Monemvasia (Greek: Μονεμβασία) is a town and a
municipality in Laconia, Greece. The town is located
on a small island off the east coast of the
Peloponnese. The island is linked to the mainland by
a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists
mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea
level, up to 300 m wide and 1 km long, the site of a
powerful medieval fortress. The town walls and many
Byzantine churches remain from the medieval period.
The seat of the municipality is the town Molaoi.
The town's name derives from two Greek words, mone
and emvasia, meaning "single entrance". Its Italian
form, Malvasia, gave its name to Malmsey wine.
Monemvasia's nickname is the Gibraltar of the East
or The Rock.
of Monemvasia was separated from the mainland by an
earthquake in 375AD. The majority of the island's
area is a plateau about 100 metres above sea level,
and the town of the same name is built on the slope
to the south-east of the rock, overlooking Palaia
Monemvasia bay. Many of the streets are narrow and
fit only for pedestrians. A small hamlet of about 10
houses lies to the northwest.
municipality Monemvasia was formed at the 2011 local
government reform by the merger of the following 5
former municipalities, that became municipal units:
Street of Monemvasia.The town and fortress were
founded in 583 by people seeking refuge from the
Slavic and the Avaric invasion of Greece. A history
of the invasion and occupation of the Peloponnese
was recorded in the medieval Chronicle of Monemvasia.
From the 10th century AD, the town developed into an
important trade and maritime centre. The fortress
withstood the Arab and Norman invasions in 1147;
cornfields that fed up to 30 men were tilled inside
the fortress. William II of Villehardouin took it in
1248, on honourable terms, after three years of
siege; in 1259 William was captured by the Greeks
after the battle of Pelagonia and in 1262 it was
retroceded to Michael VIII Palaiologos as part of
Main Square.It remained part of the Byzantine Empire
until 1460, becoming the seat of an imperial
governor, a landing place for Byzantine operations
against the Franks, the main port of shipment (if
not always production) for Malmsey wine, and one of
the most dangerous lairs of corsairs in the Levant.
The Emperors gave it valuable privileges, attracting
Roger de Lluria who sacked the lower town in 1292.
The town welcomed the Catalan Company on its way
eastward in 1302. In 1397 the Despot of the Morea,
Theodore I Palaiologos, deposed the local dynast of
Monemvasia, who appealed to Sultan Bayezid I and was
reinstated by Turkish troops. In 1419 the rock
appears to have come into the possession of Venice,
though it soon returned to the Despot. About 1401,
the historian George Sphrantzes was born in the town.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Monemvasia
held out against the threats of Sultan Mehmed II in
1458 and 1460, when it became the only remaining
domain of the Despot of the Morea, Thomas
Palaiologos, claimant of the Imperial throne. He had
no forces to defend it; he offered it to the Sultan,
and finally sold it to the Pope.
By 1464 the inhabitants found the Pope's
representative feeble and the Pope unable to protect
them; they admitted a Venetian garrison. The town
was fairly prosperous under Venetian rule until the
peace of 1502-3, in which it lost its farm lands,
source of its food supply and of Malmsey wine. The
food had to come by sea or from Turkish-held lands,
and the cultivation of wine languished under Turkish
rule. The rock was governed by the Venetians until
the treaty of 1540, which cost the Republic Nauplia
and Monemvasia, her last two possessions on mainland
Greece. Those inhabitants who did not wish to live
under Turkish rule were given lands elsewhere.
The Ottomans then ruled the town until the brief
Venetian recovery in 1690, then again from 1715 to
1821. It was known as "Menekşe" ("Violet" in Turkish)
during Ottoman rule and was a sanjak (province)
centre in the Morea Eyalet.
The commercial importance of the town continued
until the Orlov Revolt (1770) in the Russo-Turkish
War, which saw its importance decline severely.
The town was liberated from Ottoman rule on July 23,
1821 by Tzannetakis Grigorakis who entered the town
with his private army during the Greek War of
Monemvasia became linked with the rest of the
outside world through a bridge on the western side
that connects to GR-86.
In more recent history, the town has seen a
resurgence in importance with increasing numbers of
tourists visiting the site and the region. The
medieval buildings have been restored, and many of
them converted to hotels.
For the past few years, on July 23rd there is an
independence day celebration in the main port.
Speeches are made and the story of Tzannetakis
Grigorakis, and his men, is recounted in both Greek
and English. Inhabitants and visitors can gather to
watch as a ship, built every year, is filled with
pyrotechnics and set on fire.