Monemvasia (Μονεμβάσια) is one of the most romantic places in Greece. It’s a walled Medieval castle town built on the slopes of a rock.
The rock was separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD. The name Monemvasia is derived from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning “single entrance” and refers to the narrow causeway which is the only way to reach the town.
Monemvasia has an interesting history. It has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century, when it was founded by the Byzantines. The island was initially settled on the top of the plateau, which is now referred to as the “Upper Town”. Gradually the town spread down the hill and developed into a powerful city. Monemvasia became the main commercial centre of the Byzantine Empire and a major trading port, with a population of 40,000.
After the decline of the Byzantine Empire, Monemvasia changed hands several times, back and forth between the Venetians and the Turks over several centuries. By the 18th century it had fallenin importance.
Monemvasia was the first of the major Turkish fortresses to fall during the Greek War of Independence. On 1 August 1821, after a four month siege, the Turks surrendered to Demetrios Ypsilantis, modern Greece’s first Field Marshal and one of the most important heroes of the War of Independence.
In more recent history, during World War II, 4,320 men of the New Zealand 6th Brigade were successfully evacuated from Monemvasia during Operation Demon. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the evacuation which took place on 29 April 1941.
The Germans took over Monemvasia, but it wasn’t used as a defensive position but as a place for wounded soldiers to recover.
Monemvasia was discovered by tourists in the 1970s and today most of the old mansions have been converted into guest houses and boutique hotels. An increasing number of tourists visit during the summer. There are plenty of places to eat. I particularly like the ‘Kastro‘ taverna with its tables set on the side of the cliff with wonderful views.
On the mainland side of the causeway there is a new modern town, Yefira / New Monemvasia with many tourist facilities.
The old town of Monemvasia, on the rock itself, is often referrred to as Kastro (castle). There are some interesting churches to visit in the lower town, while those who are energetic can climb to the upper town. There you’ll find the remains of Byzantine houses and public buildings and a vast cistern that ensured a water supply at times of siege. A fortified zigzag path from the upper town leads to the Fortress of Goulas on the summit overlooking the town.
If you’re planning a one-week charter from Aegina (our base) to Monemvasia, or just want to see where the town is, here’s a link to my Google Map to help you.
Monemvasia is a wonderful place to visit. It’s slightly off the main sailing area from Athens so not normally crowded. You either need to sail for two weeks, or be prepared for a couple of long passages, in order to include it in your itinerary.
The harbour is not the best, with few facilities and poor holding. It is a fishing port, rather than a marina. It is possible to moor stern-to near the causeway but this is not recommended unless the weather is calm. Keep a close eye on the forecast, especially if all the crew intend to go off sight-seeing. I’ve seen storms come up very quickly in this area.