Journey through Ancient Greece


As well as being politically important during the Byzantine period Mystra was the focus for a cultural renaissance with a wealth of magnificent building and decorative art. Then in 1460 the despot Demetrius surrendered the city to the Turks, and many of the churches became mosques. Mystra was occupied by the Venetians 1687-1715. There were further wars, uprisings reprisals and general mayhem until Greece was liberated.

With the establishment of modern Sparta in 1834 Mystra went into decline and the buildings decayed. A restoration programme was started at the beginning of the 20th century and the few remaining families living here were expelled by archaeologists in 1952.

The city is built on the steep eastern foothills of Mt. Taygetos. So it is hilly! The site contains seven churches, many with the remains of beautiful frescos, some being masterpieces of the Byzantine style. There is also a palace, a small museum, at least twenty small private chapels and many houses, now mostly ruins.

There are spectacular views from the 13th century citadel which is a steep climb above the upper entrance.

From the upper entrance you will come first to the church of Ayia Sofia. Built in 1350 in the simple two-column, cross-in-square design, as the chapel to the Despot's Palace, it had very fine polychrome marble floors, only fragments now remain.

You will then see the dramatic, gothic-looking ruins (now being restored) of the Despot's Palace, a rare example of Byzantine secular architecture and the centre of a splendid Court. The east wing may have been built by the Franks (1249-1261), the three story west wing is 15th century. To the west you can see the fortified Nauplion Gate.

Through the Monemvasia Gate you come to the Pantanasa convent (founded in 1428). The chapel contains some fine 15th century frescoes including the Nativity and the Entry into Jerusalem. (There are also 17th and 18th century frescoes)

The Perivleptos Monastery a tiny church built into the rock, contains the most superb and complete cycle of 14th C frescoes of all those at Mystra.

The two largest and most imposing churches of Mistra, S. Theodore (c1295) and the Hodegetria, or Aphendiko, (1310) together constitute the monastery of the Vrontochion. The Hodegetria has some fine polychrome marble decoration and paintings of the saints and the miracles of Jesus.

The Mitropolis (Cathedral) built in 1291 and enlarged in the 15th century has a court on the north side of the church dating from the Turkish occupation. In the floor a marble slab with a double eagle marks the spot where Constantine XI was crowned emperor before he left to rule from Constantinople as the last Christian Monarch.

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