Poros History -
Bourtzi Island and Fortress :
This small island and its castle are an enigma to most visitors to Poros. The fortress's round bastions and stone walls make it appear to be of mediaeval date, but in fact it was built around 1827. Austrian (or Bavarian) General Heydek (Heidek) is said to have built the fortress to defend the windward approach to the Poros passage into the anchorage. This General was best known, unfortunately, for a badly-contrived attempt to relieve a siege of the Acropolis of Athens in 1827. Heydeck later appears as one of three Bavarian advisers to King Otto. It is possible that Heydek may have authorised repairs or a rebuild at a later date, for in 1834 the first Russian Naval Station at Kanali was sold to the Hellenic Navy and would have needed strong defences. King Otto's summer palace at Poros would also have needed protection.
The fortress had only been built four years when it saw action - but against allies and fellow-Greeks, not against the Turks. As is described elsewhere in the Battle of Poros Website, Hydran rebels and their Poriote sympathisers, took over the fortress and held it against a Russian force supporting the Capodistrian government. Apparently, they were unsuccessful, the government forces managing to seize Bourtzi Island with the help of Russian naval support and a shore battery opposite on the mainland at Plaka. Peter J. Pitt was told by Iannis Maiakis that the castle was blown up at that time.
The subsequent history of the fortress is unclear, although it may have been garrisoned until the 1870s when the main Hellenic Navy base was moved to Piraeus. Most of the internal buildings are gone, but the outer walls have survived and are still fairly impressive. An archaeological examination may be needed to determine whether the fortress dates from more than one period.
Bourtzi Island has revealed some of the few pieces of evidence of Byzantine era activity in the Poros area. Two seventh-century AD coins, of Emperors Constans II and Heraclius, were found on the island. Unfortunately as the fort occupied over half the dry land on Bourtzi, excavations may not reveal much more. The church of Aghios Constantinos (possibly built in 640 AD) stood on the site before construction of Heydeck's Castle. According to Peter J. Pitt, Heydeck demolished the church to use its stone in construction of the Castle. The monks of the Zoodochos Pighi monastery were apparently allowed to remove the relics and icons, with a promise from Heydeck that the Church would be rebuilt. That promise was never kept. However, the re-use of stone from the church may account for the appearance of structures such as the main gate.
The Other Bourtzi Island at Nauplio :
There is another 'Bourtzi Island' with a castle on it in the harbour at Nauplion. It is important not to confuse the two. The word 'Bourtzi' is derived from 'Burgos', its meaning being 'castle' or 'fort', in the same way as 'Chester', which comes from 'castra', Latin for 'castle'. As there are many Chesters in England, it seems that there are many Bourtzis in Greece. The Bourtzi Island at Poros may have been named Aghios Constantinos Island (St. Constantine's Island) before the fort was built.
Getting to Bourtzi Island :
There is no regular boat service to Bourtzi Island but local boatmen may be willing to take charters for groups wishing to visit the fortress. Locals say that the island is infested by snakes (adders ?) so visitors should dress sensibly in strong shoes and wear jeans or trousers. The island is uninhabited and has no water supply, so take plenty of drinking water and keep on good terms with your boatman !
Saga Hotel visitors please note - Takis has acquired a six-seater speedboat for 2008, so he may be able to arrange trips to Bourtzi and Daskalio for you.
Bourtzi Island from Askeli
Bourtzi Island from Hydra Ferry
© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.