Monemvasia (Μονεμβασία) aka Malvasia




Location: Peloponnese Region, Laconia  Map


Description of Monemvasia

Monemvasia is a secluded and beautiful city located on a peninsula in Laconia prefecture in Greece. Monemvasia is well known for its medieval fortress and Byzantine ruins, but practically unknown to the foreign tourists that make it a favourite destination for those who want to get away from large crowds and annoying service. The name of the town of Monemvasia comes from Greek that means “single entrance”. It owes its name due to a fact that it is located on a peninsula with a single road (GR- 86) connecting it to the mainland.

Monemvasia Map

History of Monemvasia

Monemvasia was found about 583 AD by the refugees of the Byzantine Empire who fled Slavic and Avaric invasions. The village that established on the south-eastern side of The Rock was easily defended from the land. A single entrance could easily be guarded even with a small garrison. By 10th century it was an important trading centre. Its strong walls defended the inhabitants against Norman, Arab and Persian attacks from a sea. However in 1249 Franks under leadership of William II of Villehardouin managed to capture this important Monemvasia Byzantine harbour after a three years siege. Just ten years later it was turned back to its previous owners as a ransom after William II was captured in the Battle of Pelagonia in 1262. Monemvasia was sold to pope in 1471 by its despot. However the citizens chose to pledge their allegiance to the Venetians as more effective protector of their interests. From this point up to 1821 it was in possession of Venetians and Ottomans interchangeably that conquered and lost the city repeatedly. Monemvasia was one of the first cities to be besieged by the revolting Greek troops. After four month siege on August 1821 Greek hero Tzannetakis Grigorakis entered the city and proclaimed independence from the Turks.


Places of Interest in Monemvasia

Christos Elkomenos Square (Monemvasia)

Christos Elkomenos Square is most famous for the Cathedral of Christos Elkomenos. This Monemvasia church was constructed in 1293 after visit of Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos to the city. It is the largest church in the city. In 1697 it underwent extensive reconstruction by the Venetian governor.


The Church of Ayia Sophia (Monemvasia)

The Church of Ayia Sophia or Saint Sophia or Saint Wisdom was constructed in the late 13th century during reign of Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos. It stand in the Upper City on a highest cliff. During reign of the Ottoman Turks it was converted to a Muslim mosque. It was reconstructed in the 1950's.


Church of Saint Nicholas (Monemvasia)

Church of Saint Nicholas was constructed during Venetian Rule in Monemvasia in 1703. It was later looted and badly damaged by the invading Turkish troops. After the Greek Revolution of 1821 it was turned into a primary school. One of the students included famous Greek hero and Resistance member Ritsis Yannis. He fought against the Germans during World War II and after his death (1990) was buried here in his home town.


Church of the Blessed Virgin Hrisafitissy (Monemvasia)

Church of the Blessed Virgin Hrisafitissy was constructed in the 15th century on a site of much order church. Its name is derived from the icon of the Virgin Hrisafitissy that is kept here. The icon came from a village of Hrisafitissy hence the name. Locals believe that the spring underneath the cathedral has positive influence on a health of a person. Some even claim that it is good for conception of children. Whatever the case it is certainly very clear and won't kill you. As it happened to many Christian shrines, Church of the Blessed Virgin was looted by the Turks who turned it into a warehouse for wheat. After Greece gained its independence back it was transformed into church again.


Church of the Blessed Virgin Mirtidiotissa (Monemvasia)

Church of the Blessed Virgin Mirtidiotisa is a small Christian church constructed in 1690 during second Venetian rule.



Ancient times
A little north of Monemvasia was in antiquity Epidaurus Limira. The area of ​​Epidaurus Limira has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During historical times it was the most important city on the east coast of the Malea Peninsula and flourished during Roman times. Pausanias visited Epidaurus Limira and described that opposite the city was a cape which he mentions as "Minoan extremes", which has been identified as Monemvasia. A century later, Strabo mentions it as a "Minoan fortress". The toponym "Minoa" indicates the existence of a port in antiquity, traces of which have been found underwater. However, it is not known if there was a significant settlement on the rock. It is possible that a settlement was created there in the 4th century, when the capital was moved from Rome to Constantinople, resulting in changes in the sea trade routes. Epidaurus Limira itself was abandoned in the 4th century.

Monemvasia was founded in the 6th century, by the relocation of the inhabitants of Ancient Sparta, which was then known as Lacedaemon. Sparta, unlike other abandoned cities, continued to be inhabited until the 6th century AD, despite earthquakes, Goth raids in 395 under Alaric and Vandals in 468 under Jericho and the plague epidemic in 541-43. . According to the later Chronicle of Monemvasia, the city was abandoned after a Slavic invasion in 587-588, during the reign of Mauritius. The Chronicle reports that its inhabitants left Sparta in panic and were fortified under the leadership of its bishop in Monemvasia while others settled in the passages of the area, while it reports that many other cities in the Peloponnese were abandoned in this way. However, archaeological finds do not support this view and place the foundation of Monemvasia a few decades earlier, in the reign of Justinian. The first stage of the basilica of Christ the Traveler in the center of the Lower City dates back to that time.

During the reign of Justinian, due to various disasters, whether natural or raids, cities experienced a decline. Justinian undertook a residential redevelopment, moving the entire population of cities to new locations and often changing the name of the city. Such movements are reported by Procopius in About Buildings, although his references to the Peloponnese are rare. The 15th century text Report to the Patriarch, written by the Metropolitan of Monemvasia Isidore, states that the movement of the population took place during the reign of Justinian. Another city that moved in the same period was Aepia, Messinia, which moved to Koroni. Similarly, the location of Sparta was deemed insufficiently fortified and prone to long-term blockades due to its long distance from the port, while with the movement of the capital to Constantinople, ships from Gythio had to sail to Cape Malea.

Due to the above reasons, the city authorities proceeded not only to relocate the population of Sparta, founding Monemvasia, but also to reorganize the settlements of southeastern Laconia. The reorganization included the settlement in the mountain passes of Parnon and the migration from Gythio. The Monemvasia Chronicle reports that part of the population relocated to Sicily. Because the reconstruction, relocation, and settlement of the population in the new location must have been completed several years later, it is possible that the two cities coexisted for some time. Along with the inhabitants, the seat of the diocese of Lacedaemonia was moved, although it retained its old name.

Byzantine period
Unlike other settlements in the Peloponnese region which declined from the 7th century onwards - a period known as the Dark Ages - Monemvasia due to its location on important sea routes, such as the one that connected it with Sicily, developed into a commercial art center. A copper coin minted in Sicily by Philippine Vardanis was found in the Lower Town. The oldest known mention in Monemvasia dates from the third decade of the 8th century, and is made by the pilgrim Vilivaldo, who traveled from the Sicilian Holy Land with a stopover in Monemvasia. Monemvasia is also mentioned by Theophanes the Confessor, who describes the arrival of the plague in Byzantium in 746-747.


The key location of Monemvasia on the sea route to the eastern Mediterranean was the target of pirate raids in the following centuries, as well as raids by Western rulers. The Arab raids begin in the 9th century and after their settlement in Crete, the raids multiplied. Such a raid is mentioned in the so-called Psycho-Beneficial Narratives of Bishop Pavlos of Monemvasia, which were written in the 10th century and survive only in Arabic translation. One of them states that the Arabs attacked the fortress of Voukols, which has been identified with Monemvasia. Earlier in the same text it is mentioned that in the city the relics of the saints of Barcelona, ​​Bishop Valerius, Eulalia, Vincent and others were washed away. The inhabitants collected the sarcophagi that contained them and built a church on the steep hill. Later, after the raid, it is reported that during the reigns of Emperors Leo and Alexander, the church was located and the remains were transported to the chapel of St. Irene, next to the church of St. Anastasia (today it is dedicated to Christ Elkomenos). At the beginning of the 10th century, the ecclesiastical seat of Monemvasia was transferred from the jurisdiction of the church of Rome to the patriarchate of Constantinople, where it was downgraded to a diocese of Corinth. Nevertheless, Monemvasia continued to grow, while maintaining privileges, including self-government.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, Monemvasia experienced impressive economic growth. At that time, the settlement spread all over the rock and not only on its invisible side and important monuments were rebuilt, such as the church of Hagia Sophia (originally dedicated to Panagia Hodegetria) in the upper town and the church of the Tractor Christ, which was rebuilt at that time, probably due to the placement of the image of Christ the Traveler in the temple. In the time of the Komnenians, Monemvasia had become a guardian of the western entrance to the Aegean. In 1147 ships of the Sicilian king Roger II tried to capture it without success and were forced to leave with heavy losses. The ruler of Monemvasia during the attack, Theodoros Mavrozomis, then settled in the imperial court and after the Battle of Myriokefalos, he was appointed head of the left wing of the army and then he was given the position of mediator. According to one view, Manuel Mavrozomis was the son of Theodoros. Also, the people of Monemvasia had taken over the administration of Kythera, first George Pachis and then the Evdaimogiannis, who ruled the island until 1204.

The Latins unsuccessfully besieged Monemvasia in 1222. In 1252, after a three-year siege, the son of Godfrey Villehardouin II, Prince of Achaia, captured Monemvasia. the Springs in Bithynia, which acquired the same commercial privileges as Monemvasia. Monemvasia itself retained the privileges it had, with the sole obligation of chores on the ships, and became the seat of a Latin bishop. Its loss was a severe blow to the emperor of Nicaea, Michael VIII Palaiologos, as he thwarted his plans to regain the lands that had fallen to the Franks.

When William was captured by the Byzantines at the Battle of Pelagonia in 1259 and refused to cede his possessions to the Peloponnese in exchange for his release, Michael held him captive until 1262, when he agreed to hand over his castles to the Byzantines. , Maine and Geraki. Michael honored him with the title of great domestic, a symbol of subordination to the empire. Monemvasia was designated the seat of a Byzantine general and the seat of an Orthodox metropolitan, while at the same time important privileges were granted to the inhabitants, which were renewed and expanded by Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328). The prosperity of the city was rapid: in addition to population growth, whose main performance was trade and shipping, conditions were created for spiritual and ecclesiastical development, to the extent that the period until 1460 is considered the "golden age" of the city. The peaceful life of Monemvasia during the 14th and the first half of the 15th century was disturbed by pirate raids and internal conflicts, which, however, did not affect its historical course within the despotate of Morea.

First Turkish occupation

The conquest of Constantinople by the Turks and the overthrow of the despotate were the starting point for the ongoing decline of the city, despite the minimal periods of recovery. As early as 1395, a Turkish guard referred to Monemvasia, in a temporary occupation, and in 1460 Muhammad II arrived in Corinth, advanced to Laconia, occupied the fortresses of Achaia and Ilia, and in July 1461 surrendered Salmeniko, the last castle. of the Greek despotate. Thus, with the exception of the Venetian possessions of the Peloponnese and Monemvasia, which had been granted with the consent of Thomas Palaiologos to Pope Pius II, the Turkish conquest of this key area for Byzantium had been completed. At the end of 1463 Monemvasia fell to the Venetians, to whom it remained until 1540, when with the Venetian-Turkish peace treaty of October 2 it was surrendered to the Turks. Most of its inhabitants then abandoned it and took refuge in the Venetian-occupied islands, mainly in Corfu and Crete.

Venetian Recovery and Second Ottoman Empire
The conquest of the Peloponnese by the Venetians (1685-1715) resulted in the resettlement of inhabitants in Monemvasia, which was designated the capital of the Laconia region. However, its population, which in 1700 had reached about 8,000, decreased dramatically again during the second Turkish occupation (1715-1821) and its port was no longer showing any movement.

During the Orlofika (1770) the metropolitan of Monemvasia Anthimos Lesvios armed a body of Monemvasians and besieged the Turks in the fortress, but when the besiegers were attacked by the Albanians they dispersed and many were captured or killed.

During the Greek Revolution
The fortress of Monemvasia was besieged at the beginning of the Greek Revolution by land and sea and after a four-month siege surrendered to the Greeks on July 23, 1821. Controversy ensued over the distribution of the spoils and the administration, which led to anarchy. In March 1822, the temporary administration of Greece decided to repair the fortress and send a guard, but to no avail, with the result that the situation in the fortress worsened. Then the fortress and the province of Monemvasia fell victim to the civil war. The people of Mania, led by Konstantinos Mavromichalis, began to besiege the fortress in September 1823. By March 1824, half of the villages in the province had been occupied by the people of Mania, and while they continued to besiege the fortress, the central administration decided to move 3- 4 cannons from Monemvasia to Spetses. Also, Cretans and Psarians arrived at the fortress after the destruction of Psara, but the siege of the fortress continued. In January 1827, Dimitrios Plapoutas arrived at the fortress with 200 soldiers and the inhabitants and the curators of Monemvasia agreed to hand over the administration of the castle to him, so that the fortress could be liberated, as was done by decision of the National Assembly on March 1. However, Mavromichalis continued to try to conquer the fortress, with the result that Plapoutas left, not accepting this behavior, and finally Mavromichalis became the head of the castle. These constant disputes prevented Monemvasia from being able to play an important role in the subsequent developments regarding the establishment of the Greek state and from failing to regain its former glory.

Part of Greece
In the statistical description of Monemvasia in 1828, Monemvasia had 659 inhabitants, while most of the houses were destroyed. Konstantinos Kanaris was appointed the new guard of Monemvasia. Among the problems he had to face were the guarding of the fortress and the repair of the buildings, as they were not even enough to house the public services. For this reason, the engineer Fotis Kesoglou and Theodoros Vallianos arrived in the city. At the same time, an effort was made for the operation of a school, which was housed in the church of Agios Nikolaos. Despite the difficulties in its financing, it remained in operation in 1937. Ecclesiastically, Monemvasia remained the seat of the diocese of Monemvasia, but after the death of Metropolitan Chrysanthos Pagonis, the seat became vacant and Gerasimos Pagonis was appointed vicar, but he did not have the rank of so he used the bishop of Stagi Ambrosios, but the resources of the province were only enough for one, and finally Ambrosios ended up in the metropolis of Mystras.


Monemvasia continued to be in dire straits for many more years, but remained the largest village in the area and during the administrative reshuffle of 1833, Monemvasia continued to be the seat of the province, which was renamed from the province of Monemvasia to the province of Epidaurus Limira. Monemvasia remained the seat of the province of Monemvasia until 1864, when the seat was transferred to Molai, but remained the seat of a municipality until its abolition in 1913. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was the seat of an iron court, customs, telegraph office, police and school. According to the censuses, there was a decrease in population until the 1970s. The course of the community population according to the censuses is as follows: 1920: 483 k., 1928: 638 k., 1940: 638 k., 1951: 522 κ., 1961: 487 κ., 1971: 445 κ .. The inhabitants of Monemvasia either migrated to Athens or moved to the Bridge, opposite Monemvasia. In the 1951 census, out of the 522 inhabitants of the community, 261 lived in Gefyra, 178 in the old town and 83 in Agia Kyriaki. The population of the old town continued to decrease and in 1971 only 32 inhabitants lived in it. Monemvasia continued to rely on cisterns for its water supply until 1964 and electricity arrived in 1972. Trade was by boat, where products were transported to the nearest major port, Piraeus.

From the 1970s Monemvasia began to flourish again, this time as a tourist destination. The people of Monemvasia sold their houses to people who visited Monemvasia and restored them. Alexandros and Haris Kalliga played the main role in the restorations. At the same time, the Bridge experienced strong growth (in the 2011 census it has 1,299 inhabitants).