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Monemvasia: The medieval gem of Greece

Monemvasia is one of the most important medieval castle towns of Greece and one of the most romantic places in the country to visit. Imagine a castle town, like a fairytale, carved on a rock, standing proudly in the middle of the sea on the southeast coast of Peloponnese. 

The winding cobbled streets that lead to different parts of the city will take you to small Byzantine churches. Stroll around the old alleys with stone steps and arches.

The history of Monemvasia

Entering the city, the visitor will discover the secrets, the old legends of lovers, where they exchanged their secrets. You may also hear myths about princesses, who fell from the walls and are now “hiding” in the alleys.

 

 

The imposing “Rock of Monemvasia” was detached from the mainland of Lakonia in 375AD., due to a strong earthquake. The earthquake changed the region’s geomorphology, cutting off the promontory from the mainland, forming the island of Monemvasia. Today, the island is linked to the mainland by a narrow causeway and a 130-meter long bridge, to which the town owes its name, meaning a single passage. The rock is 1,500 meters long, 600 meters wide at its widest point, and is almost 200 meters high. 

Strolling in the flowery streets of the “Rock of Monemvasia” you will not see anything again, since every part of it is different, due to the marks left by different cultures in the flow of time. It is worthwhile to get lost in the narrow passages, to gaze at the houses that are still inhabited, the hostels with the loopholes and the peculiar architecture, and to let one’s imagination “gallop” and travel to the time when pirates and knights lived, thus reviving the atmosphere that envelops the castle city.

The main road with the Byzantine cobbled path leads to the Central Square with the old cannon and the Church of the Taken Christ. A place full of history, full of history, the “Gibraltar of the Eastern Mediterranean” as the Byzantines, Venetians, Franks, and Crusaders, who have been its inhabitants for centuries, rightly called it, is reminiscent of the rock of Gibraltar. The Venetian name was “Napoli di Malvasia”.

The Venetians used to say that nature itself had built the fortress and that little was needed to strengthen it. Historically, Monemvasia’s key position on the sea route to the eastern Mediterranean has always been the target of pirate raids, and raids by Western rulers.

 

 Monemvasia was the first city to be liberated by the Greeks during the War of Independence in 1821. Since the 1970s Monemvasia began to flourish again, this time as a tourist destination. The people of Monemvasia sold their houses to people who visited Monemvasia and restored them. 

 

 

  

Places to see

Monemvasia is one of the most popular travel destinations in Greece that offers many attractions to the traveler. We give you our best recommendations for an unforgettable experience! Discover the best things to do in Monemvasia during your travel:

 

Visit the house-museum of  Yiannis Ritsos

 Monemvasia was the “rocky boat” for Yiannis Ritsos. You will find his next to the entrance of the castle of Monemvasia and recognize it from its bust, which overlooks the Myrtos Sea. The paternal home of the great Greek poet now belongs to the municipality and will be used as a museum. In the house, there are some of his personal items, books that he read, and stones that he collected from the beach. that will be exhibited when the house will be accessible to the public. 

Yiannis Ritsos was one of the most important Greek poets with international fame. Several of his works have been translated into foreign languages. With the end of the dictatorship, the exiles, and the change of government, Ritsos became widely known, both in Greece and abroad, while many distinctions and awards followed. The Moonlight Sonata, the Epitaph, and Romiosyni are some of Ritsos’ most important poems. The last two have been set to music by the world-famous composer, Mikis Theodorakis.  

 

The church of Christ Elkomenos

Considered the oldest church on the rock, it was built in the 6th or 7th century, with the settlement of the first inhabitants of the city. The church is located in the Lower Town of Monemvasia. Its name means Christ in Pain and we celebrate it on Good Thursday. 

The famous large icon of the Crucified Christ, dates back to the 14th century and is a high artistic example of the painting of the end of the Palaeologan era. The icon was stolen in November 1979, by three archaeologists, who caused severe damage to the image by removing the canvas with the hagiography and then shredding the image. The police were led after three years to investigate the case and arrest the perpetrators, but the damage had already been done. 

christ elkomenos

The best hagiographers of the time did their best to restore the icon. After its discovery and restoration, it was kept in the Byzantine Museum of Athens. It returned to its natural place in 2011 and is exhibited in the chapel of Agios Ioannis. The church today functions as a metropolitan and on May 23 the return of the icon to Monemvasia is celebrated.

The icon of Elkomenos is an invaluable ecclesiastical heirloom. It is “scanned” every two seconds so that it can not be replaced with a copy. A specially designed display case with double glazing and a special surveillance system with cameras has been created for this.

 

The archaeological collection of Monemvasia

You will find a wide collection of findings that unravel the long history of Monemvasia, such as ceramic objects, sculptures, marble temples, and items used in daily life. The collection is housed in a former Muslim Mosque, one of the best-preserved buildings in the town, built during the 16th century. During the Venetian times, it was used as a Frankish church, a prison, and a Greek cafe. The museum opened to the public in 1999.

 

Portello Beach

It is on the south side of the walls, the picturesque harbor that once functioned as the castle’s supply port and was the only place where the inhabitants bathed, staying close to the enchanting atmosphere of the castle. Other swimming options in the nearby area are Kakavos beach on the left side of the bridge with the castle of Monemvasia in the background and the small beach of Kourkoula, closed on three sides, reminiscent of a natural swimming pool.

A nice way to end your tour is to stop for a cup of coffee or tea at the beautiful cafes that become romantic bars in the evening. The well-preserved hospitable taverns are recommended There you will taste traditional recipes, which will excite your palate and broaden your flavors.

 

The Church of Agia Sofia

The Church of Agia Sofia stands on the highest point of Monemvasia and gives a great view of the Aegean Sea. It is amongst the oldest and most important Byzantine churches in Greece. This church was originally established in the 12th century by the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II and it was dedicated to Panagia Hodegetria, which means the Virgin who leads the way.

In the Venetian times, it was converted into a Catholic Convent. After the Greek Independence, it was dedicated to the Wisdom of God and was named Agia Sofia. Time and wars caused serious damage to the church and it was restored in the middle 20th century by Eustathios Stikas.

What to do in Monemvasia

Hiking, photoshoot, shopping, and enjoy your meals are the best things to do if you find yourself in Monemvasia. The best seasons for hiking are autumn and spring because the weather is not hot.