In southern Greece, off the coast of the Peloponnese, lies a unique medieval town. A steep rock rises from the sea, linked to the mainland only by a narrow causeway. From the mainland the rock appears uninhabited. But half hidden in a slight depression of this rock, lies the fortified town of Monemvassia -- almost isolated from the mainland, as its name (meaning "A Single Entrance") signifies.
Known as Malvasia to the Venetians and Malvoisie to the Franks, the town was built in the 6th century. Many tried to take it, and failed, as its placement and its strong walls rendered it "a fortress unshakeable, unconquerable, and impregneable." Only after a three year blockade did it fall to Guillaume de Villehardouin in 1249 -- who was later forced to return it to Michael VIII Palaiologos. The city flourished and became an important trading port, being located on the route to Constantinople, and its population numbered 30,000. In 1446 it was conquered by the Venetians, and in 1540 it was captured by the Ottomans.
The causeway links the rock to the mainland, and a well paved road leads up to the imposingly vaulted West Gate. Winding cobblestone streets lead to the Old Town, a maze of restored buildings, silent ruins, and terraced squares, all interconnected by a jumble of narrow streets and staircases, some of them leading nowhere. Two large open spaces, the main square, and the parade grounds, welcome the visitor. All this is framed by the bastions and guardhouses of the town fortifications. A steep climb and a vaulted passageway lead up to the Citadel, mostly Venetian in origin, which offers a magnificent view to the sea. Although almost all of the Citadel lies in ruin, the Old Town has been restored extensively, and comprises of private homes, hotels, restaurants, and shops, all in their medieval glory. Both Old Town and Citadel are protected as archaeological sites of Greece.
Why are we writing this? Because we wanted to present this amazing period town to you, and also because we may be holding an event there in the Spring. We have spoken to inhabitants of Monemvassia, who would love to have medieval Lords and Ladies roam their streets for a few days, so watch this space for further developments!