Home > Europe, Greece > MISTRA & METHONI = MEDIEVAL HISTORY ON THE PELOPONNESE

MISTRA & METHONI = MEDIEVAL HISTORY ON THE PELOPONNESE

Traveling along the southern Peloponnese enroute to the Ionian islands of Greece we took a detour up the Gulf of Lakonika to the town of Yithion (also known as Gyithion) when the wind was more favorable for a passage north rather than west which was our original intention.

Destiny at anchor in Yithion

Sometimes, it is the places that you never intended to visit that prove to be the most interesting.  Yithion is a pretty, pastel seaside village protected by a small island and a causeway that connects it to the town.  We anchored just off the quay lined with restaurants in the shelter of the island and spent two lovely days.

Yithion is famous for octopus, and every restaurant has their ugly carcasses prominently hanging from lines—food and decoration.  We had grilled octopus for lunch looking out at Destiny anchored in the harbor. 

From our lunch spot you can see the island that protects the anchorage.

Yithion is somewhat “off the beaten path” if you are rounding the Peloponnese, which is unfortunate since it is a lovely spot.

Our cruising guide mentioned that it was possible to visit the inland cities of Sparta and Mistra from this location.  After a stop at the local tourist office, Kent came back with details on the bus transfers that could take us first to Sparta and then on to the medieval city of Mistra.

We left Destiny at anchor with Jolie in charge and off we went.  Bus travel in Europe is quite comfortable—cushy seats and air conditioning, as well as curtains to keep out the summer sun if you wish.

The trip to Sparta took about one hour, and there we changed buses for your trip to Mistra.  Modern day Sparta offers little of historical significance—it is a loud, bustling city.

As we left Sparta the bus wound uphill through lovely little enclaves of pastel colored hours surrounded by olive trees and colorful splashes of bougainvillea.   After a half hour ride switchbacking our way uphill we arrived at the base of the medieval city of Mistra which continued uphill as far as the eye could see to a fortress on the mountain top.

OK, so we're in for another hike

Mistra is a UNESCO Heritage site and its earliest building dates to 1249, and most of the structures are Byzantine.  There are the remains of  a castle, a fortress, residences and numerous churches and monasteries most from the 14th Century.

Ayios Demetrios Cathedral founded in 1291. . .

has a frescoed dome. . .

and a two-headed Byzantine eagle marking the spot where the last Emperor of Byzantium was consecrated

The Pantanassa monastery is home to nuns who sell small paintings and embroidery.

Entrance to the Pantanassa monastery grounds. . .where nuns still live.

Pantanassa loggia and bell tower

View from the loggia covers the lush valley below.

Many of the monasteries have elaborate frescoes, columns and domes.

14th C. Monasteries were elaborate structures. . .

with plaster and frescoes masking the underlying brick.

There is an impressive museum with artifacts from the site and English descriptions which made it more interesting. 

Mistra was home to more than monasteries.  There were commercial buildings and residences situated on paths that criss cross the hillside.

A commercial center of the town. . .

now only walls and windows on the sky.

Modest residences like this were set. . .

along paths that meander through the town. . .

which also had "McMansions", like this one being restored.

The view of the fertile valley stretching toward Sparta from the heights of Mistra is quite dramatic.

As we climb higher there is a sweeping view of the valley.

From this Byzantine perched village, we next traveled to Methoni, a small fishing village surrounded by verdant farmlands, on the southwest cape of the Peloponnese .  Our trip from Yithion to Methoni was mostly motoring into the westerly wind that is prevalent this time of year.

Approaching Methoni by sea you first see the Bourtzi, an octagonal Turkish tower built shortly after 1500.  It is attached to the mainland by a stone bridge under which the sea flows into the harbor. 

The Turkish Tower and Kastro as seen from our anchorage. . .

are dominated by walls that once protected the entire city.

Methoni’s history, like Mistra’s dates to the early 1200’s.  The Venetian citadel (the so-called “kastro”) was built in 1209.  At one time the entire population of Methoni lived within the walls and moat of the citadel which still covers a large area with many surviving buildings.

This bridge leads over the old moat to the main gate.

The Bourtzi tower is among the more impressive of the structures.

From the Kastro to the Bourtzi. . .

over the stone bridge.

View back at the Kastro from the tower

Equally impressive are the massive walls and the rocky shore that added to the safety of the early population.

The massive walls protected the city. . .

as did the rocky coastline.

This is the only Citadel that we have seen in this part of the world that is actually at sea level.  After all the climbing we have been lately, it was a treat to tour a relatively flat ruins, although we couldn’t resist climbing and walking the walls.

We never did find out the purpose of this pyramid roofed structure. . .

that had a door but no windows--storage of gunpowder?

There are Venetian coats of arms marking the walls, including the Lion of St. Mark and a column that marked what had been the central square.

A commemorative column in the city square.

The town and harbor are havens for vacationers who line the beaches and enjoy the crystal clear water.

By afternoon this beach will be covered. . .

with vacationing sunbathers.

So one day we are in the mountains, and the next at the shore, in both cases soaking up history left behind by cultures that preceded us by thousands of years.  We love this life!

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