Παρασκευή 12 Ιανουαρίου 2024

Monemvasia, Lakonia

If you’re planning a trip to Greece and want to experience a place that’s a bit more untouched and unique than the usual suspects (Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, etc.), you might want to consider taking a day trip to the hidden fortress town of Monemvasia, Greece.
The island is located just off the East coast of the Peloponnese and is connected by a 700 ft. causeway. While at first glance Monemvasia doesn’t look like much, it is such an authentic Greek treasure and I recommend it to anyone.
Located in southern Greece, Monemvasia is one of the country’s hidden gems. Although left undisturbed by flocks of tourists, Monemvasia still offers travelers the best of Greece. 

Here, you’ll be treated to coastal views, Byzantine churches, and authentic Greek charm packed into its narrow streets. If you ask me, it’s the perfect place for digital nomads to enjoy Greece without the hustle and bustle of Athens, or the exorbitant prices of Santorini and Mykonos.

Monemvasia (Greek: Μονεμβασιά, Μονεμβασία, or Μονεμβάσια) is a town and municipality in Laconia, Greece. The town is located on a tied island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, surrounded by the Myrtoan Sea. The island is connected to the mainland by a tombolo 400 metres (1,300 ft) in length.

 Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 m (330 ft) above sea level, up to 300 m (980 ft) wide and 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) long. Founded in the sixth century, and thus one of the oldest continually-inhabited fortified towns in Europe, the town is the site of a once-powerful medieval fortress, and was at one point one of the most important commercial centres in the Eastern Mediterranean. The town's walls and many Byzantine churches remain as testaments to the town's history. Today, the seat of the municipality of Monemvasia is the town of Molaoi.
The town's name derives from two Greek words, moni (μόνη, 'single') and emvasis (έμβασις, 'approach'), together meaning "city of the single approach, or entrance". Its Italian form, Malvasia, gave its name to the eponymous wine. Monemvasia has been nicknamed "the Gibraltar of the East" (Γιβραλτάρ της ανατολής).

History
Early history
While uninhabited in antiquity, the island upon which the town of Monemvasia is situated may have been the site of a Minoan trading post. Pausanias, the renowned Greek traveler and geographer, referred to the site as Akra Minoa, which translates to "Minoan Promontory". The ancient settlement of Epidaurus Limera was located a little north of Monemvasia in ancient times. The region surrounding the two settlements has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During Roman times it flourished as the most important city on the eastern coast of the Malea peninsula. Pausanias visited Epidaurus Limera and said that opposite the city there was a promontory which he referred to as the "extremity of Minos", which has been identified as Monemvasia. Strabo—a century earlier—mentions it as "Minoan fortress". The toponym "Minoa" indicates the existence of a port in antiquity, traces of which have been discovered underwater. However, it is not known if there was a significant settlement on the island. It is possible that a settlement was established there in the 4th century, around the time when the capital of the Roman empire moved from Rome to Constantinople, which resulted in changes in maritime trade routes. Epidaurus Limera itself was abandoned in the 4th century.
Establishment
Monemvasia was founded in the 6th century, from the relocation of the inhabitants of Ancient Sparta, which was then known as Lacedaemon. Sparta, unlike other cities that were abandoned, continued to be inhabited until the 6th century AD, despite earthquakes, Goth raids in 395 under Alaric I and Vandals in 468 under Gaiseric, and the plague epidemic of 541-543. According to the later Chronicle of Monemvasia, the city was abandoned after a Slav raid in 587-588, during the reign of Maurice. The Chronicle reports that its inhabitants left Sparta in panic and fortified themselves under the leadership of their bishop in Monemvasia while others settled in the passes of the region, while mentioning that many other cities of the Peloponnese were also abandoned in this way. However, archaeological findings do not generally concur with this view, and place the foundation of Monemvasia a few decades earlier, during the reign of Justinian. The first level of the basilica church of Christ Elekmenos in the center of the lower town dates from that time.
During Justinian's reign, due to various disasters, either natural factors or raids, the cities experienced significant decline. Justinian proceeded with residential remodeling, moving entire cities' populations to new locations and often changing the city's name. Such changes are mentioned by Procopius in On Buildings, though specific references to the Peloponnese are rare.
The 15th century text Report to the Patriarch, written by Isidoros, the metropolitan of Monemvasia, mentions that the movement of the population took place under Justinian. Another city that moved in the same period was Aipeia in Messenia, which moved to the current site of 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 move of the capital to Constantinople, ships from Gytheion now had to sail around Cape Maleas.
Due to the aforementioned reasons, the city authorities proceeded not only to move the population of Sparta, establishing Monemvasia, but also to reorganize the settlements of southeastern Laconia. The reorganization included settlement in the mountain passes of Parnon and the migration from Gytheion. The Chronicle of Monemvasia states that part of the population relocated as far away as Sicily. Because the rebuilding, moving, and settling of the population at the new location must have been completed several years later, it is likely that the two cities coexisted for some time. Along with the inhabitants, the seat of the diocese of Lacedaemonia was also moved, although it kept its old name.
Byzantine period
Unlike other settlements in the Peloponnese region that saw their decline from the 7th century onwards—a period known as the Dark Ages—Monemvasia developed into a commercial and cultural centre due to its location on important sea routes, such as the one that connected it to Sicily. A bronze coin minted in Sicily of Philippikos Bardanes was found in the lower town. The oldest known mention of Monemvasia dates from the third decade of the 8th century, and is made by the pilgrim Vilibaldos, 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.
Monemvasia's key position on the sea route to the eastern Mediterranean made it the target of pirate raids in the following centuries, along with raids by Western rulers. Arab raids began in the 9th century and after their settlement in Crete, after which the raids multiplied. One such raid is mentioned in the so-called Psychophile Narratives of bishop Pavlos Monemvasias, which were written in the 10th century and survive only in an Arabic translation. In one of them, it is mentioned that the Arabs attacked the fortress of Vukolo, which has been identified as Monemvasia. Earlier in the same text it is mentioned that the relics of the saints of Barcelona—of Bishop Valerius, Eulalia and Vincentius among others—had washed up in the city. The inhabitants collected the sarcophagi that contained them and built a church on the steep hill. Later, after the landing, it is reported that during the reign of Emperors Leo VI and Alexander, the chapel was located and the remains were transferred to the chapel of Agia Irini, next to the church of Agia Anastasia (which today 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 demoted to the diocese of Corinth. Despite this, Monemvasia continued to develop, while at the same time maintaining privileges, among which was self-government.
During the 11th and 12th centuries, Monemvasia experienced significant economic growth. During that period, the settlement spread around the island (not only on its main 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 Elkomenos Christos, which was reconstructed during that period, possibly due to the placement of the image of Christ Elkomenos in the temple. At the time of the Komnenians, Monemvasia had evolved into 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 withdraw with heavy losses. The archon of Monemvasia during the attack Theodoros Mavrosomis then settled in the imperial court and after the Battle of Myriokephalos, he was put in charge of the left wing of the army and was then given the position of mediator.
The Latin Empire, a 13th-century crusader state, unsuccessfully besieged Monemvasia in 1222. Then, in 1252, after a three-year siege, the Frankish prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin, occupied Monemvasia. The inhabitants of Monemvasia who did not wish to remain under Latin occupation left for Bithynia, which acquired many of the same commercial privileges as Monemvasia. Monemvasia itself retained the privileges it had, with the only obligation being maintenance of the ships, and became the seat of a Latin bishop. Its loss was a serious blow to the emperor of Nicaea, Michael VIII Palaiologos, as it overturned his plans for the recovery of 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 in the Peloponnese in exchange for his release, Michael held him prisoner until 1262, when he agreed to surrender to the Byzantines the castles of Monemvasia, Mystras, Grand Magne, and Geraki. 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), such as exemption from inheritance tax and exemption from commerce (duties). Andronikos III Paleologos then exempted Monemvasia from 28 taxes. The prosperity of the city was rapid: in addition to the increase in population, whose main achievement was trade and shipping, conditions were created for spiritual and ecclesiastical development, to the extent that the period up to 1460 is considered to have been the city's "golden age". This prosperity attracted Roger of Lauria, who sacked the lower town in 1292. In 1302, the town welcomed the Catalan Company on its way eastward. In 1324, out of a total of 3,108 pyres that the metropolitans contributed to the Constantinople Patriarchate, 800 came from the Monemvasia metropolis, more than any other. In 1347 or 1348, John VI Kantakouzenos promoted the metropolis of Monemvasia to the hierarchy of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The peaceful life of Monemvasia during the 14th and the first half of the 15th century was disturbed by pirate raids and internal conflicts, though they did not, however, affect its historical course under the Despotate of the Morea.
In 1354, control over the Despotate of Morea was usurped by Manuel Kantakouzinos, who remained in power until 1380. The administration of Monemvasia was given to Ioannis Kantakouzinos, who rebelled after learning that after Manuel's death, Theodore Palaiologos would be appointed. Theodore tried to approach Monemvasia but was driven away and fled to Venetian-occupied Koroni to ask for help in exchange for the territory of Monemvasia, but the Monemvasians repudiated the rebels. In 1394, Theodore was captured by Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I and, in order to free himself, asked for the surrender of Monemvasia. Theodore managed to escape and with the help of Venice recaptured Monemvasia from the Ottomans in July 1394. The result of all these events was that the city's population decreased and commercial traffic was effectively brought to a halt.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, unrest prevailed in the Despotate, which at the time had two despots, Thomas Palaiologos and Demetrios Palaiologos, who disagreed about the future of the despotate. Dimitrios surrendered Monemvasia in May 1460 to Mehmed II, but he withdrew without besieging it. Then, following the advice of Thomas, the inhabitants offered the city to Pope Pius II on September 12, 1460, who accepted.
First Venetian rule and first Ottoman rule
During the War of Independence
During the Siege of Monemvasia  beginning on March 15, 1821, at the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, the fortress of Monemvasia was besieged by land and sea. After a four-month siege, it was surrendered to the Greeks on July 23, 1821. Disputes over the distribution of spoils and administration ensued, leading to anarchy. In March 1822, it was decided by the temporary administration of Greece to repair the fortress and send a guard, but to no avail, the result of which was that the situation in the fortress worsened. Later, the fortress and the province of Monemvasia fell victim to the civil war. The Maniots led by Konstantinos Mavromichalis began to besiege the fortress in September 1823. 
By March 1824, half the villages of the province had passed into the possession of the Maniots, and while they continued to besiege the fortress, the central administration decided to transfer three to four cannons from Monemvasia to Spetses. Cretans and Psarans arrived at the fortress after the destruction of Psara, but the siege of the fortress continued. In January 1827, Dimitris Plapoutas arrived at the fortress with 200 soldiers and the inhabitants and the governors of Monemvasia agreed to hand over the administration of the castle to him so that the fortress could be liberated, as was done by the decision of the National Assembly on 1 March 1827. However, Mavromichalis continued to try to conquer the fortress, as a result of which Plapoutas withdrew, not accepting this behavior, and eventually Mavromichalis was placed in charge of the castle. These constant quarrels prevented Monemvasia from being able to play an important role in the later developments regarding the establishment of the Greek state and from not being able to reach his former glory.
Post-Independence
In the statistical description of Monemvasia in 1828, it was home to 659 inhabitants, while most of the houses were destroyed. Konstantinos Kanaris was appointed as the new guardian of Monemvasia. Among the issues he faced were guarding the fortress and repairing the buildings, as they were not in sufficient shape to house necessary public services. For this reason the engineers Fotis Kesoglou and Theodoros Vallianos arrived in the town. At the same time, an effort was made to operate a school, which was housed in the church of Agios Nikolaos. Despite difficulties in financing it, it remained in operation in 1937. Ecclesiastically, Monemvasia remained the seat of the metropolis of Monemvasia, but after the death of Metropolitan Chrysantho Pagonis, the seat remained unoccupied and Gerasimos Pagonis was appointed as vicar.
Monemvasia continued to be in a dire situation for many more years, but it remained the largest village in the region and during the administrative reorganization of 1833. Monemvasia continued to be the seat of the province, which was renamed from the province of Monemvasia to the province of Epidaurus Limiras. Monemvasia remained the seat of the province until 1864, when the seat was transferred to Molaoi, but it remained the seat of a municipality, until its abolition in 1913. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was the seat of a court of justice, customs office, telegraph office, police, and school authority. According to the censuses, there was a population decline until the 1970s. The community's population trend according to the censuses is as follows: 1920: 483, 1928: 638, 1940: 638, 1951: 522, 1961: 487, 1971: 445. Generally, the inhabitants of Monemvasia either immigrated to Athens or moved to Gefyra, opposite Monemvasia. In the 1951 census, of the community's 522 residents, 261 lived in Gefyra, 178 in the old town, and 83 in Agia Kyriaki. The population of the old town continued to decline, and in 1971 only 32 residents lived in it. Monemvasia continued to rely on cisterns for its water supply until 1964 and electricity arrived in 1972. Trade was carried out by coastal shipping, where products were transported to the nearest major port, Piraeus.
Recent years
From the 1970s, Monemvasia began to flourish again, this time as a tourist destination. The people of Monemvasia sold their houses to people visiting Monemvasia, who restored them. Alexandros and Harris Kalliga played a key role in the restorations. At the same time, Gefyra also experienced strong growth (in the 2011 census it has 1,299 inhabitants).
In 1971, Monemvasia became linked with the rest of the outside world through a bridge on the western side that connects to GR-86.
In more recent history, the town has seen a resurgence in importance with increasing numbers of tourists visiting the site and the region. The medieval buildings have been restored, and many of them converted to hotels.
The 1986 horror movie The Wind was filmed here. 
Municipality
The municipality of Monemvasia was formed from the former province of Epidavros Limira during the 2011 administrative reform as a part of the Kallikratis Programme. It was formed through the merger of the following 5 former municipalities, which thereby became municipal units:
Asopos
Molaoi
Monemvasia
Voies
Zarakas
The municipality has an area of 949.3 square kilometres (366.5 sq mi), the municipal unit an area of 209.0 square kilometres (80.7 sq mi).