- Location: East Coast of Peloponnese, prefecture of Laconia, Greece
- Attraction Type: Fortress, Castle Town, History, Heritage
- Significance: Medieval Fortress
- Best Time to Visit: You can visit it at almost any time of the year, but it is best to avoid the period between June and August, as it can get uncomfortably hot during these months.
- How to Reach: Rent a car from Athens to Monemvasia, which is the most convenient way to reach there.
- Nearest Airport: Athens International Airport
Located atop the impressive rocky structure of what is often referred to as the ‘Gibraltar of Greece’ stands an ancient citadel city that has seen dynasties and rules fall and rise. After the city, the rock is now known as the ‘Monemvasia Rock’. Within the stony recesses of historic Monemvasia, you can see relics of every rule that has ever held a scepter in Greece — Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman Turks! Ironically, presently it is the foreigner tourists and investors who are re-building Monemvasia and restoring it to its former glory. Standing proudly over the blue Aegean Sea, this little jewel of the Peloponnese is one of the leading tourist destinations in present-day Greece.
History of Monemvasia
The fleeing Slavs and Avars were the first people to develop the fortress. They were the people who named the fortress ‘Monemvasia’ keeping in mind the single entrance point. However, a plague that broke out in 747 disseminated much of the population, considerably diminishing the city’s importance. This was followed by a large number of unsuccessful attempts at claiming control of the fortress.
However, the fate and the importance of this fortress city in the Peloponnesus changed with the onset of the crusades. The Franks took control of the Byzantine Empire. All of the Greek empires were taken as Monemvasia continued to resist. It was only after a prolonged siege that the fortress was taken, and even then the Frankish control lasted for only fourteen years. In 1263, it agreed to cede to the Byzantine Empire, thus beginning the second phase of the Byzantine rule in Monemvasia. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1460, the citadel came under Greek control.
In search of independence, the city underwent a number of alliances from thereon, beginning one with the Pope, and then one with the Venetians in order to resist the oncoming Turkish forces. The schemes were partially successful, though not entirely. The Turks took control of the city in 1540 and continued to rule it till the Venetian re-conquest of 1690.
The Turkish Ottomans re-conquered Monemvasia in 1715. This was, however, financially negotiated and there was not much of military action involved. This was also the beginning of the city’s fall into insignificance. Most of the Greeks deserted the city, making it a small Turkish settlement bereft of much of its former glory. However, the fact that the strategic importance of the town’s location continued to remain is attested by the fact that it became the first victory for the liberation fighters during the Greek War of Independence that started in 1821. Most of the Greeks who fled the castle during 1770 came back to lay claim on their previous accommodations after 1821.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, Monemvasia maintained a low profile with very little population and gradually sinking into obscurity. However, the glory of the place was rediscovered by foreign tourists who immediately rebuilt the place. Now, most of the old ruins have been turned into luxury hotels, and the place still retains much of its old charm and is a great heritage place to visit.
Things to See in Monemvasia
Monemvasia fortress along with its surrounding village is a great collection of ancient stone buildings and cobbled roads. The remains of the fortifications bespeak a great past, and the Byzantine churches in the village betray its history. The Hagia Sophia is one of the most significant structures in the fortress village. Originally a Byzantine church, it was later changed into a mosque, with lime coverings applied on most of the beautiful frescoes of the church. You can also take a walk through the old cobbled allies and relive the historic past of the fortress.
Accommodation in Monemvasia
In keeping with the steady rise of visitors in Monemvasia, there has been a great increase in hotels and inns around the area. Some of the most popular hotels in the area include Hotel Akteaon, Argo Rooms, Panorama Hotel, Papilio House and Romeo’s House. There are camping opportunities on the site as well.