Thrusting up off the shore of the southeastern Peloponnese is the rock of Monemvasia, attached to the mainland by a narrow causeway. It was originally part of the mainland, then in 375 AD, an earthquake broke it off and turned it into an island. The island became a refuge for Greeks from Lakonia when the area was overrun by Slavs around 583 AD.
Over time it has been occupied by Greeks, Franks, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, and finally Greeks again. The first non-Greek to possess the rock was William de Villehardouin, a Frankish prince who ruled most of the Peloponnesos - then called the Morea - in the 1200s. It was given to the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos when the Byzantines captured de Villehardouin and held him for ransom.
The next rulers were the Venetians - the Mediterranean superpower of the time who owned huge swaths of Greece. They turned it into a prosperous trading town, famous for it's sweet Malvasia wine, which was known as Malmsey in Europe. In 1540 the Venetians handed it off to the Ottomans in a treaty, where it remained until the Greek revolution in 1821.
The name Monemvasia comes from "moni" and "emvasis", which mean "single entry" or "single passage", and the walled medieval town does, in fact, have a single way in (if you don't count the sea ladder where people can go swimming directly off the rocks). To get there, you have to park your car on the (frequently full!) causeway and walk to the entrance - a stone arch that leads through a cobblestoned entry and out into the twisty paths of the town. This is a pedestrian-only place; not even bicycles or the ubiquitous Greek motorbikes can navigate the bumpy, labyrinthine paths and the many stairs.
There is an upper and a lower town. The lower town is the walled area, stuffed full of beautiful stone houses, shops selling Malvasia wine and other local products, and tiny churches, with the protective wall of the rock rising behind it. If you want to take the many steps up to the upper town, you'll be rewarded with a visit to the Agia Sophia church, clinging to the edge of a cliff, as well as some absolutely stunning views.
Monemvasia is one of the most photogenic places in Greece, and that's saying something. The pinkish stone, dazzling sunrises and sunsets, and fascinating architectural surprises around every twisty corner make it a devastatingly beautiful destination. A small word of warning, though; this is not a great place for people with mobility issues. The old rocky cobblestones, myriad steps and lack of handrails means this a place that requires at least a middling level of fitness.
There are excellent restaurants in town, and it's a great base for exploring the nearby area of Lakonia. Back on the mainland, very nice beaches abound. Day trips to charming towns like Gythieon, Leonidio and Ierakas Limeni provide even more to do, and returning back to your cozy, several-hundred-year-old guesthouse is a lovely way to end the day.
If the Peloponnese is in your travel plans, try to make a stop at beautiful and historic Monemvasia. It's unlike anything else in Greece, and you won't be disappointed!
All photos by me except one. Click on photos to enlarge.