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.
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.
The church of Agia Sofia. Photo credit
Sources: Wikipedia / Rick Steves' Greece: Athens & the Peloponnese by Rick Steves
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