,000 years. In 700 BC there were at least 5,000 people living in the city. In the fourth century BC, the city was home to as many as 30,000 people. Today, according to the 2011 Greek census, the city has a population of 22,209 and is the largest city in Argolis. Once the most important city in this region, it has faded somewhat into obscurity, eclipsed by its neighbor, the municipal capital, Nafplio, which was once its harbor.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy. Citrus fruits are the predominant crop, followed by olives and apricots. The area is also famous for its local melon variety, Argos melons (or Argetiko). There is also important local production of dairy products, factories for fruits processing.
The Urban Space
During Ottoman rule, Argos was divided in four mahalas, or quarters. The Greek (Rûm) mahala was also called the “quarter of the unfaithful of Archos town” in Turkish documents. Argos grew exponentially during this time, with its sprawl being unregulated and without planning. As French explorer Pouqueville noted, “its houses are not aligned, without order, scattered all over the place, divided by home gardens and uncultivated areas”.
All four quarters had main streets, which were wide, busy, public roads meant to allow for communication between neighbourhoods (typical examples are, to a great extent, modern-day Korinthou, Nafpliou and Tripoleos streets). Secondary streets were also common in all four quarters since they led to the interior of each mahala, having a semi-public character. The third type of streets were dead-end private alleys used specifically by families to access their homes. Remnants of this city layout can be witnessed even today, as Argos still preserves several elements of this Ottoman type style, particularly with its long and complicated streets, its narrow alleys, and its densely constructed houses.
With the advent to power of of governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, the city underwent efforts of modernisation. Being an agricultural village, the need for urban planning was vital. For this reason, in 1828, Kapodistrias himself appointed mechanic Stamatis Voulgaris as the creator of a city plan which would offer Argos big streets, squares and public spaces. However, both Voulgaris and, later, French architect de Borroczun’s plans were not well received by the locals, with the result that the former had to be revised by Zavos. Ultimately, none of the plans were fully implemented. Still, the structural characteristics of de Borroczun’s plan can be found in the city today, despite obvious proof of pre-revolutionary layout, such as the unorganised urban sprawl testified in the area from Inachou street to the point where the railway tracks can be found today.
Considerable remains of the ancient and medieval city survive and are a popular tourist attraction.
There are several theories regarding the origin of this city’s ancient name.
- It derives from from the Pelasgian language used by the people who first settled in the area and meant “plain.”
- It is associated with Argos, the third king of the city in ancient times, who renamed it after himself, thus replacing its older name Phoronikon Astu (Φορωνικόν Άστυ, “city of Phoroneus”).
- It is linked to the word αργός (argós), which meant “white”; possibly, this had to do with the visual impression given of the argolic plain during harvest time.
- It originated from the word αγρός (“field”) by inverting the stressed syllable.
The city of Argos was believed to be the birthplace of the mythological character Perseus, the son of the god Zeus and Danaë, who was the daughter of the king of Argos, Acrisius. The ancient Macedonian Argead dynasty (Greek: Ἀργεάδαι, Argeádai)—the royal house of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great—reputedly originated in Argos.
With a commanding view of the fertile plain of Argolis and located near Lake Lerna, Argos was a major stronghold during the Mycenaean era, and in the 7th century BC, under King Pheidon, it rivaled Sparta for dominance over the Peloponnese. At the height of its power, the city boasted a school for pottery and bronze sculpture, pottery workshops, tanneries, and clothing manufacturers. A sanctuary dedicated to Hera was also found at the same spot where the monastery of Panagia Katekrymeni is located today.
Argos was a democracy for most of the classical period, with only a brief hiatus between 418 and 416 BC. Democracy was first established after a disastrous defeat by the Spartans at the Battle of Sepeia in 494. So many Argives (residents of Argos) were killed in the battle that a revolution ensued, in which previously disenfranchised outsiders were included in the state for the first time.
In the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders captured the castle built on Larisa Hill, the site of the ancient acropolis, and the area became part of the lordship of Argos and Nauplia. In 1388 it was sold to the Republic of Venice, but the Despot of the Morea Theodore I Palaiologos seized it before the Venetians could take control, then sold it to them anyway in 1394. The Crusaders established a Latin bishopric. Venetian rule lasted until 1463, when the Ottomans captured the city.
In 1397, the Ottomans plundered Argos, carrying off much of the population, to sell as slaves. The Venetians repopulated the town and region with Albanian settlers, granting them long-term agrarian tax exemptions.
With the exception of a period of Venetian domination in 1687–1715, Argos remained in Ottoman hands until the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, when wealthy Ottoman families moved to nearby Nafplio due to its stronger walling. At that time, as part of the general uprising, many local governing bodies were formed in different parts of the country, and the “Consulate of Argos” was proclaimed on 28 March 1821, under the Peloponnesian Senate. It had a single head of state, Stamatellos Antonopoulos, styled “Consul”, between 28 March and 26 May 1821. Later, Argos accepted the authority of the unified Provisional Government of the First National Assembly at Epidaurus and eventually became part of the Kingdom of Greece.Under ‘Frankish’ Crusader rule, Argos became a Latin Church bishopric in 1212 until Argos was taken by the Ottoman Empire in 1463, then again under the second Venetian rule in 1686. Today the diocese is a Catholic titular see.
Byzantine Museum of Argos: Opened in 2017, this museum showcases history in Argos from the Byzantine era of the 4th century AD through the Middle Ages to modernity.
Archaeological Museum of Argos: The Museum contains finds from the excavations conducted by the 4th Ephorate at Argos and the surrounding areas, ranging from the Middle Helladic (ca. 2000 B.C.) to the Late Roman period (600 A.D.), finds from the excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Lerna (Myloi), dating from the Neolithic until the Mycenaean period (5000-1100 B.C.), and finds from the excavations of the French School of Archaeology at the Ancient Agora, the area of the Theatre of Argos (ranging from the Archaic to the Roman period), and the Mycenaean cemetery of Deiras.
Larisa castle: Located atop Larisa Hill, the highest spot of the city (289 m.), this castle was part of the city’s fortifications in ancient times. In ruins today, it has undergone several repairs and expansions since antiquity and played a significant historical role during the Venetian domination of Greece and the Greek War of Independence. Views from here to Napflio, Mycenae, and the gulf are glorious.
Roman ruins: The ancient theatre was built in the 5th century BC, with a capacity of 20,000 spectators, and modified by the Romans in around 300 BC. Today, cultural events are held at its premises during the summer months. Nearby are a smaller theater from the first-century AD and Roman baths. Adjacent to the theater, the ancient agora, or market, dates to the 6th century BC. Excavations have uncovered a bouleuterion (council house), built in 460 BC, when Argos adopted the democratic regime, a sanctuary of Apollo Lyceus, and a palaestra (wrestling school or gymnasium).
The “Criterion” of Argos, an ancient monument located on the southwest side of the town, on the foot of Larissa Hill, served as a court of ancient Argos. The site is connected via a paved path with the ancient theater.
The Barracks of Kapodistrias, built in the 1690s during the Venetian domination of Greece, initially served as a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy. During the Ottoman era, they served as a market and a post office. In 1829, significant damage caused during the Greek revolution was repaired by Ionnis Kapodistrias, first governor of the newly independent Greek republic. The building then became a cavalry barrack, a school (1893-1894), an exhibition space (1899), a shelter for Greek refugees displaced during the population exchange between Greece and Turkey (after 1920), and an interrogation and torture space (during the German occupation of Greece). In 1955-68, it was used by the army for the last time; it now accommodates the Byzantine Museum of Argos, local corporations, and also serves as an exhibition space.
The municipal neoclassical market building (called the “Kamares,” for its arches), built in 1889 and located next to Dimokratias Square, in the Ernst Ziller style, is an elongated, two-corridor building accommodating small shops.
The Kapodistrian school, in central Argos, built by architect Labros Zavos in 1830, was part of Kapodistrias’ efforts to provide places of education to the Greek people and could accommodate up to 300 students. Today, its neoclassical character is evident, with the building housing the 1st elementary school of the town.
The old town hall, built during the time of Kapodistrias in 1830, originally housed the justice of the peace, the Dimogerontia of Argos, an Arm of Carabineers and a prison. From 1987 to 2012, it housed the Town Hall which is now located in Kapodistriou street.
The temple of Agios Konstadinos, one of the very few remaining buildings in Argos dating from the Ottoman Greece era. It is estimated to have been built in the 1570-1600 period, with a minaret also having existed in its premises. It served as a mosque and an Ottoman cemetery up to 1871, when it was declared a Christian temple.
The chambered tombs of the Aspidos hill.
The Hellinikon Pyramid. Dating back to late 4th B.C., there exist many theories as to the purpose it served (tumulus, fortress). Together with the widely accepted scientific chronology, there are some people who claim it was built shortly after the Pharaoh tomb, i.e. the Great Pyramid of Giza, thus a symbol of the excellent relationship the citizens of Argos had with Egypt.