The great rock of Monemvasia, known as the "Gibraltar of Greece", is one of the wonders of the Peloponnese. This shorn off mass of limestone sits cantilevered on the southeastern tip of Laconian land, transporting visitors on a dreamlike journey through time and history. Castle walls, narrow cobbled streets, rich merchants' mansions, dozens of churches, low arches, marble imperial thrones, coats of arms, and Byzantine frescoes give the impression of a fantastic town that has been left untouched by time and leaves no visitor unmoved.
What to Do in Monemvasia
Situated within the medieval walls of Monemvasia is one of the most well-preserved and vibrant castles in Greece, attracting year-round enthusiasts. Entering the castle from the only available entrance (the name Monemvasia derives from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning "single entrance"), we take the main street which leads to the Central Square with the old cannon and the Church of the Christ Elkomenos. Opposite is the historic preserved 16th-century building (mosque) where the Monemvasia Archaeological Collection is housed. From here the roads to all corners of the castle branch off.
Get lost in the labyrinth of cobbled alleys and winding arched passageways. The colors, the people, the atmosphere, the peculiarities of this place will fascinate you. The sense of isolation felt on this legendary rock, cut off from the coast by an earthquake in 375 AD, adds to the wonder. Monemvasia is the only castle in Europe that has never ceased being inhabited. Among the top travel destinations in the world, the Monemvasia Castle is ideal for sightseeing. There are no vehicles inside the castle, so be prepared to walk.
The Lower Town of Monemvasia
The Kastro (Castle) is divided into a Lower and an Upper Town. The Lower Town of Monemvasia is characterized as a traditional settlement and here you will find many restored traditional hotels and small guesthouses housed in old preserved buildings, medieval gates and arches, and Byzantine churches. It is worth visiting the church of Elkomenos Christos, Panagia Myrtidiotissa, the Archaeological Collection and the home of the poet Yiannis Ritsos at the entrance of the Castle. The main cobblestone path that starts from the Castle gate leads you to the major attractions as well as to the sophisticated bars and cafés, traditional tavernas, and souvenir shops that are concentrated along it.
The Upper Town of Monemvasia
From the main square begins the cobbled path for the Upper Castle, the second settlement. It is worth going uphill between the pomegranates and the palm trees if only for the view. High above the square, castle walls protect the upper town on the summit. There one can see the remains of Byzantine houses and public buildings and a vast cistern that ensured a water supply at times of siege. A fortified zigzag path from the upper town leads to the Fortress of Goulas which overlooks the town. It is entered by a tunnel that still holds its ironbound gates. Among the ruins of houses and cisterns of the acropolis stands Agia Sophia, a Byzantine church founded by Andronikos II Palaiologos. This octagonal 12th-century church is the most important monument of the castle, and its charm and magnificence remain untouched.
The Most Important Monument of the Castle
Built from the middle to the end of the 12th century in the Upper Town of Monemvasia, Agia Sophia is the most important monument to the Castle. It is an octagonal temple with magnificent interior space and exquisite frescoes of the 12th - 13th century, which due to multiple conversions have been largely destroyed. The church, which followed all the historical periods of the city, was converted into a mosque and a cathedral with the addition of a minaret and a two-storey narthex respectively. During the Second Turkish occupation, it reopened as a mosque and its frescoes were covered with plaster. Local tradition links the church to Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, while written sources indicate that it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary Odigitria of Mystras. It is considered a copy of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for this reason and after the revolution of 1821, it was dedicated to the Wisdom of God.
The Monemvasia Archaeological Collection
The Monemvasia Archaeological Collection is located in the Square of Christos Elkomenos, inside the Old City Mosque. A historic building 16th century which was transformed during the second Venetian occupation (1690 to 1713) and after release, functioned as a church, a prison and later as a kafeneio. The museum was inaugurated in 1999 with the aim of presenting to the public unfamiliar aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants of the castle from the early Christian years until the era of the late Turkish occupation.
The Beaches in Monemvasia
If you would like to cool off with a swim without leaving the historic fortress, head down to Portelo. This historic castle gate which leads to steep cliffs and the cove of Portelo that once served as the fortress’ supply port. This rocky location is the nearest beach and provides a unique swimming experience right under the imposing fortress city of Monemvasia. The sight and sound of waves crashing onto the rugged walls are captivating.
In the shade of the rock, Pori Beach offers swimming with a splendid view of the castle town. Pori is an organized beach with sunbeds and umbrellas, offering all the necessary facilities for the visitor. Kakkavos beach is right below the fortress, near the new town of Monemvasia. On the pebbly coast of Kakkavos you will find umbrellas and sunbeds, beach volley facilities as well as many taverns and cafés within a kilometer of the beach. The surrounding area is considered a great destination for sailing, and the Monemvasia Marina has all the amenities needed for yachts.
A Culinary Journey in Monemvasia
The Peloponnese is known for its regional culinary delights and Monemvasia is sure to satisfy even the most demanding traveler’s taste buds. Try the local handmade pasta (goggles), saytes (fried cheese pies and herbs) and stamna (pork bites served with potatoes in a clay pot). Featured are the local sweets; rafiolia (handmade almond-filled crescents), amygdalota (almond cookies dusted with powdered sugar) and samousades (syrupy sweet with almond, walnut and sesame). As for wine, sample the regional sweet wine called Malvasia, the authentic flavor of Monemvasia, dubbed the “nectar of the nobles”.
When to Visit Monemvasia
Monemvasia is a unique tourist destination that is recommended for all seasons, weekends or long days, for relaxation or for adventure. Monemvasia can meet every demand, every desire of the traveler. Spring is probably the best time to visit Monemvasia. At this time, the castle town looks like a colorful canvas with wildflowers popping out of the cliffs, bougainvilleas and ivy adorning its mansions and the vast blue stretching out in front of it. Monemvasia is among the best Easter destinations. At Easter, Monemvasia becomes silent and atmospheric and the visitor can experience the great feast of Orthodoxy.
On Holy Saturday, in front of the Church of Elkomenos Christos, the Holy Light passes from hand to hand as everyone waits for the "Christ Risen" to be given the "kiss of love". Then, at the castle's taverns at the festive table, traditional chefs and other local delicacies are honored.
Easter Sunday afternoon revives the burning of Judas in the courtyard of the Elkomenos church. A dummy filled with wood and straw is burnt and as soon as the fire is lit, the sparklers illuminate the spring sky.
How to Get to Monemvasia
The Travel Insiders’ experienced drivers will pick you up from the airport, port, your hotel or your designated meeting point and will take you on a wonderful journey down to the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese in the comfortable, fully air-conditioned vehicle of your choice – a chauffeured private car, coach, minibus, minivan or taxi. Along the way, you can enjoy the wonderful views of the Greek countryside.
Whether you are in Athens, Nafplio or Kalamata, The Travel insiders will provide you with all your options on how to make Monemvasia easily accessible. Book a Monemvasia - The Gibraltar of the Peloponnese tour with The Travel Insiders and simply relax and enjoy the ride!