The lovely Venetian town of Monemvasia, Peloponnese

главната улица на Монемвасия рано сутрин

This article will have more images than text because it’s better for the beauty and the sights of the town to be shown rather than described.

The main street of the Old Town, Monemvasia

But just to give you some context I’ll mention that Monemvasia (Μονεμβάσια) is a fortress built on a huge rock sticking out from the sea. It has been founded by the Byzantines but has also been controlled by the Francs, the Venetians, the Ottomans and the Greeks.

A map of Monemvasia taken from here

All of these people have developed the fortress one way or another. One of the most important characteristics of the place is that it is geographically well-protected and hard to reach.

The rock of Monemvasia on the south-east side of which is located the Old Town

There is only one entrance to the town – and this is actually what “Monemvasia” means in Greek. The Italian version of the name is “Malvasia”. It is also called “The Eastern Gibraltar” and “The Rock”. The Ottoman name of the town is Menekshe (Menekşe).

This is a zoomed photo of the town taken from the Ksifias Beach. You can see the walls of the Old Town

In the past the fortress was flourishing because of its strong fleet and good commercial relations.

The town from the above

If you look at Monemvasia from the continent, you’ll see only the huge rock and the town remains hidden from sight. You have to be on the south side of the fortress in order to see that there is a town down there.

The rock of Monemvasia seen from the north from the Pori beach

Nowadays there is a bridge connecting the New Town of Monemvasia with the rock. It was built in the 70’s with the tourism expansion.

Monemvasia map. You can see the bridge connecting the continental part of the New Town with the rock

This huge rock has emerged as a result of a big earthquake. It is almost vertical and is around 300 meters high. This makes it unapproachable.

The Old Town

There are walls and defense equipment on all places where someone could possibly pass. To me, it seems almost impossible for someone to climb this rock unless he or she is a professional climber. In the past the people didn’t have the modern climbing equipment that we have nowadays. Moreover, even if we assume that someone could try to climb it he should bring with himself quite heavy armor and should be able to avoid the arrows coming from the fortress, so it was absolutely impossible to climb it.

The rough nature of the island. Above you can see the St. Sophia Church

The fortress was so solid and well-equipped that it survived 3-year siege. It was defeated by the francs in 1249, only after the food supplies were finished. The fact that it had a strategic geographical location made it very important and wanted. This is why it was controlled by so many peoples.

You can see how high the fortress wall is compared to a human size – it’s about 10 meters high

You can read here the ‘full’ short version of the story of this town. In the period between 15th and 18th century the town experienced a few Ottoman and Venetian conquests.

The town is really lovely and nice

The fortress was designed in such a way that every single street can be used as a fortress. This was made for ensuring additional security against the invaders in case the defense collapses.

This is an ‘ordinary’ street with a huge cactus

Things to do in Monemvasia.

The town is well-preserved and now looks like a Venetian/Italian town. It has many hotels, restaurants, cafes, small houses, and stores.

Typical Greek souvenirs in the small souvenirs shops

A curious fact is that there is only one common reception for all the hotels in the town. And another interesting fact worth mentioning is that Monemvasia is the place of origin of the world-known wine Malvasia.

It’s typical for the bars and restaurants to have a second floor from which you can enjoy the view around. The pots of this one have the form of a boat

Cars are not allowed in the town. Everything must be brought by hand or by wheel barrows.

Wheel barrows-taxies

There is electricity and water in the town and at some places you can notice the smart-made wells.

Charming small street with lamps, flowers and a church

Of course, there are a few churches. One of them – Christ in Chains – is huge, dug into the ground and lined with marble. According to me, it’s as big as St. Sophia at Sofia.

The church “Christ in Chains”

Everywhere you will see a lot of flowers, cactuses and lazy cats. The streets are very narrow – they are about 2-3 meters wide. The town has 2 big squares in front of the churches of Christ in Chains and Panagia Hrisafitisa.

The square in front of Panagia Hrisafitisa

In the past the town used to be a sea force and had a harbor. Nowadays it has been turned into something like a beach.

The way to the beach

There is no sand and the surface is stony. There are steps leading to the sea.

The steps

An additional attraction to the ‘beach’ is an old shower.

It’s very surprisingly to find so many green spots at such a dry and rough place

The walls are vertical, made of stones and, according to me, about 10 meters high.

The wall from the main entrance

The town is famous for the fact that in 1999 there was born one of the most famous Greek poets –  Giannis Ritsos.

The house of Giannis Ritsos

I would advise you to visit the town at least 2 times – early in the morning (around 8-9 o’clock) and in the evening. The morning walk would allow you to see the town without people and to make beautiful photos. And, of course, you would avoid the heat.

Venetian charm everywhere

In the evening you can see the town in its full glamour – with its charming shops and restaurants and many tourists. And last, but not least, you’ll enjoy the nice temperature.

One of the typical passages of the fortress. You can see a cat sneaking at the end

There is still a lot to be made for the development of the town – more buildings should be restored but at the same time its authentic view should be kept.

A panoramic view from the above. Monemvasia port

It’s worth to climb up to the hill in order to see the defense equipment. Of course, you can also make wonderful pictures of the lower town. But have in mind that you should put some effort to go there. It’s a fortress after all and it’s also quite hot.

You can see the zig-zag streets leading up and down

Wear comfortable shoes and be careful because the paves on the streets are quite polished by the many tourists. It’s possible to slip on them, especially when raining or when wearing not suitable shoes.

The edge of the fortress

It would be better to stay in one of the hotels at the new part of Monemvasia as the prices there are much more reasonable and nearby you can find everything – parking lot, supermarket, cafes, taverns, etc. I have visited two of the hotels – Monemvasia Green Apartments and Castro Hotel – and they offer good quality compared to the price.

A secret street in the Old Town

I would recommend the Τ’akrogiali tavern which offers a sea view and very good quality and price.

The flowers are everywhere

My favorite spot for souvenirs is To spiti ton gevseon where you can find many typical Greek food and drinks produced in the different Greek regions. In English the name of the shop means ‘the house of the tastes’.

A nice restaurant in the Old Town – Matoula

The shop is quite new, that’s why it’s not online yet. For instance, there you could buy something like the famous Bulgarian beans of Smilyan with the difference that these ones are coming from the Greek region of Prespa; jam from the islad of Hios and many other delicious foods. You could also taste them in the shop without having to buy them.

Along the wall

I was fascinated by this magic place which is still not very popular among the tourists.

Our breakfast at the Venetian café in the Old Town. Portokalopita (a pastry from oranges) + ekmek (Turkish pastry) + orange fresh + wonderful view and service = only 12 euro

When it comes to beach and sea, I must say that the sea is wonderful, clean and peaceful. Near the town there are very nice beaches such as Xifias, for example.

Fun emojis made by oranges

The best beaches in the region are on the Elafonisos Island and are about one hour away (45 km). They are great, with long sandy coastline.

A view to the rock of the Old Town seen from the Ksifias Beach

And last, but not least – in Monemvasia we saw again the Kareta-Kareta turtles.

A turtle (about 15-20 meters from the coastline street of the New Town of Monemvasia)

Translated from Bulgarian by Dessislava Stamenova

About the author

Explorer of Greece, tour guide, Greek language teacher and interpreter. Georgi has master's degree in Cultural Tourism and bachelor’s degree in Balkan studies from Sofia University. He studied Greek language and culture at 3 Greek universities in Thessaloniki, Ioannina and Athens.