Monemvasia is a town located on a huge rock island. It has a lot of historical importance. A Greek local told us that the last 3 Emperors of Constantinople were from Monemvasia and were coronated here in the lower square. In the Middle Ages, it was nicknamed the Gibraltar of Greece because of its strategic importance overlooking trade routes. It is an old castle similar to Mystras with 3 walls housing a lower city, upper city, and citadel or fort at the top.
In A.D. 375, there was an earthquake that severed this rock from the mainland and it became an island. Today there is a causeway that permits cars to cross over onto the rock although sometimes they close the causeway so people are required to park in the nearby town on the mainland and pull their luggage all the way to the city. Back in the spring when I was planning this trip, my Greek travel agent secured accommodation in the nearby town. We wanted to be in the castle. All the places she called were full. I continued searching the internet and giving her names of places but she either couldn't reach them or they were full. Finally, I came across the Goulas hotel that she was able to book. After reading about some of the conditions of rooms in Monemvasia, I really didn’t know what to expect and was a little nervous about what we would find and how difficult it might be to get there.
When I first saw this rock in the water as we approached by car I was amazed at how large it is. I had imagined it to be much smaller based on the photos I had seen on the internet and in books. Fortunately, the causeway was open which is a good thing because even when you get across it there is still a fairly long drive to get to the lower gate.
Once across we decided to stop and eat our lunch by the water before going into the gate. We found a bench under some trees and enjoyed another lunch of bread, cheese, fruit and water. We soaked our feet in the water, watched some snorklers do their thing and relaxed in the scenery still amazed to be here.
Monemvasia is translated to mean "single entrance" and indeed there is only one way in and that is through an old gate through which donkeys bring in supplies. There are no cars in here. The 'streets’ are really narrow walkways that are just wide enough for two donkeys to pass each other. So we drove up to the gate (cars were parked all along the road leading up to it) and were told that we could park for 5 minutes to bring in our luggage. I said “5 minutes? What if I can’t even find my hotel in 5 minutes?” Indeed, once you get in there you are confronted with a maze of streets running off a main street that is lined with shops and restaurants. The man was very nice and let me pull over to the side, put on my hazards and gave me 15 minutes to get the job done. Then he showed me which path he thought would probably take me to my hotel. Well, that path is a narrow one with uneven stone stairways and corners and while it is interesting, it is difficult to lug a big suitcase around there. All the signs were in Greek lettering and nothing looked like Goulas. Mom was labouring to slowly get down stairs with her suitcase and the camera bag without killing herself and I started to panic. What if I am not on the right path and we have to turn around? That would be a nightmare. At the same time I was getting very excited because the whole experience was so fun and adventurous. I eventually saw an open door and I heard a lady talking inside. This was my chance. I signalled back to Mom to stop and I would ask directions. I went down the steps inside this lady’s house (or so I thought) and asked if she spoke English (which she did a little) and enquired about the location of the Goulas hotel. She smiled and said “This is it!” Oh, I was so relieved! She was incredibly nice, she brought us up to a lovely, simple room overlooking the water with air conditioning and wi-fi internet and it was perfect! Yay! We got a few instructions about hot water (you need to flip a switch for 20 minutes before you use the shower), breakfast, keys to get into the hotel and then into your room, electricity, etc. We then left to go and park the car, looked at each other and and said “WOW!%*&!” I felt like jumping up and down.This place is so incredible and I am so happy that we are inside the walls.
After parking the car halfway back down the hill and bringing the last few things left, Mom decided to have a shower because she was soaked to the skin. In the meatime I set up the computer, unpacked a few things, read a bit about this place, checked emails, and relaxed before we went off to explore.
It is like walking back in time. The little shops along the main street are unique. There was a painter working on a painting with others on display, there were jewellers and places that sold herbs, spices, and jams. There were also restaurants. We didn’t venture down any side streets and made it as far as the main square in the lower town when I found a map. It showed that the path up to the upper town started from right where we were. The town was very quiet at 2pm and we were supplied with full water bottles and Mom had showered and relaxed a bit so I ventured to ask her if she wanted to climb up.
Now I know she has changed a lot since early 2009. Last year she would have taken one look up that hill and said “NO WAY, ARE YOU CRAZY?” It really did look daunting… even for me. But instead she said “Sure”. So up we went… slowly but surely, taking breaks as we needed them.
About 2/3 of the way up we met a friendly Greek citizen who lives on an island but was married to a woman who came from Monemvasia and was bringing a friend up the hill. He told me about the history here, and how special the church is in the lower town square. It is one of the few remaining churches that is still open. I believe there are about 29 churches all together on this rock but most are in ruins.
He told me about how his daughter was baptised in that same church and that the last three or four (he wasn’t sure which) Emperors of Constantinople celebrated their coronation in the same place as well. In front of us was a small parcel of land (about 30 feet by 20 feet I guess) where an old house had been but was now just a pile of rubble. He said to buy that land now would cost between 1 and 2 million Euros. He mentioned that in order to move any rock or make any minor change to any building requires permission so there would be a mountain of paperwork to delve into just to get permission for what you wanted to build. I believed him because he was standing just outside his wife’s parent’s 3 bedroom hotel that they built about 3 years ago. He would know. He also talked a bit about the current crisis and the role of the British, Italian, and German governments in creating the tension between Turkey and Greece. Before leaving he wished us well and told us not to miss the church in the upper city.
On we continued up that hill until we finally made it to the gate. Whew! After going through a short tunnel, we felt a sense real of accomplishment. Then there was a little path off to the left... might as well see where that goes. Up some more steps and before we knew it we were at the 13th century church of Agia Sofia and now looking down upon many of the ruins of the upper city. At this point I went further up to see how far the fort (citadel) was and whether it was worth checking out.
It was actually very far away so I started to come down but Mom was curious and already making her way up so we continued up some more until we reached the bathhouse. Then we turned back. The town was alive again with lots of visitors and a Greek wedding taking place in the church at the square.
I looked in the guidebook for a restaurant recommendation and quickly came upon "To Kanoni" and asked if they had any tables on their terrace which they did. We were seated on the rooftop next to the square with views of the sea, the wedding party outside the church, and the rock we had just climbed.
Our waiter was very fluent in English and when I suggested we felt like a change from fish he said “For you, I recommend spinach pie, it is delicious!” Ugh. Spinach pie. I laughed and said “REALLY?” He said, “Yes, trust me. You will love it. It is delicious!” Well, I am always game to try new things, so I ordered that along with Mimosa salad which he laughed at. I told him it sounded very weird (salad greens, carrots, parmesan cheese, oranges, grapes, and bananas) and I was curious. Both of us absolutely loved the spinach pie (spanakopita). Afterwards we decided to have some desert. He recommended prunes stuffed with walnuts. I had to laugh again, “REALLY”? He said, “Yes, trust me. You will love it. It is the best dessert.” Ok. It was absolutely delicious and Mom ordered panacotta for the first time which she really enjoyed.
There were a couple of cats who rested nearby. The waiters fussed to make them move, but we liked having them around. We talked and enjoyed watching the wedding, the sea, playing with the cats, and watching the sky turn orange with the sunset. It was really lovely.
We wandered around a bit afterwared but you really need a flashlight to explore at night. There are stairs everywhere and it is easy to get lost and it was getting dark as they don’t light up the streets. It really makes the whole experience more interesting though and we did come across some areas we will check out tomorrow morning. We were ready to head back to the hotel and rest after so much activity but it feels good to know we made good use of our time here. We will wander around tomorrow morning and take more pictures to try to capture what a special place this is.
Hope everyone is well back home.
Another sunny and hot day. As we drove through the town of Skala we noticed a sign that indicated a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius. It felt very hot today. I picked up some food for lunch at the mini market and we continued on to Monemvasia.