The crossroads of commerce and civilization
Its name derives from the words Moni Emvasi, meaning “a single entrance”. Throughout history it has taken many names. In ancient times it was called ”Akra Minoa”, as described by Pausanias in his “Laconika” and was near the ancient Town of Epidaurus Limera, ruins of which are present today. Its Latin name was Malvasia or Malvasui. During the Ottoman Empire years it was called Menekshe Kalesi (the Castle of the Violets). The travelers of the time called it Small Gibraltar. Today, its residents call it Monemvasia. This variety of names illustrates the rich history of the area, directly linked to its strategic location, as it has always been an important port on the commercial roads between the West and the East, and a crossroad of the civilizations of the Mediterranean. That is why it has always been the bone of contention for many conquerors who wanted to have it, such as the Venetians, the Franks, later the Ottomans and of course the pirates sailing through the Aegean Sea. Its multicultural identity is even now illustrated in every corner of the castle and it creates an extraordinary aura which charms the visitor. Today, the castletown consists of two parts, the Lower Town which has been inhabited up to today, and the Upper Town, which is uninhabited. Steps carved on the rock connect the two towns.
The Lower Town
The Lower Town (or Old Town) is built on the southeast of the rock. Walking through its narrow cobble stoned lanes the visitor meets stone arches and old mansions, renovated with respect to their history, which still bear the crests of another time, while throughout the town there are about 40 churches. Passing the main (and only) gate of the castle, the visitor finds himself at the main street. The fist street on the left leads to the family home of Yiannis Ritsos, where there is also a bust of the poet. Along the main street of the castle, which is named after the poet of “Romiosini” (a term charged with the Hellenic identity through the ages), you will find stores with souvenirs, tasteful cafés bars and restaurants. At the main square, with the famous canon pointed at the sea, you can visit the Archaeological Museum, which was built in the 16th century and initially functioned as a mosque. Here, next to Byzantino Boutique Hotel you can see the renowned church of Elkkomenos Christos, with its rare icons, he most important of which being the icon of the Crucifixion.
The Upper Town
The Upper Town (or Goula) was built on a plateau at the top of the rock. This spot offered the residents of the wall shielded town even better protection in the 6th century AD, when it was intensely attacked by Arabs and Visigoths. Today, the Upper Town is uninhabited. The visitor can admire a number of monuments from the several phases of its historic path. One can also marvel at the formidable church of Agia Sophia, located at the edge of a cliff, 300 meters over the Myrtoan Sea. The temple was built in the 12th century and is considered a replica of Agia Sophia in Constantinople. It is one of the most significant churches of the mid-Byzantine period in Peloponnese. The unique location of the Upper Town, offers a panoramic and impressive view of the sea.