Mystras, Greece

Built atop Mt. Taygetos near the ancient city of Sparta, lies the historic fortified city of Mystras on the peninsula of Peloponnese, Greece. The capital of a Byzantine Despotate in the 14th and 15th century, Mystras experienced an era of prosperity and cultural enlightenment. The city was inhabited until the mid-1800’s when the site was abandoned in favor of the new town of Sparti which was built eight kilometers to the east. The region has a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and warm winters. Snow is rare along the coast but is common in the mountainous regions where Mystras is located.

Ruins of Old Town in Mystras, GreeceDuring its noted history, Mystras was for a time the seat of power for the Latin Principality of Achea. The principality was created after the capture of Constantinople by knights of the Fourth Crusade and a palace was constructed there. The principality was short-lived however. The city of Mystras and other fortified towns in Pelagonia were used as ransom for William II and fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. Mystras achieved the status of being second only to Constantinople in importance and its palace being a residence for the emperors. It was during the Byzantine Era that the Church of Agia Sofia was constructed. The frescos located inside the church date from the mid-1300’s. These rare works of art provide a priceless insight into Byzantine art. The significance of Mystras is also enhanced by the fact that George Gemistos Plethon, an influential Neoplatonist philosopher, lived there with other philosophers who had a major impact on the Italian Renaissance. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Mystras was ruled by Ottomans, Venetians and finally the Greeks once again.

Today, visitors can tour the archaeological ruins of the fort, towers and mansions. They will be awestruck by the frescos in the church of Agios Dimitrios, where the last Byzantine emperor was crowned and those on the walls of the Monastery of Pantanassa, and its mix of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles. The Archeologial Museum of Mystras displays clothes, jewelry and written documents that provide a revealing glimpse into the storied past of this region.

In the past, Mystras has served as a military and cultural center. Now, it is one of the most well known archaeological sites in the country. Due to its place in Western cultural history, the churches, monasteries and palace of Mystras were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989 and as a result, tourism has provided a boost to the local economy. Visitors can stroll the narrow streets of the picturesque old village, enjoy the shops, outdoor cafes and the annual Palaiologeia Festival of this scenic hillside location.


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