Fortress town of Monemvasia
The Byzantine fortress town of Monemvasia, the “stone ship” referred to by the poet Yiannis Ritsos, stands sentinel on the southeastern coast of Laconia, ready to take its visitors on a historic journey back through the ages.
Castles, walls, old mansions, narrow cobbled lanes, churches, low arches and vaults, coats of arms, imperial marble thrones, Byzantine icons all give the impression of a town untouched by time.
Referred to variously throughout the ages as the Gibraltar of the East, the Castle above the Clouds, or the Castle of Flowers, among others, it is situated on a small islet linked to the mainland by a causeway and bridge, as if floating on the edge of the Myrtoon Sea.
The single entrance that gives the rock its name (moni emvasia in Greek) is a passageway into its past, beginning in the 6th century AD.
As one enters the main gate of the Lower Town, immediately above it to the left is the birthplace of the poet Yiannis Ritsos. The main thoroughfare, consisting of a narrow cobbled Byzantine street flanked by shops, leads to the main square dominated by an old cannon and the town cathedral, the Church of Elkomenos Christos. Directly opposite the church is a 16th century former mosque now housing the Monemvasia Archaeological Collection.
From the main square a number of picturesque narrow streets fan out over the Lower Town.
One of these leads to the Upper Town or Goula, a steep climb taking about 15 minutes, but a rewarding one for the panoramic view of the Lower Town and the surrounding open sea glittering below.
Visit the restored church of Aghia Sofia, built on the cliff edge.
In all there are 40 churches in Monemvasia, including the Panayia Chrysafitissa, Panayia Myrtidiotissa, Panayia Kritikias, Aghios Nikolaos, Aghios Stefanos, Aghios Pavlos and Aghia Anna, as well as the silver and gold workshop and museum.
Pausanias was a Greek traveller from Asia Minor who lived in the middle of the 2nd century BC. He achieved fame for his Description of Greece, or Periegesis, a lengthy work in which he recorded his impressions of the Greece of his day. It has survived as a valuable link between classical literature and modern archaeology.
In his Description of Greece Pausanias relates his travels through the Peloponnese and part of northern Greece in ten volumes, the third of which is titled "Laconia".
Regarding his journey through the area now comprising the municipality of Monemvasia, he refers to places and monuments of which traces can still be seen today, 1,900 years later.
He begins in Asopos, where he observed a temple of the Roman emperors, along with the ruins of the town of Cyparissia, some of which are still evident at Kokkines, on the coast just south of Plytra. On the seabed not far from the shore lie several ruins. Swimmers take note that only ordinary swimming goggles and snorkels are allowed while viewing them.
Pausanias also refers to the Asclepeion of Apollo Hyperteleatum, situated near the village of Finiki a little inland, where inscriptions have been found and a number of ruins are still to be seen of this former sanctuary of the League of Free Laconians.
Heading southeast, Pausanias then mentions a headland called Onugnathus (Jaw of an Ass). Later, this headland became separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, and now forms the island of Elafonisos.
He then goes on to refer to the city of Boeae at the head of the gulf of the same name, populated by inhabitants fleeing from the cities of Etis, Aphrodisias and Side who, when they landed on the coast, followed a hare, a symbol of the goddess Artemis. They built their new city on the site where the hare disappeared into a myrtle bush. Unfortunately no trace remains of ancient Boeae, where the town of Neapoli now stands.
The island of Kythera was also referred to by Pausanias. The ruins of its ancient port of Scandeia are still to be seen at Palaiopolis.
During his travels on Cape Maleas, Pausanias found two temples, the Nymphaeum, dedicated to Poseidon, and Epidelium, dedicated to Apollo. The latter was named after the wooden image of the god standing there which originally came from the island of Delos. It had been thrown into the sea by barbarians led by Mithridates after they had sacked the island. The image then washed up on the eastern shore of Cape Maleas. The Epidelium is believed to have been sited at Aghios Fokas, where ruins are visible close to the coastline.
Leaving Boeae, Pausanias continued north into Epidaurus Limera, traces of which are still evident around Old Monemvasia on the coast near the village of Aghios Ioannis. Experts believe a small lake south of Epidaurus Limera to be the Ino referred to by Pausanias.
The promontory known in antiquity as Minoa has been identified as that now occupied by Monemvasia. According to Pausanias, the coastline here was strewn with pebbles of more beautiful shapes and colours than any other. Wandering through the medieval fortress of Monemvasia, today's traveller cannot but be aware of the region's long centuries of history.
Pausanias' travels next took him to what he described as the "most ruinous" town of Zarax, another member of the League of Free Laconians. Today's visitors approaching the village of Gerakas from the sea will realise on entering the narrow fjord that this is the place he was referring to. Above the settlement to the left is a view that Pausanias must have seen nearly 2,000 years ago. The precise position of ancient Zarax is evident from the remains of the impressive walls still standing.
Following the coast, our 2nd century BC traveller from Asia Minor next came upon the ruins of ancient Cyphanta, some of which are still visible in beautiful Kyparissi, at Kastraki, between the settlements of Paralia and Vrysi, a short walk from the latter. Just before the settlement are caves at the foot of a cliff, the site of the Asclepium also referred to by Pausanias. Embrasures in the rock were probably used to place objects or votive offerings. From here, Pausanisas continued northwards to where the town of Leonidio now stands.
His references to sites in today's municipality of Monemvasia bear witness to the area's long history, inviting today's travellers to follow in his footsteps through this unique region of Greece.
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The Municpality of Monemvasia, like other parts of the Peloponnese, boasts a large number of historic monuments that have survivied the passage of time. Ranging from prehistoric to classical, Byzantine to the more recent past, these include the unique medieval fortress of Monemvasia, with its well-preserved buildings of the Lower and Upper Towns, and the exhibits in the Monemvasia Archaeological Collection.
Meanwhile the folklore musuems of Velies and Riechia provide a wealth of information about the region’s daily life and culture.
The Christian tradition, another important aspect of the region’s history, is represented in dozens of churches and monasteries that are witness not only to the local population’s spiritual life but the skills of their master craftsmen and artists who built and decorated these places of worship.
Cultural life in the Muncipality of Monemvasia today takes the form of all kinds of events such as concerts, theatrical performances and art exhibitions. The biggest cultural festival is the Ritseia, a major celebration in summer dedicated to the poet Yannis Ritsos, Monemvasia’s most famous son, whose work has received recognition around the world.
For some years now Monemvasia has been one of the most romantic travel destinations in Greece. The Byzantine fortress, with its nearby beaches and natural landscape is an ideal setting for a romantic getaway in all seasons.
In fact many couples both from Greece and abroad choose it for their weddings. These, as well as baptisms, are celebrated not only in the churches within the fortress but in many other historic churches scattered throughout the surrounding region. Civil weddings are also held in many beautiful places within and outside the fortress walls.
An even larger number of couples are choosing to spend their honeymoon in Monemvasia, whether in the fortress itself or in combination with other attractive destinations in the Peloponnese and nearby islands.
Visitors to our municipality have a wide range of choice regarding accommodation. In all of the municipal departments – from Kyparissi in the north to Neapoli in the south - all categories of accommodation are available throughout the year.
Most popular are small hotels in the two and three star category. Some of these are only open in summer, others year-round.
In a category of their own, beautifully restored and with a romantic ambience, are the small boutique hotels in old mansions both inside and outside the Monemvasia fortress.
Furnished apartments for rent are the ideal choice for families, combining reasonable prices with comfortable amenities.
What they all have in common is value for money and a warm welcome from their owners.
Usefull telephone numbers
Municipality of Monemvasia: 27323-60500
Monemvasia Municipal Turism Office : 27320-61777
Municipal Police: 27323-60576
Hospital - Health Center
Health Center (Neapoli):27340-22500
Bus Service: 27320-22209
Hotel Association of Laconia: 27310-23393
Owners of Rooms and Apartments Association:
Monemvasia : 27320-61910
Hotel Association of Lakonia - www.lakonia-hotels.gr
Monemvasia Owners of Rooms and Appartments Association - www.monemvasiahotel.gr
Neapoli Owners of Rooms and Appartments Association - www.vatika.gr