Published in Travel Guides
An ideal spot for romantics and for those in pursuit of history and tradition, the fortress of Monemvasia is an absolute must. It also offers good quality entertainment and exceptional accommodation. If you really want to enjoy it, however, avoid Easter and August when it is teeming with visitors.
Using the fortress-rock as a base, you can easily take interesting side trips in the vicinity and swim at unspoilt beaches.
Monemvasia is not simply just another destination. Apart from the awe you’ll feel walking up the amazing stone-paved alleys of the medieval, Byzantine and Venetian fortress-state, you will also have the unique opportunity of living in the wonderful old stone mansions that have been converted into pensions. Dining, taking strolls and doing your shopping amongst Venetian houses, with views over the Myrtoon Sea.
Monemvasia took its name from the Greek words meaning single approach, the point (now a causeway) at which the rock is connected with the mainland. This medieval fortress-state is built on a rock 300 m above the sea. In ancient times, it was a harbour town called Akra Minoa. The Gibraltar of the Peloponnese, as it is called, was fortified during the Middle Ages to protect the inhabitants from raids by the Avars, Slavs and pirates. The High City (Ano Polis) was erected first (6th c.), followed by the Lower City (10th c.). The town’s development and wealth made it very alluring to pirates, but the castle’s position, stout fortifications and its people’s determination to resist, forced the raiders to withdraw empty-handed.
The inhabitants even devised a law on taxation, the Aviotikon, whereby the fortunes of those who died without heirs were left to the community and used to maintain and strengthen the walls.
In 1147, Monemvasia successfully held its own against the Normans, but in 1249 it surrendered, after a three-year siege, to the Frankish conqueror of the Peloponnese, Guillaume de Villehardouin. He employed a large amount of military equipment, 3000 infantry, 8000 cavalry and cut off the fortress from access to both sea and land. The population surrendered only on condition that they would be accorded the same rights as the Franks. Ten years later, Guillaume was defeated by the Byzantines in the battle of Pelagonia and after three years in captivity, gave them three of his most important fortresses in the Peloponnese, Monemvasia, Mystra and Maina (1269). The Palaiologues granted Monemvasia many trading privileges which made it wealthy and powerful. The emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos spent 20 years in exile in the city, until he was returned to his throne in Constantinople. At that time the fortress-state had 8,000 houses and 40 churches. In 1292, the city was tricked into opening its gates and then sacked by the former Catalan admiral and would-be pirate, Roberto de Lauria. When the emperor Ioannis Katakouzinos founded the Despotate of the Morea, he included Monemvasia within its jurisdiction. From 1460 to 1464, the fortress-state fell under the authority of Pope Pius II who vainly attempted to convert the population to Catholicism. The Venetians followed (1464) until they were forced to hand the state over to the Vizir of the Peloponnese (1540). In 1690, the Venetians reconquered the area under the leadership of Admiral Morosini and remained there until 1715, when they were obliged to sell the fortress-state to the OttomanTurks. They in turn ruled Monemvasia until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, when Greek besiegers compelled them to surrender.
Monemvasia was a major trading centre and port-of-call for the ships that used to ply the Mediterranean. It was also known for its fabled Malmsey wine which was much sought after in the royal courts of Europe. The fame of its wines and tavernas endured until the 1950s.
Today, after lying abandoned for about two decades, the medieval city-state is very much alive and has become a favourite among tourists.
The view from Moni Emvasis Luxury Suites
Strolling through the narrow lanes in the fortress surrounded by beautiful Byzantine buildings is a unique experience. Walls bearing the scars of countless sieges, structures left behind by the Venetians, cobbled paths and imposing mansions from medieval, Byzantine and Venetian times — all make for hours of fascinating exploring.
This is where Yiannis Ritsos (1909-1990), one of modern Greece’s best loved poets, was born. His tomb lies in the little cemetery on the side of the rock, along the road up to the fortress.
A 10th church that was converted by the Turks into a mosque. Located in the main square, it now houses the town’s museum.
A three-aisled domed basilica, this is the cathedral church of Monemvasia. It was erected under Andronikos II Palaiologos and is situated on the main square. The interior contains the thrones of Andronikos and his wife, while on the icon screen you will see an exact copy made in 1700 of a wonderful icon portraying Christ in chains (elkomenos), the original of which was stolen a few years ago after having first been hacked to pieces. Fortunately it was found and repaired and can now be seen in the Byzantine Museum in Athens.
A small 18th c. church. The facade contains a relief sculpture of the two-headed eagle, symbol of Byzantium, which originally adorned a Byzantine church erected during the Frankish occupation (13th c.).
Tradition maintains that the icon travelled on its own to Monemvasia from the village of Chryssafa near Sparta. It is considered to have miraculous properties.
Above the Chryssafitissa church. Built by a physician philosopher, it was never consecrated because a workman was killed during its construction.
In the Pano Kastro (Upper Castle/Acropolis), at a point where one can marvel at the splendid view over the boundless Myrtoon Sea. This is an eight-sided church with a dome, erected by the wife of Andronikos in memory of Agia Sophia in Constantinople. It is the only monument in the Upper City in a good state of preservation.
There are 35 more churches on the promontory, including Agia Anna (14th c.), Agios Dimitrios near the main gate, and Agii Apostoli, the chapel in the cave of the rock.
Apart from Plytra, the region is not noted for its beaches. We have selected the best options for a cooling swim in the hottest hours of the day.
The best beach in the region, it has fine white sand and shallow turquoise waters. To get there, take the road to Sykea-Molaoi and turn after Sykea towards Asopos.
Just below the fortress of Monemvasia, with clear, deep water. Rocks paved with plaques to facilitate sunbathing.
Below the village of Nomia. The pebbly beach is not particularly inviting but it is close to Monemvasia and is good enough for a quick dip.
Long, narrow and clean but not much more.
By car from Athens, via Sparti.
By intercity bus (KTEL), from Kifissou Station, Athens, Tel. 0030 2105124913 0030 2105124911
By hydrofoil, one can also stop off at Kyparissi, Leonidio, Porto Heli, Spetses, Hydra and Kythira.
If you are only interested in seeing Monemvasia, then take the hydrofoil and walk around the old fortress. If you ’d like to explore the countryside and other destinations, then a car is definitely advisable.
Monemvasia is ideal for a long weekend any time of year, even at Easter and in August, if you can find a room in the fortress.
Municipality 0030 2732360500
Turism Office 0030 2732061777
Police 0030 2732061210
Port Authority Monemvasia 0030 2732061266
Port Authority Neapoli 0030 2734022228
Hospital (Molai) 0030 2732022374
Health Center (Neapoli) 0030 2734022500
Bus Service (KTEL) 0030 2732022209
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