The castle of Zarnata is a huge Frankish fortress, resting on the foundations of an ancient city (possibly ancient Gerenia), with a small Turkish castle inside, built by Achmet Kiuprili in 1670, the very successful Turkish grand vizier who , among others, took Crete from the Venetians. One of the aims for building the castle was the suppression of possible resistance on the Mani and the prevention of the Venetian ambitions in the Peloponnese. However, soon (1685) the castle was conquered by the Venetians under the leadership of Morosini, despite the fact that there was a good garrison and a relief army was on its way. Morosini managed to intercept their messengers and was able to convince the Turkish commander that there was no chance of help. The Turkish commander then surrendered and was allowed to leave with his garrison.
There is no good explanation for the name (possibly of Slavic origin?), but the town is first mentioned in the 13th century. When the Turks took the town in 1670, there were more than 500 stone houses and 7 churches. The churches were soon replaced by mosques and the houses assigned to Turks, while schools and bathhouses were built. Nothing is currently visible of all these buildings.
In 1715, the town fell back into the hands of the Turks without a fight, who no longer placed a garrison in it. The large tower of the Turkish castle is believed to be an 18th century structure, founded by the leading Maniot family, the Koumoundouros. The castle was last used as such during the Greek Civil War, when the population of the town of Kambos took refuge from the violence between the communists and nationalists. The entire south wall was destroyed during that period, while a severe earthquake in 1947 caused even more damage to the fortress. A lovely little church (that of the Zoödokho Piyi, the “life-giving spring”) is located directly below the castle, decorated in 1787 by the Maniotic painters Anagnostes Kalliergaki from Proastio and Philippaki from Androuvitsa (no photos).