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On The Road — By thevancouverguide on April 27, 2010 at 11:26 am
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Monemvasia, Greece: A Medieval Treasure

On a recent quest to find Venetian castles in the Peloponnese, Greece, I discovered the amazing medieval town of Monemvasia.  At first it seemed not much more than a quiet little port, dominated by a steep rock connected to the shore by a long causeway.  Boats crowd the little harbour,  which is lined with small shops and tavernas. What a surprise it was to find that tucked away on the sea side of that rock, is the remains of a former Byzantine settlement.

The towering rock of Monamvasia, known as the Gibralter of Greece,  was located on an important trade route.  It became occupied by the Venetians after pirate raids caused the inhabitants to ask for their help. Through the Medieval world Monamvasia was renown for its excellent wine known as Malmsey wine, mentioned by Shakespeare in Richard III. It was also an important intellectual centre and the birthplace of one of Greece’s most famous poets, Yannis Ritsos, whose house has now been made into a museum.

The name “Monemvasia” means “Sole Entrance” because the only entry is through a fortified tunnel.  I took the little shuttle-bus out along the causeway to the entrance of the old city. As I  came though the thick stone vaulted gateway, I was immediately transported into another age.  Narrow cobbled streets wind up the side of the rock, which is topped by a castle fortress.  The entire town is walled and invisible from the shore.   Many of the old buildings have been restored and converted into tiny hotels, and interesting shops and cafes.   Some buildings still have the crests of Venetian noble families on the old wooden doors.

I lost myself in the past while resting in a shaded courtyard and edging my way down the narrow cobbled streets. It’s easy to imagine what life was like there, hidden away on the rocky slope of the mountain with the teal-coloured sea churning below.  Monemvasia is truly a gem, a step back into the glorious age of Byzantine Greece, a pleasant surprise to find on my quest for the Venetian settlements of the Peloponnese.  It’s one of Greece’s hidden treasures.

IF YOU GO: Buses run daily from Athens, via Sparta.  For information on transporation to Monamvasia see here and also here

The medieval town is inaccessible to cars and motorcycles.  A free shuttle bus operates between the causeway and old Monamvasia from 7.30 a.m – 10 pm. June to September.

There are hotels and pensions in the new town and a camp site nearby. ( hotel info)



    5 Comments

  • inka says:

    What an amazing place, Ruth. Maybe we can have another look this summer?

  • Ruth Kozak says:

    It’s over in the Peloponnese and a bit of a ways from where I am planning to be, but it could be negotiable. In all the years I lived there and the other years I have been there for months at a time I didn’t even know it existed!

  • Christina says:

    Cool! One of my college roommates is from Athens and he loves to brag about his beautiful country. With good reason!

  • Thanks for the comments. There’s no end of beautiful sights to see in Greece.

  • Marianne says:

    Ruth,
    So lovely to read about Monemvasia, it brought back happy memories. We were there for the first time in 1985, stayed for two weeks (we stayed on the mainland). Had arrived by hydrofoil from Pireaus. The service has now been suspended as far as I know. In those days the historic city on the outcrop was almost all in ruins, but wandering through a deserted place was very rewarding and exciting for our children. When we came back in 2005, most houses had been restored, and a bit of the old romance had disappeared with it. Too many souvenir shops and restaurants had taken the place of the old dwellings. We liked our second visit, but the first was the best.

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