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The Rocky Fortress Town of Monemvasia, Greece

The Rocky Fortress Town of Monemvasia, Greece

A giant rock floats above the Grecian waters of Palaia Monemvasia bay, but wait – it’s not just an ordinary rock blocking the soothing sight of the horizon over the bay. The rock itself is an awe-inspiring sight showing off its surface colored with different shades that transition between grey and pink tones. What makes it even more special is the fact that it is also a town worth knowing. Go ahead and cross that bridge from the coast of Laconia to see the small peninsula of Monemvasia.

Right at the Peloponnesian east coast, Monemvasia is an attraction for its location, history, and interesting ruins. The first thing you’ll notice is its 40 Byzantine churches erected all over the narrow streets of this Greek medieval fortress. The churches that still exist today are evidence of Monemvasia’s history dating back to the 6th century when it was under the possession of the Byzantines. It remained Byzantine territory for almost seven hundred years until it was colonized by the Franks in 1249. It was later returned to the Byzantines, leading to the creation of  the Despotate of the Morea (or Mystras).

When the rest of the region was occupied by the Turks in 1460, Monemvasia had no forces to defend itself from the Turkish troops. Because of this, the town had to turn to Venice to offer protection. However, Venetian rulers were unable to protect the territory from the Turks, leading to 100 years of  Turkish rule  until being given back to Venice in 1690.

The story didn’t end there. In 1715, the Turks came back and ruled the town again until 1821 when Tzannetakis Grigorakis and the rest of the Greek army liberated the historic rock from Ottoman occupation.

So enough with its history and off to the present. To be precise, you should remember that the fortress rock’s exact name is Kastro, Kastro Monemvasias, or Palia Monemvasia which means Old Monemvasia. It’s better to remember this to avoid confusion with the municipality of Monemvasia where it is located together with the other municipal units such as Asopos, Molaoi, Voies, and Zarakas.

Monemvasia, that rock about 100 meters above sea level, is divided into two: the lower and upper town. The lower town features the ruins of the original 800 houses and four of the original Byzantine churches. Go to the summit and explore the wall-protected upper town where you can find the Fortress of Goulas. This part of the upper town offers you a great shot over the town.

One of the must-visit places in Monemvasia is the church of Elkomenos Hristos, the largest among the 40+ churches established in the fortress-town. Don’t miss the other churches such as the churches of Agios Nikolaos, Panagia Myrtidiotissa, Panagia Hrisafitissa, Agia Anna, Agios Dimitrios, Agios Stefanos and Agios Andreas.

The name Monemvasia came from the Greek words “mone” which means “single”, and “embassia” which means “entrance”. Monemvasia is also known in the world as Malvasia, the Gibraltar of the East, and the Rock. Besides the fortress town, you can also visit the area called “Nea Monemvasia” (Gefira) in the mainland that is connected to the Old Monemvasia by a low bridge. Here, you can enjoy its offered facilities like accommodations, nightlife spots, and swimming spots.

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