I Say "Nauplion" You Say “Ναúπλιον

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2009,
Winter 2009
Original Images:

Author: Derek Spinei

Much like ancient Greece itself, Ypsilanti’s sister city status with Nauplion was established, lost, and later rediscovered. In early 1965, Ann Arbor adopted the first of its sister cities, Tübingen, Germany. This inspired the Ypsilanti Jaycees to petition the Ypsilanti City Council to find one of its own. Choosing a Greek city was an obvious decision based on Ypsilanti’s name, but this was also an opportunity to promote the newly formed Ypsilanti Greek Theatre. With the conviction that there “must not be a mere pen pal’s relationship,” five Greek cities were nominated at a public meeting based on “cultural, industrial and historical similarities.”

Nauplion was chosen on the recommendation of Sophia Steriades, a University of Michigan student from Greece. In the fall of 1965, Royal Oak’s Howard Baker, a state Jaycees vice-president, was sent to Nauplion to investigate its potential and he approved completely. Baker noticed that each city had seasonal population fluctuations, Nauplion having tourists and Ypsilanti having students. He shared the idea of the Ypsilanti Greek Theatre and it so excited those in Nauplion that brochures for the performances were reprinted in the local newspaper. The National League of Cities, which sponsors international affiliations, approved of the Nauplion choice in January of 1966. The Jaycees then formed a Sister City Committee, chaired by attorney John Kirkendall, to see the process through. It was even suggested at that time that scholarships to Eastern Michigan University be made available to students from Nauplion. Their efforts in planning a sister city won the Ypsilanti Jaycees an award at the Michigan Jaycees Convention in May of that year.

In July, a lawyer from Nauplion, Elias Bezas, happened to be visiting a sick uncle in Toledo, Ohio. Serving as a liaison for the sister city, he only had time to visit Ypsilanti for one hour! He spoke no English but enjoyed watching a portion of an Ypsilanti Greek Theatre production. City Councilman Timothy J. Dyer visited Nauplion for three days in August, proclaiming that the city was “totally delightful” and “very anti-communist.” He presented Nauplion with a U.S. flag which had flown from the U.S. capitol, a state flag of Michigan which had flown from the capitol in Lansing, and the flag of Ypsilanti. Dyer noted that Nauplion’s biggest problems were inadequate hospital facilities and a short supply of water. The main industries included tomato paste canning and the entertaining of German tourists. It was not until November, 1966, that Nauplion was officially invited to become sister city to Ypsilanti at an estimated program cost of $2,000 per year.

Nauplion is an ancient city about 60 miles Southwest of Athens. Situated on the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula, Nauplion looks out onto the Argolic Gulf and serves as the capital of the Argolis prefecture. With half the population of Ypsilanti, it boasts several museums, a historical society, and a branch of the University of Peloponnese. Its marble streets and tiled roofs have led some to call it the most beautiful city in Greece. Historically, Nauplion is notable for being the first capital of modern Greece from 1829 to 1834, after which the capital was moved to Athens. This designation was the choice of Demetrios Ypsilantis who was later entombed in front of the city hall. Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greek’s first head of state after gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire, was assassinated on the steps of Nauplion’s Saint Spyridon church in 1831. Additionally, the city hall served as the first high school in all of Greece.

Always a military stronghold, Nauplion has three Venetian fortresses. Palamidi is the most prominent and requires a climb of 999 stairs to reach its entrance. Bourtzi is a castle perched on a tiny island just off the coast. Acronauplia is the remnants of the fortifications which used to enclose the entire city. As such a strategic locale, Nauplion has been occupied at different times by Franks, Byzantines, Venetians, Turks, and most recently Germans during World War II. This continual changing of hands has resulted in confusing naming and spelling irregularities. The Latin derivation has been alternately spelled Nauplion, Navplion, Nafplio, and Nauplia. Under Turkish rule it was called Mora Yenişehri and in Italian it was Napoli di Romania.

It is surprising that such an interesting place was seemingly forgotten about by Ypsilantians for quite some time. The 1967 coup d’état in Greece resulted in swift turnover of political officials losing Nauplion’s sister city status in the shuffle. In Ypsilanti too there were several personnel changes in government and maintaining a sister city connection did not stay a priority. It was not until 1997 that the sister city status was reaffirmed. This time it was encouraged by the Rotary Clubs in both cities. The political leaders had always assumed the status was there but paperwork couldn’t be found. Ypsilanti’s City Council voted unanimously to reestablish ties with Nauplion and sent an eight member delegation on an eleven day “international goodwill mission” to Nauplion. Lead by Mayor Cheryl Farmer, the delegation presented Nauplion officials with a picture of the Demetrios Ypsilantis statue with U.S. and Greek flags flying side by side. This drew much attention from the Greek reporters who covered the events on national television. In return, the visitors received gifts of a video on the history of Nauplion, drawings of the ancient city, seals of the city and national fire department, a sterling silver amphora (two handled vase), and a sterling silver city pin.

Though Nauplion is our sister city, we must not forget Ypsilantis, Greece. When Howard Baker visited this village in 1965, he dismissed it as a sister city possibility because its population was only 100. Earlier that year, a New York City attorney named Leo E. Ypsilanti sent information about Ypsilantis to Mrs. Clara G. Owens who was serving as president of the Ypsilanti Greek Theatre. Leo had been notified of the village by Thomas Ypsilanti, a member of the Greek Congress. In his letter, Leo Ypsilanti claimed to have contact information for the mayor of Ypsilantis, Greece but this was never divulged. Reportedly, General Demetrios Ypsilantis authorized the use of his name for the town after his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Petra in 1829, just 4 kilometers from Ypsilantis in the Central Greece prefecture of Boeotia (Voiotias).

It is hoped that communication and sharing of customs will continue between Ypsilanti and Nauplion so that both cities may benefit from experiencing and learning each other’s cultures.

(Derek Spinei is enrolled in the graduate program in Historical Preservation at Eastern Michigan University and is serving an internship in the YHS Archives.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Ypsilanti City Councilman Timothy Dyer (right) and the mayor of Nauplion placing a wreath at the tomb of Demetrius Ypsilanti in 1966.

Photo 2: Nauplion is located about 60 miles southwest of the city of Athens on the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula.

Photo 3: Bourtzi is a fortress like castle perched on a tiny island just off the coast. It was completed in 1473 to protect the city from pirates and invaders from the sea.

Photo 4: The most prominent fortress is Palamidi and a climb of 999 stairs is required to reach its entrance. The fortress was built by the Venetians during their second occupation of the area (1686-1715).

Photo 5: The bell on top of the fortress Palamidi.

Photo 6: A Nauplion map from the 1570s.