The ruined Byzantine city of Mystras sits on the top and sides of a hill that juts out from the plain and is one of the most remarkable places in Greece. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The View from Mystras
A wander around this magical Byzantine city is a sheer
delight. Its setting is spectacular, on a hill rising from a plain at the edge
of the Taygetos Mountains, which thrust down into the Mani. Atmospheric ruins
sprawl over the top and slopes of the hill, with enough remaining to give a
good idea of what life must have been like for the 42,000 people who lived here
in the 15th century.
The city was founded in 1249 by the Franks, who had taken control of Greece at the start of the 13th century. It owes its existence to Guillaume II de Villehardouin, who planned Mystras as the third of his strongholds in this region, the others being Monemvasia, and Tigani in the Inner Mani. He saw Mystras as a replacement for nearby Sparta, which lies in the plain.
Mystras fell to the Byzantines in 1262, but the new town that grew up in and around the fortress began to flourish. It developed as a notable centre of artistic excellence, attracting painters from as far afield as Italy and Constantinople (Istanbul).
Mystras' Two Entrances
There are two entrances to the site. Approaching from Sparta, you first come to the lower entrance. The second entrance is at the top of the hill, and both have parking. There is no particular advantage to either of them, although if you don't enjoy a lot of climbing you might want to explore the lower slopes first before driving to the top and then looking around there.
Whichever you choose, a map is essential and there's a decent one in the guide we recommend, the Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese. It's a real labyrinth and you can't explore it all without some doubling back.
If you begin at the bottom and turn right you come almost at
once to the Mitropolis, the cathedral, which dates to 1309, making it the
oldest church in Mystras. Inside are some 14th-century frescoes and, conspicuous
on the floor, a stone with the Byzantine double-headed eagle carved into it. On
this spot the man who was to become the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI
Paleologus, was given the title of Despot of the Morea in 1443. He became
emperor in 1449 and ruled until 1453.
Beyond the Mitropolis is the convent of Pantanassa, whose few remaining nuns are the only people still living in Mystras. They sell refreshments and their own handicrafts at busy times of the year. Not surprisingly, the church of this working convent is the best preserved in Mystras. Built in 1365, it was the last to be constructed in this walled hillside town.
Turn left at the bottom entrance to reach the Perivleptos Monastery. The church here has particularly fine 14th-century frescoes around the dome which, in accordance with Byzantine convention, carries an image of Christ Pantokrator (the Almighty or All-Powerful).
The dominant feature at the top of the site is the castle,
or Kastro, though first you come to the Palace Chapel of Agia Sofia with its
stunning marble floors. Below here it is possible to walk around the castle
keep, which gives wonderful views over the ruined city. This dramatic spot is
where the German writer and scientist Goethe (1749-1832) set the meeting
between Faust and Helen of Troy in his famous play, Faust.
The Despots' Palace
In addition to the Kastro, there is also the Despots'
Palace. The first Byzantine rulers here were the Despots of Morea,
Morea being the name for this whole region of Greece. The palace has survived
well over the centuries. One wing dates from the original Frankish days, and
another was added in the 14th century. This section includes a throne room that
was used for the coronation of several Byzantine kings. The palace has been
closed for extensive renovation for many years with no note of when it might
re-open, though when it does it will certainly add even more glory to the remarkable
site of Mystras.
Other Peloponnese pages
Patras, or Patra, in the Peloponnese is Greece's third-largest city, home to Greece's largest Carnival, with many Roman and Greek remains, museums and churches.
Kalamata in the Peloponnese is the area's second-biggest city and is world-famous for the quality of its olives and for the nearby site of Ancient Messene.
The top archaeological sites in the Peloponnese in Greece include Epidavros, Olympia, Mycenae, Mystras, Tiryns, and Argos.
The Nemean Games, like the Olympic Games, take place every four years but, unlike the Olympics, anyone can apply to take part and run in the original stadium.
Sparta (or Sparti) in the Peloponnese of Greece was one of the most important city-states of ancient Greece and has significant archaeological remains.
The Peloponnese in Greece has such sights as Olympia, Mycenae, the Mani, Nafplion, Corinth and Epidavros.
Nafplion in the Peloponnese was the Greek capital before Athens and today is a charming waterfront town with good restaurants, museums, shopping, beaches, old fortresses and a delightful atmosphere.
Mycenae in the Greek Peloponnese was a royal palace and is famous for the royal tombs, Lion Gate, and was excavated by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann.
Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.
The Mani in the south of the Peloponnese is the most southerly part of the Greek mainland and famous for its rugged landscape, feuds, and tower houses.
The ancient theatre at Epidavros is one of Greece's greatest attractions, ranking alongside the Acropolis and the Palace at Knossos in Crete, and it is easily the finest theatre in Greece.
Corinth has four aspects to it, which are the Corinth canal, the modern town of Corinth, nearby Ancient Corinth, and above that Akrokorinthos or Upper Corinth.
The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.
Travel guide to Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese of mainland Greece, home to the original Olympic Games.
Monemvasia in the Peloponnese is the Greek Rock of Gibraltar and is a huge offshore rock which conceals a tiny town connected to the mainland by a single road.
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