The Hidden Town of Monemvasia

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Monemvasia is a Gibraltar-like rocky island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, in Greece, and linked to the mainland by a short causeway. The island is about 300 meters wide and a kilometer long, and rises in a plateau, a hundred metres above sea level. On the slope of this plateau, on the seaward side and hidden from the mainland, lies a small town. This remarkably romantic walled town, nestled under the shadow of the towering rock is a living museum of Byzantine, Ottoman, and Venetian history dating back to the 13th century.

Monemvasia was settled in the 6th century by the inhabitants of ancient Laconia seeking refuge from the Slavic invaders who dominated much of Greece between 500 to 700 AD. The rocky island had been separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD. Over the next several centuries, Monemvasia changed hands again and again, back and forth, between the Venetians and the Turks, until it was liberated during the Greek War of Independence in the early 19th century.

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The name Monemvasia is derived from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning "single entrance" and refers to the narrow causeway which is the only way to enter the town.

The island was initially settled on the top of the plateau, which is now referred to as the “Upper Town”. Gradually the settlement spread down the hill, and thanks to its uniquely well-defended position, developed into a powerful town. In the declining days of the Byzantium Empire, Monemvasia became its main city and one of the great commercial centers of the Byzantium world and a major trading port, with a population of 40,000. By the 18th century, Monemvasia went into decline until it was re-discovered by tourists in the 1970’s.

Slowly, the town is resurging in importance – this time as tourist destination with an increasing numbers of tourists visiting the region during the summer. The medieval buildings have been restored, and many of them converted to hotels, and there are plenty of places to eat.

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The church of Agia Sofia. Photo credit

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rick Steves' Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese by Rick Steves

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2 comments:

  1. I love Monemvasia. My husband and I stayed inside the castle 3 years ago on a trip to Greece. I felt like I was transported to medieval times. The stone stairways, the architecture and the various pathways that you can get lost in. We had such an amazing time and it was definitely something I would never associate with the landscape or historical sites of Greece. People should definitely put this on their list of things to see when in Greece. I'm glad you chose to write about it!

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  2. Demetre GiannioudisApril 14, 2015 at 4:54 AM

    Greece in general is beautiful ,I was born in Greece and have gone to so many places there ,One thing I will say for me nothing is like Peloponnese especially Laconia, Messinia
    One cannot even imagine what it means to feel the land ,and the only way to do that is to go there ,mingle with the locals ,only then one can understand ,and appreciate the land and its people.Having said that being in Monemvasia is an experience second to none.I am from there

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