With the blue waters in its port and the bougainvillea-swathed, pristine white houses fanning up Mt. St. Nicholas, Pylos may remind you of an island town. It was built according to a plan drawn by French engineers stationed here from 1828 to 1833 with General Maison's entourage and was the site of a major naval battle in the War of Independence. Ibrahim Pasha chose Sfakteria, the islet that virtually blocks Pylos Bay, as the site from which to launch his attack on the mainland. For two years Greek forces flailed under Turkish firepower until, in 1827, Britain, Russia, and France arrived to support the Greek insurgents. They sent a fleet to persuade Turkey to sign a treaty, were accidentally fired upon, and found themselves retaliating. At the end of the battle the allies had sunk 53 of 89 ships of the Turko-Egyptian fleet without a single loss among their 27 war vessels. The sultan was forced to renegotiate, and this paved the way for Greek independence. A column rising between a Turkish and a Venetian cannon in the town's main square, Trion Navarchon (Three Admirals) Square, commemorates the leaders of the victorious fleets.
For a closer look of the bay, take an hour-long boat tour to see various monuments on Sfakteria, some sunken Turkish ships, and the neighboring rock of Tsichli-Baba, which has a vast, much-photographed natural arch, nicknamed Tripito. This former pirate hideout has 144 steps. The boats can also take you to the weed-infested 13th-century Paleokastro, one of the two fortresses guarding the channels on either side of Sfakteria, and make a stop also at Nestor's cave. Boat trips cost about €25; walk along the dock and negotiate with the captains, or ask at the waterside kiosk (staffed only occasionally). The trip is less expensive if you go with a group, but these trips are usually prearranged for the tour buses that drop down to Pylos from Olympia.