Only 5 km away from Sparta stands a spectacular byzantin city. It is positioned at the base of the Taygetos mountains, covering a naturally-fortified hill overlooking the plain, which offers splendid views for the eyes of the curious. And if I captured you’re attention, let’s visit Mystras together.
The city has been built in 1249 by the franks, which took the power over Greece in the XIII century. More precisely, it has been William II of Villehardouin which planned to built Mystras as his third fortress in the region – beside Monemvastia and Tigani.
In 1262 it has been conquired by the byzantines and a brilliant period began for this medieval state. The entire hill started to be filled with houses, mansions, palaces, churches, fortified monasteries. Consequently, it become a shelter for 42.000 people in the XV century. After the mid-XIV century, it started to flourish even more. Attracting painters from Italy and Constantinopol, it soon became known as an artistic center.
While today we can only admire the traces of the past and the surviving ruins, no visit to Mytras can be easily forgotten. You will see that is more than a visit. It’s an experience, a lesson of history, a moment of peace, all combined with a great hiking.
How to start
As there are two entrances, you have two ways of starting your visit. Either you start from the bottom of the hill and keep going up, or the other way around. It pretty much depends how you’re reaching the place.
In my case, somebody brought me to the upper entrance and then I started my visit by going down. However, if you’re coming by car, you need to think a bit more in depth, as you need to get to your car at the end of the visit. So, if you go up, visit the upper part and then come down by car, to continue the visit (like this, you may miss some places to see, but you put less effort in). The other option is to park at one of the entrances and do a round trip (more effort from your side, as you need to go up and down, but you’ll see everything). Honestelly, if you’re not in a hurry, take the round trip as the hiking is not hard and the landscape is breathtaking. Take also some food with you and enjoy a picnic along the way!
Kastro (or the castle) is located on the top of the mountain. Goethe made from this place the meeting place between Faust and Elena of Troia, in his famous masterpiece, Faust.
From here, you have some breathtaking views over the valley. Look for Sparta, the Ancient Sparta and the olive groves.
Agia Sophia is the monastery cathedral church which preserves in its sculptures the initial of its founder, the first despot of Mystras, Manuel Kantakouzenos.
The Despots palaces is the place where the first byzanthin leaders used to live. During my visit was in construction, but don’t miss the throne room.
Pantanassa monastery is the only living place of the site, hosting a few nuns. It is the best preserved church in Mystras and it has been the last one built in 1365. Also, here you can fill your bottle with fresh water during summer days!
The Metropolis church (Ayios Demetrios) dates back to 1309 and it’s the oldest one from the site. Here it was coronated the last byzantin king, Constantin XI Paleologul in 1443.
Near the church of Ayios Demetrios there is a small museum to see. It displays several objects which emphasis the daily life in Mystras.
Peribleptos church was attached to a rock cave. Its frescoes are distinguished for their refined figures of grace and style and its colours.
Evanghelistria Church is a small church. It preserves frescoes dating back to the 14th – 15th century.
The easiest way to visit Mystras is to come from Sparta. There are only 5 km between the two, so you can chose to have a walk, take the public bus or a taxi. The buses are not frequent at all, so if you don’t check the details in advance it may not be the best option. I chose to walk and along the way I realised I may be tight on time, so I hitchhiked.
And to be honest, this was the best part of the day! A nice lady stopped and picked me up. She was with her niece, going to visit her mother in Mystras. I told her I am planning to visit the fortress and she offered herself to take me to the upper entrance, up on the hill, to ensure I’ll have time to visit everything properly. Even more than this, she called her cousin who was working at the ticket booth and told her we’re coming – so she waited for us outside in the parking lot!
I wish I could remember her name and say thank you to her one more time. But what I remember is that she was a local designer in Sparta and some of the cafeterias I have liked, were decorated by her. I hope we’ll see each other again, as I’lI always remember a face, but not also a name!
I didn’t spent the night in Mystras, but in Sparta. However, I did checked the accommodation options there and I saw a few and quite good! I remember one with swimming pool, which I will add it on my list for the next time. If you’re looking for some quiet time, I recommend you Mystras. If you’d like to be closer to the city life, then stay in Sparta.
If I convinced you to visit Mystras, then you’ll need to allocate about 3 – 5 hours and pay a 12€ entrance ticket. However, I think one full day is a perfect plan, to have some time to explore the village and enjoy the local food too. Therefore, don’t forget to add this beautiful place on your list for the next summer holiday.
Meanwhile, you can read more about other amazing destinations here.