Greece is ranked as the 7th most visited country in the European Union & 16th in the world by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, offering rich historical legacy, reflected by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the most in Europe & the world. Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific & mathematical principles & Western drama.
Driving northward from Monemvasia towards the village of Sparta, you will come upon the ruins of the ancient city of Mystras — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built as an amphitheater around the fortress erected in 1249 by William of Villehardouin, it was reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks & the Venetians. The city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the breathtaking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape. Its strategic location on the steep slopes of Taygetos Mountain made it difficult for enemies to invade the city walls & inspired William II to erect a citadel there in 1249.
The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, was despot at Mystras before he came to the throne. The two entrances, the Monovasia Gate & the Anaplon Gate, are connected by a road that bisected the city. The northern part of the town was home to the nobility; the southern part was home to the ordinary people. The Archaeological Site of Mystras, the ‘Wonder of the Morea’, was inscribed in 1989 into UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE. It is still considered Greece’s best-preserved Byzantine city. Take time to admire the magnificent fresco-adorned churches, such as Aghios Dimitrios, the Evangelistria & the Pantanassa, the restored palaces, vaulted alleys & city walls.
Mani, a land of tower houses, castles, ancient sites, Byzantine chapels, beautiful beaches & spectacular caves in the Peloponnese. The isolated aspect of this beautiful area, combined with the independent nature of its inhabitants meant that some traditions developed separately from the rest of the Peloponnese & Greece so that a distinct society made its mark on the landscape. To this day the unique architecture of the area is famed for the tower houses & fortified family dwellings from the period of the Ottoman occupation of Greece. The beautifully built Maniot towers, war machines, are the emblems of the Mani, vigilant lookouts. You won’t find such a spectacular sight in all of Greece. Their height was directly related to their defensive powers, but also to the rank & social position of the family to which they belonged. Their construction was dictated by military strategy : no windows, minimal openings, battlements & multiple stories, to give their defenders the advantage.
Fortress of Monemvasia
The powerful medieval fortress of Monemvasia, one of the best-kept secrets of Greece, is linked to the mainland by a bridge, fact that named the town, as it derives from two Greek words, moni & emvasi, which means “single entrance”. Founded in 583 by the ancient Greeks seeking refuge from the invasions, as the town has a continuous history with conquerors, being ruled by Byzantines, Venetians & Ottomans. It remained part of the Byzantine Empire until 1460, becoming the seat of an imperial governor, a landing place for Byzantine operations against the Franks, one of the most dangerous lairs of corsairs in the Levant & the main port of shipment & production of Malvasia wine, also known by the name of Malmsey wine.
The famous Malvasia wine was alleged that when Edward IV of England convicted his brother, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence of high treason, his private execution consisted of being “drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine,” which is dramatized in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Monemvasia’s nickname is the Gibraltar of the East, The Rock. The Stone Ship, as it was called by the famous poet Giannis Ritsos, called as “the greatest poet of our age”, which was born & lived in Monemvasia. As you walk through the narrow castle gate, you’ll be transported back to a rich cultural heyday. On the large plateau, some 100 meters above sea level, up to 300m wide & 1 km long, you will discover the well-worn cobblestone main street which will lead you to the very heart of the citadel. A ship’s canon sits in the Main Square — a foreboding welcome to all visitors. Explore Monemvasia’s 13th-century Christ Elkomenos Cathedral, which boasts an impressive barrel-vaulted nave & aisles & houses an ancient icon masterpiece from the 14th century. Across the square, housed in the 16th-century Turkish mosque, is the Archaeological Museum. It exhibits artifacts found within the fortress walls, including architectural sculptures & ceramic objects from the Early Christian period up to Byzantine times. The Aghia Sofia church with an octagonal dome, built in the 12th century (1149-1150), with carvings date from the 12th century & frescoes from the end of the 12th & the early 13th century stands on the large plateau from the upper town of the Castle. Castles, walls, old mansions, narrow cobbled lanes, churches, low arches & vaults, coats of arms, imperial marble thrones, Byzantine icons all give the impression of a town untouched by time keeping alive history.
The small Greek island between Peloponnese & Kythira, it lies off the coast of Cape Malea & Vatika & it has only 19 square kilometers. Elafonisos Island is attractive for its white, sandy beaches & the crystal-clear waters with a characteristic emerald hue. The most well-known beaches of Elafonisos Island are Simos, Panagitsa & Lefki. The most famous one, Simos beach has been many times awarded as one of the best five beaches worldwide & it winning of a blue flag. On the island tourists can also find the church of Agios Spyridon, built on a tiny piece of land connected to the settlement with a bridge over shallow waters, is the main church of the Elafonisos Island community & a landmark of Elafonisos. The settlement of Elafonisos features one of the highest numbers of fishermen as a percent of the total local population. About 60% of the locals are fishermen & every one of the older generation owns at least one fishing boat. The population of Elafonisos Island is approximately 750, but it increases significantly in the summer months as the island is a popular tourist destination during the summer.
Liotrivi Historical Mansion
Liotrivi is a fully restored historic mansion, whose history starts in the Byzantine period as a winery for the production of popular Malvasia wines, following the Greek Revolution, was the home of Ritsos family, where the famous poet lived his childhood, converted in 1930, into a traditional olive mill which served the region until 1962. Today, apart from olive & olive oil museum, it is a unique cultural monument that preserves intact its historical identity. Also, it successfully functions as an agri-tourism facility that still produce exquisite wines & local specialties, offering the visitors the privilege to experience the Greek rural culture as the ancestors lived it.
The fabulous “must see” Experience Center offers : visit in the olive museum, wine-tasting, olive oil & local products tasting, cooking classes, full guided tours, meals based only on traditional recipes (“0km” restaurant – all the ingredients used are local products, produced only in our estate or by farmers around it, therefore their production is less than 1 km from the place where served) & other delighting activities. You can see & download all the things to do in Liotrivi Historic Mansion