From Mycenae we traveled to the south of the Peloponnese. The sun hid behind the mountains. A brief twilight quickly gave way to a dark Greek night. We stopped at some small village near a small table from which a local farmer was selling homemade wine and olive oil. A tasting arranged on the spot showed that the wine was awesome. We bought a few bottles right there. Passed the famous Sparta. On the outskirts of the city we stopped for a few more minutes to buy some delicious Greek pastries in one of the bakeries. The road meandered through the mountains, occasionally dropping into small towns and villages. At last we reached the shore, and soon in the darkness of the night we saw the silhouette of a cliff, standing a couple hundred meters away from the shore. Here we were.
I doubted the whole way whether it was worth the trouble: we had to cover four hundred kilometers to Monemvasia, besides the next day we had to make a detour to the north of the country to the famous monasteries of Meteora. When we finally arrived, all doubts were dispelled: it turned out that the town in its entourage and picturesqueness could well compete for first place with Nafplio, where we were the day before.
We spent the night in the neighboring town of Monemvasia – Gefira. Another morning greeted us with beautiful weather and a nice view from the balcony of the cozy bay.
The water was quite warm. But this is for us, wild northern people – my native Ladoga even in especially hot summers is not always heated to such a temperature. Well, the locals, when we asked them about the beaches, wagged their fingers and explained that the beach season was over for them at the end of August.
There are many private gas stations in Greece.
Miniature chapels are erected at the site of fatal accidents to commemorate the victims. On some mountain serpentines they are found every hundred meters.
In the end of III century A.D. there was a terrible earthquake that broke off a huge piece of rock from the shore.
In the 6th century there was a small fishermen’s village on the impregnable island, on the base of which the refugees from nearby Laconia, fleeing from the Slavs’ invasion, founded a town, which later became one of the most important trading centers of the Byzantine Empire.
Today the island is no longer in the classical sense – in 1971 it was connected to the mainland by a causeway. So now it is possible to reach the gates of the ancient city by car.
The road leading to the gates of Monemvasia runs along a steep cliff, on top of which you can see the remains of the Byzantine fortress walls.
At the time of its greatness Monemvasia consisted of three parts. At the very top of the mountain was a fortified Byzantine fortress with a citadel. The entire area of the rock around the fortress was occupied by the Upper Town, where the local nobility lived. A small space at the bottom of the rock was occupied by the Lower Town – where artisans lived.
The city gates. In the Middle Ages it was the only entrance to the city. Monemvasia – Μόνη Eμβασία – so it translates from the Greek as “One Entrance”.
In better times, the Lower Town consisted of eight hundred houses situated on a narrow strip of land between the rock and the sea.
Many buildings have survived to this day. The uniquely intricate layout of the city, with many narrow winding streets, has been preserved. There are no cars here, all goods are delivered by hand.
The central square of Monemvasia.
Next to the medieval cannon is the cathedral of Christos Elkomenos, the largest in southern Greece.
It’s a good time to take in the atmosphere of the city.
Fortunately, it has managed not to lose its medieval spirit over the centuries.
In my opinion, this is how Monemvassia is one of the most atmospheric preserved medieval cities. At any rate, at this point, certainly the most atmospheric of all the cities I’ve been to.
By tradition – a little historical background.
In the IX century the Lower Town was fortified by the Byzantines and was used as a base for the fleet during the endless wars with the Arabs.
The fortress was so well fortified that no one was able to take it until the middle of the XIII century – then Monemvassia after a three-year siege was surrendered to the Franks. By the way, it was the only time the city was taken by storm.
The reign of the Franks lasted only fifteen years, after which Monemvasia was returned to the Byzantines in exchange for the captured knight Guillaume de Villarduen.
In general, I am amazed at the medieval order. I can’t imagine how anyone could lay siege to a city for several years in a row. What were the soldiers doing all that time?
But back to history. Byzantine domination lasted until 1460.
Monemvasia at this time was one of the most important trading ports of the Byzantine Empire.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Monemvasia was one of the last strongholds of the Byzantine Empire, beating in its death throes.
In 1460, at the request of the locals the city was given to the protectorate of the Venetian Republic, which lasted until 1540 and ended with the transfer of the city to the Turks. The Venetians then tried to regain control of the city, and at the end of the XVII century they were able to do so, but not for long, in 1715 the city was again included in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1821 the Greek War of Independence began. Monemvasia was taken by the Greek rebels. The entire Turkish population of the city was massacred. A period of oblivion began.
Today, only a few families live permanently in Monemvasia.
Most of the buildings are tourist-oriented and turned into hotels and restaurants.
All in all, a wonderful place for a half-day walk. Or a day. Or two. You could even stay here for a week.
From the Lower Town to the Upper Town is a narrow road, which merges with a steep cliff.
Not only is it the only way into the Upper Town, but it’s also well fortified. Not surprisingly, the fortress at the top was taken by besieging troops only once.
The Greek sun once again showed its capricious disposition. Just a couple of days ago we did everything we could to lure it away from the dense clouds, and then it not only came out, but also heated the air up to 30 degrees. Not bad for the last days of October.
Looking at the preserved Lower Town – the home of local artisans and merchants – and admiring its grandeur and medieval spirit, you expect the Upper Town to be something even more special – after all, aristocrats and the rich lived there. So the scope of construction should be much more substantial. Well, that’s a bummer. It’s a pity, but there’s practically nothing left of the Upper Town. So you’d have to have a pretty good imagination to imagine all of its grandeur.
This entire plateau was formerly built up with Byzantine houses – there were just over five hundred of them in all in the Upper Town.
In the background in the distance are the ruins of the Byzantine fortress and citadel. We’ll drive up there a little later.
The only surviving building is the cathedral of St. Sophia. XIII century, by the way.
The reason for its preservation is quite simple – when Monemvasia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, the cathedral was turned into a mosque.
Monemvassian houses were two or three stories high. There was a basement with a vaulted top under the house, which usually contained a cistern for collecting water.
The first floor was occupied by the kitchen and utility rooms.
The owners lived on the upper floors, which very often consisted of one large room divided into various zones by curtains.
We continue our imaginative warm-up. The ruins of one of the palaces.
The fortification wall that once surrounded the Upper City along its perimeter.
More fortification fossils.
From here we have great views of the Lower Town.
From above you can see very well its intricate layout.
Meanwhile in the sunshine we reached the highest point of the cliff – about 300 meters above sea level. There used to be a citadel here. It was once the last ray of hope of the dying Byzantine Empire.
Below you can see the neighboring city of Gefira, connected to Monemvasia by an artificial dam.
And all around is the blue-blue sea. Beautiful!
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Monemvasia. Peloponnese. Greece
Monemvasia is a rocky island in Greece with a small and cozy village, hidden from prying eyes. This interesting island is connected with the mainland by a small dam. At the end of the article, do not miss a short video overview of the island.
Remarkably, the name of the island comes from the Greek words monet and emvassi, which can be translated as “the only entrance”. Explaining why this is the name of the island is probably unnecessary. It is enough to look at the photo below.
The island stretches from east to west. Its maximum length is 1.45 km, width up to 550 meters. The main part of the territory is occupied by a mountain plateau up to 100 meters high. On the southern slope, on the seashore, there is a small settlement with the same name. This secluded, quiet, walled town lies under the protection of the surrounding cliffs and is a living historical medieval museum, preserving features of Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian domination.
Monemvasia . View of the village from above
Where is the Island
Monemvasia is located off the southeastern coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in the Aegean Sea. It is connected with the city of Epirus on the mainland of Greece by an artificial embankment with a small bridge.
The village of the same name lies on the southeast side of the island.
The village Monemvasia . View from the sea
History of Monemvasia
It was originally part of the Peloponnese peninsula, but in 375 A.D., after a major earthquake, it actually became an island.
Don’t forget to read about the Corinth Canal, which makes the Peloponnese peninsula practically an island.
Monemvasia was settled in the 6th century by the inhabitants of the Greek region of Laconia, who were hiding here from the Avar invaders who occupied this part of Greece between the 6th and 8th centuries AD.
The island was first inhabited at the top of the mountain plateau. The remains of an ancient settlement (usually called the “Upper Town”) are still preserved here. Later the settlement came down from the hill, and thanks to its unique protected position it became quite a powerful city. In the days of the fall of Byzantium it was its main city and one of the significant trading centers of the Byzantine world with a major seaport. At that time it had up to 40,000 inhabitants.
Since our site is dedicated to world sights and not to historical battles, we will not list all the wars and conquests of the island. Let us only say that for several centuries there were constant battles for control of Monemwassee. It often changed hands between the Venetians and the Turks. It was not until the 19th century, during the Greek War of Independence, that it was liberated from the Turks.
By the 18th century Monemvasia had fallen into decline, and until the mid-20th century little was known about it. But since the 70s of the 20th century it has been “rediscovered” by tourists.
View of Monemvasia island from the mainland
Monemvasia in tourism
Slowly but surely the city is being revived, but now as a tourist and historical attraction.
In the lower town you can find some ruins of the original 800 houses and only 4 of the 40 churches built on the island. Among them is the Church of El Menos Christos (or the Crucifixion of Christ), which was founded in 1293. The oldest church is St. Paul, built in 956. It now houses a museum. Further towards the eastern edge of the lower town and closer to the sea you can see the Church of Our Lady of Chrysafittis, built in the 16th century. Notably, under this church is the only spring in the city, whose miraculous water, according to legends, promotes the conception of children.
To the right is the church of Our Lady of Chrysafittis.
At the highest point of the island is the perfectly preserved Church of St. Sophia, founded around 1150.
Hagia Sophia Church
More and more travelers are visiting Monemvasia . To attract tourists, a number of medieval buildings have been restored and some have been converted into hotels and cafes.
- The shape of Monemvasia’s high plateau reminds one very much of the African continent.
Take a little break and look at the most real world map on Lake Kleitrup in Denmark, created by just one man
Some more photos of Monemvasia
The central square of Monemvasia Remains of houses in the Upper Town View of the island from the mainland
Video of Monemvasia
To get a better idea of the island’s atmosphere, watch this short video overview by Daria Kamalova