Mystras was a fortified Medieval Greek town, near ancient Sparta, which served as the capital of an important province of the Byzantine Empire. During its Byzantine period, between the mid-14th and mid-15th centuries, it experienced a magnificent cultural flowering. The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, until the 1830s when it was abandoned after the new town of Sparta was built, about eight kilometers to the east.
Mistra was ruled directly from Constantinople from 1262 but was then suzerain to the Despotate of the Morea from 1348 to 1460. During the Medieval era, the territory around Mystras in the southern part of Peloponnese, Greece, was called Morea and was one of the more fertile, populous and prosperous, even after the Black Plague in the mid-14th century. Mystras rivaled Constantinople in importance and became a stronghold of Greek Orthodoxy, which bitterly opposed attempts by the emperors to unite with the Roman Catholic Church, even though this would have allowed the empire to gain help from the west against the Ottomans.
The Ottomans began their conquest of the Balkans and Greece in the late 14th century. After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans then captured Athens and the Aegean islands by 1458 but left a Byzantine despotate in the Peloponnese until 1460. The Venetians still controlled Crete and some ports, but otherwise, the Ottomans controlled many regions of Greece except the mountains and heavily forested areas.
The last despot of Morea surrendered the city to the Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1460. The Venetians occupied it from 1687 to 1715, but otherwise, the Ottomans held Mystras until the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. It was abandoned for the newly rebuilt town of Sparta during the reign of King Otto of Greece. Today the ruins of Mystras including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, which all echo the Byzantine glory of Medieval Greece.
Morea was the name of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece during the Middle Ages. The name was used for the Byzantine province known as the Despotate of the Morea, then during Ottoman rule, it was called Morea Eyalet, and then when held by the Republic of Venice for a short time, it was called the Kingdom of the Morea.
Mystras was called the ‘wonder of the Morea’ and evolved as an amphitheater town around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the brief Venetian period, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the medieval ruins, standing in a breathtakingly historical time capsule and an open-air museum.
Mystras is an open-air archaeological site on the foothills of Mount Taygotos, and some areas are built on steep and rocky hills that may be difficult to access for the disabled. Flat, comfortable shoes are highly recommended, as is a hat and water during summer. Visiting Tips include:
- Start early, the site opens at 8 am
- Open most of the year except key public holidays
- Free entry on the first Sunday of some months, check the official website for the latest updates.
- Most importantly, there are two entrances. One at the lower level at the Main Entrance and a second entrance at the Upper Gate. So for your upper city visit use the Upper Gate and save your energy from having to climb uphill from the Main Entrance
- Fortified Medieval Mystras
- Saint Theodoroi Church, Mystras
- The Metropolis of Mystra – Saint Demetrios
Greek Proverbs and Quotes
Mystras or Mistras
- Site: Mystras or Mistras also known as Myzithras
- Greek: Μυστράς
- Location: Sparti, Peloponnese
- Country: Greece
“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, and this requires transforming into gratitude.”
– Saint John Chrysostom
Photo Credit: JOM