Mystras Archaeological Site



The city of Mystras was found in the 1249 by Franks who tried to secure their stronghold in Greece and establish a secure starting ground for Crusades. Founded and designed by Guillaume II de Villehardouin this city could not provide the security. Just 13 years after its construction it fell to the Byzantines in 1262. Mystras archaeological site has two parking lots. And if you don’t want to do a lot of climbing you can simply drive to both and explore close surroundings. Mitropolis is a Mystras church that dates to 1309 is the oldest church on this site. Inside are beautiful frescoes from the fourteenth century. The mosaic of the double headed eagle on the floor is the site where the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Paleologus was crowned.

Pantanassa- this convent is not far from the Mitropolis. This convent dates back to 1365 and still active. Few nuns that still live here are the only inhabitants of the city. You can buy refreshments and handicrafts. If you don’t have your own water this is a good place to stop, since heat waves can be quiet brutal in summer Greece.

Kastro- “the castle” is an impressive high ground that have a beautiful view over the city. Goethe placed meeting between Faust and Helen of Troy on these grounds. The Despot’s Palace was found by the Frankish rulers, but new portions were added in the 14th century where several coronations of the Byzantine rulers were held.


The history of the "dead state" of Mystras today begins in the middle of the 13th century, when the conquest of the Peloponnese by the Franks was completed. In 1249, the Frankish prince William II Villehardouin built a strong wall and castle on the east side of Taygetus, at the top of a steep and conical hill called Mystras or Myzithras.

The name Mystras or Myzithras predates the founding of the castle and was the name by which the locals called the mountain before 1249. In fact, according to the Chronicle of Morea, William named the castle Myzithran, "because it was called" ("Vounin found it strange, a clipping on a mountain. A castle was inhabited by an aphrodisiac, My (ze) thran named it"). The name is associated with mizithra and, according to some historians, is associated with the shape of the mountain. According to others, it comes from Myzithras, which is attributed to the owner of the area (as a name or as a profession).

The fortification of the mountain and the evolution of Mystras, during the next two centuries (late Byzantine period), into a strong political, military, spiritual and artistic center is connected with the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade (1204). After that, Byzantium's interest in its western provinces shifted. The change is also associated with the commercial penetration of Italian cities (Venice, Genoa, Pisa, etc.), which upgraded the importance of shopping centers and naval stations in the Peloponnese.

The Franks settled in the Peloponnese in 1204, with Geoffrey Villehardouin as their leader. They founded the principality of Achaia (or Morea), but managed to extend its borders to the southern Peloponnese after 1248, when William II Villehardouin occupied Monemvasia. The founding of the castle in Mystras in 1249 marked the consolidation of their rule in the Peloponnese.

Mystras, a secluded mountain, 634 m high, belongs to the mountain range of Taygetos and is a very strong strategic position. The peculiar relief of the mountain, with the two plateaus at the top (where the castle was built) and on the northern ridge (where the palaces and the square are located), the steep and steep slopes on its south and southeast side, and the possibility of easy fortification of other sides, who wanted to control from here the unruly Slavic tribes of the area (the Miliggs), were the natural advantages of this position and explain the choice of William II Villehardouin.

1259: Mystras is ceded to the Byzantines
In 1259, at the battle of Pelagonia, in which the principality of Achaia and the empire of Nicaea clashed, the Franks were defeated and the Byzantine emperor Michael XVI Palaiologos captured William II Villehardouin. The latter, in order to secure his release, ceded the castles of Megali Maini, Monemvasia and Mystras.

After 1262, Mystras became the seat of a Byzantine general, the "sevastokrator", who changed every year and ruled the entire Peloponnese. Since then, the main historical period of Mystras began, which lasted two centuries. The inhabitants of the plain began to build their houses around the castle, to protect themselves from raids. The population grew rapidly, creating a new city, called Chora, and then it was walled off. Residents seeking permanent residence continued to increase, with the result that the area around the second wall was inhabited. Gradually, Kato Chora was formed, which was also walled up. During this period, Mystras experienced special development. The seat of the metropolis of Lacedaemonia was moved there, the metropolis was built, the monastery of Agios Theodoros, the Master (Hodegetria) and there was a special spiritual flourishing.

From 1308 the system of administration changed and the title of general gave his place to permanent commanders. The first commander was Michael Kantakouzinos (d. 1316) (1308-1316). He was succeeded by Andronikos Asan (1316-1322).

The Despotate and the Ottoman conquest
In 1348 the Despotate of Morea was created, with the first despot Manuel Kantakouzinos (1349-1380), son of the emperor John VI Kantakouzinos. He was succeeded by his brother Matthew Kantakouzinos (1380-1383) and his son Matthew Dimitrios I Kantakouzinos (1383-1384). The latter was confronted by the emperor John V Palaiologos, when he claimed greater independence from Constantinople, and gave his place to the emperor's son, Theodore I Palaiologos (1383-1407). In the years that followed, the despotate expanded throughout the Peloponnese, upgrading the political, administrative and spiritual importance of Mystras.


In 1429 a second despotate was created in Moria, based in Glarentza, whose leader was Constantine IAI Palaiologos, while in 1430 a third was founded, based in Kalavrita, with Thomas Paleologos, brother of Constantine and Theodore II, as despot. Paleologos, who was despot of Mystras in the period 1407-1443. In 1443 Constantine became despot of Mystras, a position he held until 1448, when he was anointed emperor - the last - of the Byzantine Empire. The last despot of Mystras was Demetrios Paleologos (1449-1460).

Wise men, artists and scholars gathered in the court of the Despot, most important and most important of all, George Gemistos or Plethon.

During these years Mystras, and the Peloponnese in general, experienced a new Ottoman invasion (1446), the uprising of the Albanians (1453), the transactions of the despots with Mohammed II to stifle the attitudes, the civil conflicts of the despots and the division between the despots who looked to the West and those who showed a willingness to trade with the Ottomans.

On May 30, 1460, Demetrios Palaiologos surrendered Mystras to the Ottomans without a fight and clung to the sultan's court.

The churches of Mystras
Mystras is dominated by 7 important churches:
Agios Dimitrios (Diocese). Royal wooden roof, with beautiful sculptures on the iconostasis and frescoes. In its courtyard is the Metropolitan Palace, today the Museum of Mystras.
Evangelistria, single-storey with a characteristic wide narthex.
Agioi Theodoroi, with the characteristic famous octagonal dome, the largest and most ancient church of Mystras. It preserves impressive frescoes, including a portrait of the emperor Manuel II Palaiologos dated 1423. Here is the tomb of the despot of Morea Theodoros AD.
The Virgin Hodegetria (Boss). This is the name of a three-storey two-storey domed church with two chapels on either side, that of the "gold diggers" because it is internally covered with a hagiographic composition of angels holding gold bullions of the years 1314, 1319, 1320 and 1322, and the other of Andronikos depicting the emperor Paul despot of Mystras Theodoros I Palaiologos.
Hagia Sophia, above the palaces, of 1350, was the catholic of the monastery of the Life-Giver Christ and probably constituted the church of the Palaces. Many members of the ruling class of Mystras have been buried in it and in the tomb of the northern portico was found the silk female dress of a noblewoman of the beginning of the 15th century, which is in the museum of Mystras.


Pantanassa (nunnery), whose church is the best preserved monument. There are also the tombs of Miss Cleopa Malatesta and Theodora, the wife of the emperor Constantine IAI Palaiologos.

These churches were catholic monasteries. In general, the churches of Mystras were a place of learning of Byzantine architecture, painting, hagiography and spatial study of the time shortly before the Renaissance. Today, only Pantanassa functions as a monastery. Many of the churches owe their present form to maintenance work carried out by Anastasios Orlandos shortly before 1940. The form of the churches is connected with the natural relief of the place where they were built. Thus, all the churches deviate to the east, in violation of the relevant rules of religious tradition. One of them, Agios Georgios, runs from north to south. In terms of architectural form, the simple royal type and the typical for Mystras type dominate, combining the basilica on the ground floor and the church with domes in the attic. The external galleries are also a trademark of the churches. Overall, the architectural form and building materials form a perfectly harmonious whole with the environment.

Diocese (Agios Dimitrios)

It is a complex of buildings located through the northernmost point of the outer wall. It is the oldest surviving monument in the city. Two entrances, one small and older, south, and a later and more imposing one, in the west courtyard, lead inside the complex and to the church, which is dedicated to Agios Dimitrios. Here Constantine Paleologos was crowned emperor - the plaque with the double-headed eagle in the center of the temple testifies to this very fact. The church is a modified form of the original three-aisled basilica that began to be built probably by Metropolitan Eugenios in 1263. Then the works and decoration (late 13th century) of Metropolitan Nikiforos Moschopoulos, sponsored by his brother Aaron, were added. of which stands out imperceptibly in a mural in the sanctuary. During the 15th century, Metropolitan Matthew demolished the wooden gabled roof. A complex of domes was built in its place, while at the same time the gynaeconite was added and the upper part of the frescoes of the inner aisle was destroyed. Thus the temple was transformed into a basilica below and cruciform with a dome above.

The sculptural decoration of the church shows variety in terms of style and season, while the relief double-headed eagle of the Palaeologans on the floor, under the dome, is remarkable. Variety in terms of style but greater localization in terms of time (last quarter 13th-early 14th century) show the excellent frescoes of the temple, which are largely due to Nikiforos.

The complex of the Diocese is completed by buildings that were added later: the tower-shaped bell tower (in the southeast corner of the church), the portico with the pillars and arches on the west façade, a second portico on the north side, from where the view to the valley is excellent , as well as the beautiful north courtyard with arches and two-storey buildings on its west side, works of Metropolitan Ananias Lampadaris, who was slaughtered by the Ottomans in 1760. The place where he martyred, outside the Diocese, is fenced with a railing. Another metropolitan, Chrysanthos, built in 1802 the fountain that exists in the same courtyard.

Evangelistria is located on the cobbled path that leads from the Diocese to the Monastery of Vrontochi. It is a small two-column cruciform church, with an elegant dome, narthex and gynaeconite, dating to the late 14th or early 15th century. Of particular interest is the sculptural decoration inside, in which the carved cubic capitals stand out. The precinct of the church served as a cemetery, although as its special elegance testifies, it was not intended for a cemetery from the beginning.

Vrontochi Monastery (Agioi Theodoroi, Hodegetria / Boss)

Agioi Theodoroi and Panagia Odigitria, the largest and most impressive churches of Mystras, are located in the northern corner of the outer wall. They were part of the monastery complex of Vrontochio, which was the spiritual center of Mystras and the burial place of the despots.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, which was probably a catholic monastery and the official church of the palace and the nobles, is located in Epano Chora. It was built between 1350 and 1365 by Manuel Kantakouzinos, the first despot of Mystras, and is identified with the temple of Christ the Redeemer, which was founded by Manuel and was converted into a male monastery with a patriarchal sigil of 1365. It belongs to the simple double type ( the same with Evangelistria and Perivlepto) and retains only a few elements from the sculptural decoration and its frescoes. On the capitals of the columns can be seen the monogram of its owner, Manuel Kantakouzinou: Manuel Kantakouzinos Paleologos Despot Ktitor.