Built on a rock accessible only through a causeway, the castle of Monemvasia was populated around the 6th century A.D. by the Laconians, in order to protect themselves from the Arabic invasions. They constructed the first wooden, moveable bridge that linked the rock to the shore. The castle was named after this bridge, as “Monemvasia” means “single entrance”. The castle experienced a radical growth during the Byzantine Period from the 12th until the 14th century, and it was then when the finest byzantine churches that decorate the island were built. The period from 1282 to 1341 was known as the Golden Age for the city. In 1464, Monemvasia was occupied by the Venetians, in 1540 it was acquired by the Turks and in 1690 it returned Venetian hands. Its Venetian name was “Napoli di Malvasia”, which means Violet City. In 1715 the Turks bought out Monemvasia from the Venetians and kill or capture the notables. The post Byzantine history of Monemvasia ends on the 21st of July 1821, when the Turks after a siege handed the key of the city to the Prince Al. Katakouzinos.
Today, the Castle of Monemvasia with its two settlements is exploited as a touristic destination and it constitutes one of the country’s most beautiful sights.
In around 375 A.D. a very powerful earthquake separated a part of the land, and more specifically a part of the land called according to Pausanias “Akra Minoa”. In about the 6th century the island was populated by Laconians, who ensconced themselves there in order to find protection from the barbaric invasions. They also constructed the first wooden, moveable bridge that linked the rock to the shore. When this bridge was pulled back, the rock was no longer accessible. This was the reason why the castle was named “Monemvasia” which in Greek means “single entrance”. The settlement constituted a commercial center and military base for the Byzantines, who also built the Lower Town, on the southeastern coast and started the construction of the beautiful octagonal churches that decorate the island.
From the 12th century Monemvasia increased its earnings by exporting the famous wine malvasia to the European markets. This sweet tasting wine was produced in Monemvasia and it constituted a luxurious good, designated for royalty. In 1945 the Turks prohibited its production and unfortunately the secret of its production did not pass on to the next generations.
During the Byzantine Period, Monemvasia experienced such a growth, that the years between the 13th and the 14th century are called the Golden Age of the city. The evolution influenced every aspect of everyday life, commerce, navigation, arts and writting. Monemvasia gained prestige and fame not only thanks to the special privileges it was provided with, but also because Andronikos II Paleologos stayed there for a certain period of time. During that period of time and through the years in general, Monemvasia suffered various invasions and raids. In 1464, the Venetians occupied the city until the Turkish Occupation in 1540. In 1690, it returned to the Venetians, who named it “Napoli di Malvasia” , meaning Violet City. In 1715, the Turks bought Monemvasia out from the Venetians and killed or captured all the notables of the island. During the Turkish Rule, the city was named “Menexe-Kalesi”, which means fortress of the violets. In March 1821, the Greeks with an army of two thousand Laconians and with the assistance of ships from Spetses besieged it from every side. After an exhausting siege and incredible deprivations, they did not have any other choice but to compromise and surrender in July 1821, giving the keys of the City to the Prince Al. Katakouzinos.
Today, the castle’s Upper Town is an abandoned city where three cisterns are preserved and the octagonal temple of Agia Sofia. The Lower Town consists of labyrinthine alleys, arches, churches and houses of traditional, typical architecture and all of these between the walls and the steep rock, giving the fortress town a unique charm.