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Mystras
A Journey Back to the Byzantium
Situated on the steep foothills of mighty Taygetus Mountain, evocative Mystras, else known as Myzithras in the Chronicle of the Moreas and famous as the “wonder of Moreas”, is one of the most exciting, dramatic and striking historical sites of Greece, if not Europe. Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea, the second most important city of the Byzantine times after glorious Constantinople, and has attracted thousands archaeology aficionados and history lovers. The prince of Achaea, William II of Villehardouin, constructed the castle of Mystras on Mizithras hill in 1249. Conquered from the Byzantines, occupied from the Ottomans and dominated from the Venetians, aspiring Mystras was finally abandoned in 1832, leaving behind the breathtaking medieval remnants of the once glorious city of Byzantium. Winding up to the verdant hillside lies the remarkable intact Byzantine town that once shelter a population of 20 thousands inhabitants. Byzantine alleys and monumental gates, medieval houses and impressive palaces lined up from inspiring churches with outstanding faded frescoes, Mystras, the place where Constantine Paleologus was sworn before travelling to Constantinople as the last emperor of the Byzantium, is a genuine specimen of architecture that challenge travellers to relive history through a promenade in the glorious past heydays of the Byzantium. Mystras offers one of the most intriguing opportunities to discover Byzantium through the ancient stone alleys that were once used from this ancient Greek colony. Listed as a World Cultural Heritage monument from UNESCO, the Despotate of Moreas is a rare example of a civic Byzantine grandeur. It is such a rare opportunity to experience a walk to the Byzantium, don’t miss this unique opportunity! Will you allow Mystras illuminate your soul and imagination?
The Monuments of Mystras
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Mystras offers one of the most intriguing opportunities to discover Byzantium through the ancient stone alleys that were once used from this ancient Greek colony. Silence and sunny weather is necessary for indulging the natural beauty and the impressive architecture of this place. The construction of the Byzantine town of Mystras was divided into three zones namely the Upper Town of the Despots, the Castle and the Lower Town, all of which were surrounded from defensive walls. The most enjoyable route starts from the upper ticket office with the entrance that leads to the Castle (10 minutes ascent).
The Upper Town & the Castle of Mystras
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The Frankish castle of Mystras was founded from William II de Villeharduin with battlements and towers, and it was later reinforced from the Ottomans; it maintains the Frankish design of its original 13th century construction, and offers impressive vistas to the entire town of Mystras. Continuing downhill from the castle, the church of Hagia Sophia will amaze you as it features impressive frescoes, including the Christ in Majesty and the Nativity of the Virgin, as well as a brilliant floor made from polychrome marble, all of which have well survived, protected from whitewash coatings of the Turks, who adapted the building as a mosque. If you choose the route going on the right direction, you will have the chance to admire the remnants of a Byzantine mansion, which is said to be one of the oldest houses of Mystras, and the church of Agios Nikolaos (17th century) decorated with inspiring paintings. The other route, however, which leads to the left side of the town, is far more interesting. Passing through the fortified Nafplio Gate, which was the main entrance to the Upper Town, all the roads lead to the once impregnable Palace of the Despots, else known as Palataki. It is a great sample of Byzantine architecture consisting of a huge complex of buildings, which were constructed from the Franks and completed from the Byzantines. Despot’s Palace served as a residence and an administrative building, since it housed the Despots of Mystras from Manuel Katakouzenos to the last Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Paleologos. Palataki is the sole sample of Byzantine palatial architecture in Greece.
The Lower Town
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Monemvasia Gate links the upper and lower towns of the Byzantine town of Mystras. If you continue on the western side, after a 15 minutes hike, you will notice one of the most beautiful monuments of Mystras, the convent of Pantanassa, which literally translates to Queen of the World. The convent’s church is perhaps the finest surviving church of Mystras featuring Byzantine and Gothic elements. Its frescoes are superb, if you imagine that they date back to the 14th century, including the one that depicts scenes from the life of Christ. If you are lucky enough, and meet the nuns of the Convent, make sure to taste the tasteful “vyssinada” (sour cherry juice) in the balcony with the panoramic vistas to the medieval town of Mystras. Upon leaving from this part of the site, head towards the monastery of Perivleptos, a late Byzantine era monastery that was named after one of the most celebrated monasteries of Byzantine Constantinople. It is a single domed church, mostly carved out of the rock, decorated with the most impressive frescoes of Mystras, all of which date between 1348 and 1380. Its frescoes are a very rare surviving late Byzantine cycle, valuable for understanding Byzantine art. Along the path from Perivleptos monastery to the Lower Gate, there are scattered restored-or-not churches, along with the House of Laskaris, a mansion thought to have belonged to relatives of the emperors. Beyond the gateway stands the Mitropolis, namely the cathedral of Agios Demetrios, which is the oldest church of Mystras, dating between 1270 and 1292. The marble plaque on the floor is carved with the double-headed eagle of Byzantium, commemorating the 1448 coronation of Constantine XI Paleologos, the last Eastern emperor. Mitropolis distinguishes for the frescoes illustrating the life of the Virgin and the miracles of Christ, which date to the great years before the fall of Mystras. Adjacent to the cathedral, there is the archaeological museum of Mystras (included in main admission charge) that was founded from the curator of antiquities, Nicolas Drandakis, in 1952. The museum has an interesting representation of the artefacts found on site during the excavations. Exhibits include pottery and sculpture items dating from the early Christian era to Post-Byzantine times. In the years that followed, the collection of the museum was enhanced with miniature sculptures, ceramic coins, fragments of wall paintings, icons and fabrics. No one could ever forget, however, the route that leads to the oldest and largest monastery of the hill, the monastery of Vrondohion that used to belong to the Patriatch of Constantinople. It was once was the centre of cultural, intellectual and spiritual life of Mystras with one of the most important libraries of antiquity. The complex of the monastery hosts two imposing churches, namely the sacred temple of Agioi Theodori and the holy church of Panagia Hodegetria. Agioi Theodori is the second oldest church of the hill, after the cathedral of Agios Demetrios, which was built between 1290-1295 while Panagia Hodegetria, which distinguishes for its excellent wall paintings, was competed between 1310-1320, the time when it became the new church of the monastery. Your exploration in the medieval town of Mystras will end with an indescribable feeling of aspiration and inspiration that you have literally walked back to the Byzantium, such a unique illumination for your soul and imagination!
The Extravagant History of Mystras
History

Mystras occupies a steep hill on the northern slopes of Taygetos Mountain, the highest mountain of Peloponnese, at a distance of six kilometers to the northwest of Sparta. The establishment of Mystras is connected to the first Conquest of Constantinople from the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade (1204). It was the time when the Byzantine Empire was fragmented, and the Peloponnese was granded to the Frankish family of Villehardouins, who founded the municipality of Achaea. Consequently, the prince of Achaea, William II of Villehardouin, constructed the castle of Mystras on Mizithras hill in 1249 with the intention of controlling the valley of Eurotas. Mystras Castle formed the nucleus of the fortified town of Mystras, one of the most important late Byzantine cities of the Byzantium. In 1259, during the battle of Pelagonia, the Frankish prince was captured from the Byzantines, whose emperor demanded to conquer the castles of Monemvasia, Maeni and Mizithras in order to release the prince. Three years later, the castles were delivered to the Byzantines and the Franks were driven out of Mystras. The safety provided from the naturally fortified hill of Mystras caused the movement of Lacedaemon’ (Ancient Sparta) population to the fortified city; this led to the development of the most important urban center of the region. In 1289, the provincial commander of the Byzantine castle of Peloponnese, transferred his headquarters from the castle of Monemvasia to Mystras town. By the mid-fourteenth century, this isolated triangle of land in the southeastern Peloponnese, encompassing the old Spartan territories, became the Despotate of Morea (1349). The first Despot of Mystras was Manuel Kantakouzenos (1349-1380), son of emperor Ioannis VI. By 1383, the dynasty of Kantakouzenos was succeeded from the imperial family of Paleologus with the first representative of Theodore A. Constantine XI Palaeologus (1443-1448) gained a special place among the “Despots” of Mystras as he succedded the imperial throne of this brother, Ioannis Paleologos who was killed in the capture of Constantinople from the Turks in 1453.Mystras served as the capital of the Ottoman Sanjak of Peloponnese (1460 – 1540), and became one of the most important centers of silk production and trade in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1464, Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini succeeded to take back the city except of its castle. However, the Turks were conquered from the Venetians, from 1687 to 1715, while the decline of Mystras began in 1770 after its destruction from Albanian soldiers under the great revolutionary movement of Orloff revolt. It is quite interesting that Mystras was one of the first castles of Greece to be liberated in the 1821 Greek War of Independent. In 1825, the settlement was burnt from the Egyptian troops of Ibrahim Pasha cooperating with the sultan. The foundation of modern Sparta by king Otto, the first king of modern Greece, in 1834 marked the end of the old town’s life. The last inhabitants left lthe castle in 1953 after the jurisdiction of the site from the Greek government and the arcaheological service. The exclusive inhabitants of the city are the nuns of Pantanassa Monastery, which has never stopped its activity. Since then, a great restoration effort took place ion Mystras as many scientists of different fields participated to the first team of experts, for infrastructure works. Streets were reconstructed, power and water system were fixed, drainage and lighting network were constructed, and also a forge and a woodcraft workshop were moved there for necessary special constructions. In 1921, Mystras was declared as an outstanding Byzantine monument by Royal Decree while it was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site from UNESCO in 1989.