Monemvassia is the Gibraltar of Greece, the giant rock cliffs rising out of the Aegean greeting visitors with its majesty. The island seems to be docked like a ship, ready to sail for far off lands.
The town is a popular holiday destination for the Greeks. A causeway from Gerfyra on the mainland of the Peloponnese gives access to this medieval town. The road doesn’t give up its secrets until the very end of your journey, when from the end of the causeway a curve in the road suddenly turns into this delightful town nestled at the base of the vast cliffs.
The historic town has an impact, its cobbled streets, winding stairways and domed arcades have charm and mystery, walled by the cliffs of the rock faces that surround the town. It is a town to explore by foot, finding your way around the winding streets, taking in a meal at one of the many tavernas, admiring the town’s architecture. The houses of Monemvassia appear to be build one on top of each other, a practicality that comes from living in a place with great beauty but little available land.
A huge earthquake tore Monemvassia from the mainland of the Peloponnese in the year 375 AD. The name of the town means single entry (moni – single, emvasia – entry) as there is only the one way into the town. Once and important Byzantine port, the town has been invaded may times over the centuries, until finally, after the War of Independence, Monemvassia was returned to the Greeks.
Exploring the town is best done on foot. The fortress and the upper town is now a collection of fascinating ruins, with the exception of the Church of Agia Sophia, worth the time to explore and imagine life in this remote and unrelenting landscape. The lower town is a labyrinth of narrow streets, tavernas and tourist shops. From the main square, there are a number of churches to explore dating from the turn of the first millennium.
With its harsh and unrelenting history and stark beauty, Monemvassia holds much for the visitor to take in and explore.