Thursday, 27 September 2018

Greece: Mystra (or Mystras)

Mystra castle and upper town

Mystra was once an important Byzantine city, but became sidelined after its capture by the Turks in 1460. When Greece gained independence from the Turks in 1831 it was finally abandoned after a long period of decline and a new (but totally undistinguished) city of Sparti (near to ancient Sparta) was built nearby. Mystra is now a World Heritage site.

There are two entrances to Mystra, which was built up a steep hillside: the lower town entrance and the castle entrance. We decided to start at the top where it was quieter - which worked very well - and were pleased to discover that we could then go to the lower entrance on the same ticket.

We headed uphill from the castle entrance along a rocky track and soon enjoyed a fine view down the hillside to the Palace (of which more later).

 Up close, the battlements of the castle (founded in 1249) were impressive ...

... but it soon became clear that it was a total ruin. There was a deep ravine on the rear side of the castle, making it pretty much impregnable from that direction.

We retraced our steps past the ticket office to reach the church of Santa Sophia (1350-65). It is taller inside than it looks in the photo and had one especially attractive fresco in the sanctuary.

Now we came to the strikingly named Palace of the Despots.  The modern meaning of despot is clear enough, but in the Byzantine period a Despot was simply the person in charge of an administrative area, a Despotate. The Palace has been under restoration for the last 20 years. In the 14th and 15th centuries, it was the centre of government of the whole of the Peloponnese, known at that time as the Morea.

We continued our descent as far as the Monemvasia Gate which marks the entrance to the Upper town.

We were surprised to find that the road which led direct to Monemvasia started here (we were in Monemvasia only yesterday - about 74 km or 46 miles away).

We returned to the castle gate and drove down to the bottom gate from which we soon reached the wonderful Metropolis (1291) - designed as the city's cathedral. It is a small, but very beautiful building. Here is a view from higher up the hillside. The fantastic domes were added in the 15th century.

The three-sided cloister was lovely ...

... and the rather battered frescoes above the crossing were a delight.

We came next to the strangely named Hodegetria church (1322), once the church of a monastery. It is an imposing structure with a hidden clock tower to the rear at the right.

 Inside it was covered with beautiful frescoes.

The third great church of the lower town was the Monastery of the Pantanassa (1428).

Our guide book describes it as one of the last Byzantine churches. Partly this is because of the fall of Byzantium not many years later, but one should also note the gothic arches on the left indicating a change in architectural style.

It is still in use as a monastery, although apparently with not many nuns.  At this point we realised that the climbs and descents had worn us out and it was time to stop. There were still a good few buildings to explore.

Conditions: cloudy and quite cool - rather a shock after recent hot days.

Rating: five stars.  

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