From Gytheio we drove eastward to our next stop, Monemvasia. The road follows the coast down into the Lakonian Peninsula, the easternmost "finger" of the Peloponnesos. We stopped briefly for a coffee in the small fishing village of Plytra (below left), then continued almost to the southern tip of the peninsula for lunch in the port of Neapoli. We ate lunch at a seaside restaurant and watched as the ferry to the islands arrived and left (below middle). From there we headed through the hills to Monemvasia (below right).
The approach to Monemvasia is very impressive; it is called the Gibraltar of Greece. You can see its basic shape in the photo below; it is a steep and rocky island. There was once an upper town, but it is now deserted, and appears like grass in the photo below. There is also a lower town, still inhabited, that you can barely see in the photo below--it is the white part at the far righthand side of the island (the white is from the town walls).
Monemvasia is an island, but already in antiquity it was joined by a causeway to the mainland. This photo was taken from the upper part looking back toward the mainland, which was developed as a beach resort in the twentieth century and is not very pretty. The name Monemvasia comes from this causeway, because it means "one entrance" in Greek, and referred to the road that crossed the causeway and then circled around the island to the town on the far side.
Part of the beauty of the island is its rugged rocky heart.
There is not much to do in Monemvasia except relax and enjoy--and we spent two nights, so had a full day of just that.
There are lots of paths to walk, and the wildflowers--beautiful all over Greece--were particularly spectacular here.
There was even some wildlife, too!
The island is surrounded by the serene blueness of the Mediterranean.
Now comes the best part: the entire old town
is closed to all motorized vehicles. We parked the car
outside of the old gate and walked through what seemed like a time portal back to the Middle Ages.
The streets of Monemvasia are narrow and cobblestoned, and wind their way around old stone buildings decorated by flowering plants.
Some of the houses of Monemvasia are centuries old; others are modern but all are built in traditional styles.
The old town is not very big, less than half a mile long and only about a thousand feet at its widest point.
It is wedged between the sea and the edge of the cliff.
The photo on the upper left shows the main square of town and the main church, but there are several churches, mostly small ones, throughout the town, as on the upper right.
Much of the old town has been preserved (lower left) or rebuilt (lower middle) but other homes remain still in ruins (lower right), although there were several being rebuilt while we were there.
Our hotel was really nice--called the Malvasia
Hotel--made from a cluster of homes and buildings at the very far end of the
Our hotel room had its own small but private terrace, that looked out over the medieval town wall and the Mediterranean beyond.
Like much of Monemvasia, our hotel room was partly carved into the rocky hillside.
Below is the view from our hotel.
The town caters mostly to tourists, but still felt cozy and friendly--maybe because it was already the beginning of November.
We enjoyed this restaurant so much for dinner
on our first night in town that we went back there for lunch the next day.
(As you see, we had a visitor while eating. We first noticed the cat when we saw its paw sticking through the vines above the trellis, as if trying to reach our food below!)
Over the old town looms what used to be the upper town. A steep trail snakes up to the top, and we decided to take the challenge.
You can see some of the switchbacks in the photo below as the path climbs to the fort at the top.
The higher we climbed, the more the view of the town changed.
The path continued to rise higher and higher--
--and higher and higher.
The overview of the town from the top was truly astounding!
Below left is the far end of the old town
and the middle buildings are the cluster of buildings that were part of our
Below right is the close end of the old town and the parking lot where everyone parks before entering the town.
Apart from the old town, the rest of the island is undeveloped.
From the top of the hill there is an amazing view up the mainland coast, too.
During the Middle Ages, the upper town was
the main part of town, and where the upper class lived, and the lower town
was simply where the sailors and merchants and other members of the lower class lived, who needed access to the sea.
There are only ruins left in the upper town.
Among the ruins here are cisterns, used to collect the rainwater to supply the drinking water for the upper town.
There are also remnants of a Venetian fort at the top.
Another history lesson: by the end of the
Middle Ages, the Venetians had established a considerable Mediterranean empire,
of the islands and peninsulas of the Peloponnesos. (The Venetians referred to Monemvasia as Malvasia, which is why our hotel had that name.)
Also at the top was a single restored Orthodox church, built in the eleventh century A.D. with an outstanding setting at the very edge of the cliff.
Halfway up the cliff was also this old hermit's chapel, rough-hewn from a cave and whitewashed.
We hope that you can see how much we enjoyed our time in Monemvasia!