A narrow strait of land on the coast of Southern Laconia, an island today but a peninsula in the past since Pausanias in his “Guide to Greece” named it “Minoa akra”.
The name Monemvasia is clearly explained in the “Chronicle of Moreas”, a historical document written during the late byzantine era. Monemvasia is “the only embasis”, the unique entrance to the island over the bridge. An important strategic position, a safe port, a great trading stop.
The byzantine emperor Maurice established Monemvasia in the first year of his reign in 582 AD and the settlers were brought from Lakedaimonia. Its survival after the attacks of the Goths, Avars and Slavs transformed Monemvasia into a great port, on the trade route between the Mediterranean and the Levant.
The four golden decrees of the emperor Andronicus II awarded Monemvasia with privileges and estates and the island became the port of Mistras, the capital of the Byzantine despotate in the Peloponnese. Their wealth increased due to the trading of malmsey wine, grains, wood, leather, fur coats and cloth and Monemvasia became self sufficient , not a small accomplishment since during its heyday it had a population of 40.000 inhabitants. After the fall of the city of Constantinople, it remained the only stronghold of the Byzantine Empire not conquered by the Ottomans. 1463 was the turning point since the Turkish-Venetian war led the citizens to the decision to surrender to Venice.
“Napoli di Malvasia” was the new name used by the new rulers for almost 100 years of the Venetian presence. Venice surrendered the city of Monemvasia to the Ottomans in 1540 AD for more than 100 years until the end of the 17th century. The city was evacuated since the Venetians withdrew their military presence and the Greek population followed them west. The new ottoman name sounded more poetic “Menektses”, the violet city but the Ottomans immediately initiated an impressive fortification project and many public buildings were restored. The Venetians returned in the end of the 17th century even if the locals had no sympathy left for them.
By the early 18th century the city had regained its lost population and historical records mention 10.000 inhabitants that contributed 17% of the total Venetian revenue from the Peloponnese. The Ottomans were back in 1715 for almost 100 years until the Greek revolution of 1821 brought freedom to Monemvasia.
Monemvasia is a characteristic example of architecture in a city founded by Greeks, transformed by Venetians, the experts on military architecture and completely restored by Ottoman rulers. It offers exceptional fortifications commissioned by ottoman generals and rulers, built by local masons who imitated the art and techniques taught to them by Venetian architects.
It is also well known for its Byzantine monuments:
• The church of Ayia Sofia on the upper city, perched on the cliffs, dated to the 11th century AD and a rare example of an octagonal church, clearly an architectural form imported from Constantinople and possibly sponsored by the emperors of Byzantium. The views of the Aegean are exceptional; on a clear day you might see even Crete.
• The church of Jesus Christ, facing the central square of the city is the metropolis (Cathedral). Built on the remains of an early Byzantine church it bears interesting influence of the Venetian era.
A walk in the labyrinthine picturesque town offers wonderful views and great chances of shopping, having a cup of coffee, a Greek lunch and incredible photographs.