In 1209, the French baron, Guy de Nivelet, built on the rock of the ancient Mycenaean city of Geronthi, the castle of the village Geraki, in order to be able to control his protectorate. It constituted an intermediary stop between the castles of Mystras and Monemvasia, and it assisted in the communication system they had developed, using fire signals. In 1262, it was passed, along with the other castles of Mani, to the Byzantines. During the Byzantine Period, the area experienced a dramatic growth and it was decorated with beautiful churches. Geraki in the following years was inhabited by Turks and Venetians. Today, the castle is an open-air byzantine museum with ten byzantine churches that date back to the years between the 12th and the 15th century. The most noteworthy of those are: Saint Sozon and Saint Athanasius, the cross-roofed church of Saint Paraskevi, the monocline church of Zoodochos Pigi and the cross-roofed church of Taxiarchs, in the second peak of the Castle. Nowadays, Geraki, filled with legends and traditions reminds of the mystical atmosphere of the medieval times, before the visitor’s eyes unfolds narrow alleys, stone manors, ruins of churches and the domed gates.
At the southern foothills of Parnonas Mountain, the medieval Castle of Geraki filled with legends and traditions, magnificence of Byzantine churches and the imposing Taygetos mountain creates a perfect natural and architectural paradise. The castle is built only 2 km east of the village and up on the hill stands the Acropolis of the ancient Mycenaean city of Geronthri.
Three different explanations are given to justify why the village is called “Geraki”: first of all, geraki in greek means hawk, the bird that flies and dominates in the sky. So, according to the folklore tradition the village is named after this independent and strong bird. Secondly, there are people that claim that the name comes from a paraphrase of “Geronthi”, the name of the ancient Mycenaean city that was settled in the area. The third and newest, is based on research that relate this area to the city of Jericho and its strong faith in Christianity, and so “Geraki” is considered to be a paraphrase of the word “Jericho”.
In 1209, the French baron, Guy de Nivelet, built this castle, after the fall of Constantinople to the Franks and when the Peloponnese was concurred and divided into 12 big toparchs. It was of uneven shape, with towers, balconies and water tanks and it was used to ease and help the communication between the castles of Mystras and Monevasia. They had developed a unique system with fire and smoke signals to warn in case of enemy invasion. In 1262, the Castle of Geraki, along with the castles of Mani, Mystras and Monemvasia was surrendered to the Byzantines, in exchange for the release of Guillaume de Villehardouin and of the other chivalries, which were captivated by the Byzantine during the battle of Pelagonia in 1259. During the Byzantine Times the castle experienced amazing growth and it was then when the beautiful churches were built. In 1469, Geraki returned to Turkish hands and in 1463 was once again occupied by the Venetians and it remained under the Venetian Rule until 1568, when it became Turkish again.
The Castle of Geraki constitutes an open-air Byzantine museum, as it consists of ten scattered stone churches that date back to the 11th until the 15th century. On the highest level of the hill stands the Temple of Agios Georgios (11th century), with noticeable Frankish characteristics. Moreover, the shrine depicts the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus on the left hand (“aristerokratùsa”), and the marble shrine of Agios Georgios with the heraldic and chivalric symbols that are special and unique. One of the most remarkable monuments is the cross-roofed church of Agia Paraskevi with 13th century murals in three levels, and the church of Agios Sozon. The most beautiful murals, with a vivid white color, can be found in the church of Zoodochos Pigi. Agia Theofania, the church of Prophet Elias and the one of Agios Dimitrios should also not be forgotten. At the second level of the hill, the visitor can see the church of Taxiarchs with the rare mural depicting the fall of Jericho by Jesus of Navi. Near the end of the settlement stands impressively Agios Athanasios, while 20 more churches are scattered outside the castle area.
Today, Geraki has almost 1400 inhabitants, who are dedicated to agriculture and husbandry. With the small alleys of the settlement, the stone mansions, the ruins, the churches and the domed gates, visitors can feel and be a part of the legends and the tradition of this place.