Monemvasia occupies a steep, rocky islet connected to the Laconian
coast by a bridge. The
settlement was founded in the 6th century A.D. by the inhabitants of Laconia.
A second settlement was later founded on a lower level, and gradually developed
into a town of significant strategic importance. After a short domination of
the Popes, the area was captured by the Venetians in 1464. In 1540 it was occupied
by the Turks and its decline became more evident. In 1690 it was given over
to the Venetians and in 1715 was recaptured by the Turks. It was the first among
the fortified towns of the Peloponnese to be liberated by the Greeks in 1821.
The 5th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities has reconstructed the
demolished parts of walls in the Upper Town and has restored the church and
the wall paintings of Aghia Sophia. In the Lower Town, the sea wall has been
rebuilt, the Moslem Mosque has been restored, the east and west bastion of the
fortification wall have been consolidated, and many of the churches have been
repaired and restored.
The most important monuments of the site are: The settlement
which is divided into two sections, built at different levels, each with a separate
fortification. Remains of numerous Byzantine and post-Byzantine buildings are
preserved in the area of the Upper Town which is not inhabited today. Church
of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) at the Upper Town. Octagonal, domed, cross-in-square
church, identified by some scholars as the Monastery of Our Lady Hodegetria,
dated to 1150. Lower Town. The area is inhabited today and many of the ruined buildings
have been restored by the 5th Ephorate. The settlement is surrounded by a U-shaped
fortification wall with two gates, one on the east and one on the west side,
and a small exit to the sea. Important monuments of the Lower Town are: Church of Christ
Helkomenos (Led to the Passion). Domed, three-aisled basilica with a barrel-vaulted
roof, a narthex, a built synthronon, and an episcopal throne. Significant portable
icons of the post-Byzantine period are preserved in the interior.
Moslem Mosque. It was built in the first period of the Turkish occupation (16th
century), was converted into a Frankish church during the Venetian occupation,
and again became a mosque in the 18th century. It has been restored and houses
the Archaeological Collection of Monemvasia. Church of Panaghia
(Our Lady) Myrtidiotissa. Single-aisled, domed basilica built in ca. 1700.
The interior was decorated with a wooden carved screen. Church of St.
Nicholas. Three-aisled basilica with a dome and a barrel-vaulted roof, built
in 1703. Church of Panaghia (Our Lady) Chrysaphitissa. Square room roofed with
a low dome, built in the 17th century.
Many smaller churches are to be seen in the Lower Town of Monemvasia: St. Andrew,
St. Anne the Catholic, St. Anne, dated to the second Venetian occupation (1690-1720),
St. Demetrios and several more.