Monemvasia is a stunning medieval fortress town in Southern Greece, built on a tiny rocky island that is connected to the mainland by a 200-metre bridge. The name Monemvasia means “single entrance” in Greek, as the bridge is the only way to access the town. Monemvasia has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century AD and has a rich and turbulent history as a major trade and maritime centre, claimed by many conquerors over the centuries.
Today, Monemvasia is a popular tourist destination that offers a unique experience of stepping back in time and exploring a perfectly preserved medieval settlement. The town is divided into three parts: the lower town, the upper town and the acropolis. Each part has its own charm and attractions, and they are all worth visiting. Here are some tips on how to explore the upper town and the lower town of Monemvasia and admire the views.
The Lower Town
The lower town is the main village of Monemvasia and where most of the residents still live. It is also where you will find most of the hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops. The lower town is surrounded by a U-shaped fortification wall with two gates, one on the east and one on the west side. The main street runs along the centre of the town, parallel to the sea wall, and it is lined with beautiful stone houses, low arches and Byzantine churches.
Some of the highlights of the lower town are:
- The Church of Elkomenos Christos, which dates back to the 13th century and houses a museum of Byzantine icons and relics.
- The Church of Agia Sofia, which was built in the 12th century and has a remarkable dome and frescoes.
- The House of Yiannis Ritsos, which was the home of one of Greece’s greatest poets who was born in Monemvasia. The house is now a cultural centre that hosts exhibitions and events.
- The Liotrivi Historical Mansion, which was once the residence of another famous Greek poet, Nikos Kazantzakis. The mansion is now a hotel that offers tours and tastings of local products.
- The rooftop cafes and restaurants that offer panoramic views of the sea and the castle walls.
The Upper Town
The upper town is located at the top plateau of the island, about 300 metres above sea level. It is accessed by a winding road that ascends from the lower town. The upper town was once the political and religious centre of Monemvasia, but it was abandoned after an earthquake in 1821. Today, it is mostly in ruins, but it still preserves some impressive monuments and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
Some of the highlights of the upper town are:
- The Castle of Monemvasia, which is a rectangular fortress with four towers, surrounded by high cliffs and a strong protective wall. The castle was built in the 6th century AD and was expanded and modified by various rulers over time. The only entrance is in the middle of the southern wall, at the end of the road from the lower town.
- The Church of Agia Sofia, which is not to be confused with the one in the lower town. This church was also built in the 12th century and it is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. It has a striking octagonal dome and some remnants of frescoes.
- The Acropolis of Monemvasia, which is located at the highest point of the island, about 100 metres above the castle. It is reached by a steep path that starts from behind the church of Agia Sofia. The acropolis was once a fortified citadel that housed a palace, a church and a cistern. Today, only some ruins remain, but they offer breathtaking views of Monemvasia and beyond.
Tips for visiting Monemvasia
- No vehicles are allowed inside Monemvasia Castle, so you will have to park your car at one of the parking lots near the bridge or in New Town, which is across from Monemvasia Castle.
- Wear comfortable shoes and bring water and sunscreen, as you will be walking a lot on uneven cobblestone paths and climbing steep stairs.
- Allow at least half a day to explore both parts of Monemvasia Castle, but ideally stay overnight to enjoy its magical atmosphere without crowds.
- Visit Monemvasia in spring or autumn to avoid the summer heat and the peak season.
- Check out the local events and festivals that take place in Monemvasia throughout the year, such as the Monemvasia Medieval Festival in July, the Wine Festival in August and the Poetry Festival in September.
Monemvasia is a hidden gem in Greece that will enchant you with its history, architecture and views. It is a place where you can travel back in time and feel the spirit of the past. Don’t miss the chance to visit this amazing castle town and discover its secrets.