Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mistra
Mistra View slideshowThe village of Mistra, 7km/4.5mi from Sparta, lies below the ruins of the medieval town of Mistra, built on an outlying hill of the Taygetos range, which provides the most complete picture we have of a town of the late Byzantine period (13th-15th C.).The castle of Mistra was built in 1249 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, but in 1263, having been taken prisoner by the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII, he was compelled to yield it up to the Emperor, together with the castles of Maina and Monemvasía. Thereafter, until the Turkish conquest in 1460, Mistra was ruled by Byzantine princes, who bore the title of Despot, the second highest rank in the Empire (after the Basileus but above Sebastokrator and Caesar).Below the Frankish castle on the summit of the hill there grew up first the upper and then the lower town.
The Despot's palace became the center of a splendid court and an active intellectual life, particularly when George Gemisthos Plethon developed his neo-Platonic philosophy here in the 15th century, contributing a significant impulse to the Renaissance in Florence. This, combined with the marriage of one of the Despots to a Malatesta princess, was the motive which led Sigismondo Malatesta in 1464 to thrust down through Turkish-occupied territory to Mistra in order to bring back Plethon's remains to Rimini, where they were deposited in the church of San Francesco, the "Tempio Malatestiano".After the Turkish conquest of the town in 1460 Mistra declined, particularly after Turkish reprisals in response to the Orlov rising of 1770; and when, following the liberation of Greece, the population moved in 1834 to the newly founded town of Sparta, Mistra shrank to a small village below the town walls. The houses and churches fell into decay: a process which was halted only by the considerable work of restoration and conservation carried out by Orlandos and others in the present century. Thanks to their work we are now able to get an impression of the life of this town, ruled by Greek princes married to wives from western Europe, which became a meeting- place between Byzantine and western culture.The Palaioloyia festival is held annually on May 29.
Mitrópolis is Mistra's metropolitan or episcopal church. It is a three-aisled basilica erected in 1309. In the 15th century, following the model of other churches subsequently built in the town, the Mitrópolis was given a new upper story on a cruciform plan. Most of the vigorous paintings and the interior furnishings have been preserved. On the floor in front of the iconostasis is a carving of the Byzantine double eagle, traditionally believed to mark the spot on which Constantine XI Dragases stood to be crowned as Emperor on January sixth 1449, relinquishing his authority as ruler of the Peloponnese; after which he made his way to the beleaguered city of Constantinople to rule it as the last Christian monarch and to die fighting on the land walls when the Turks captured the city on May 29th 1453.In the forecourt, which is flanked on two sides by arcades, with its open side towards the plain, is an ancient sarcophagus carved with Dionysiac scenes. The former bishop's palace, which incorporates some fragments of ancient masonry, now houses a small museum. A grille on the outer wall of the church marks the spot where the Turks killed the Metropolitan after the Orlov rising of 1770.
Vrontókhion Monastery & Ayii Theódori Monastery
North of the Mitrópolis at Mistra is the Vrontókhion monastery, with the oldest church in Mistra, Áyii Theódori (1296). This has a large central dome like that of Dafní spanning all three aisles, fine stone and brick masonry in the east end, and the tomb of a Despot in the northeastern chapel.The monastery is fascinating architecturally and with beautiful decorative relief sculptures. It also possesses fine frescoes. Its Aphentiko Church was built in 1311.
The Vrontókhion monastery has the largest church in Mistra, the Afendikó, built shortly before 1311, which has impressive frescoes (recently restored). This was the first example of a type of church characteristic of Mistra, with a basilican lower story and an upper story in the form of a domed cruciform church - a synthesis of the Early Christian and Byzantine basilica with later Byzantine traditions.
Evangelistria Chapel & Monemvasía Gate
Retracing our steps, we now walk up past the Evangelistria, a mortuary chapel of around A.D. 1400, towards the upper town, pass through the Monemvasía Gate and come to the Palace.The Church of the Virgin Evangelistria is situated close to the Cathedral. It was built in the late 14th century and its few frescoes date from the same period.
Palace of the Despot & Nauplia Gate
The palace of the Despot (13th-15th C.) has a great hall (10m/33ft by 36m/118ft), beautiful loggia looking out on to the Evrotas plain and an imposing facade, on which the projecting throne recess and remains of Flamboyant window decoration can still be seen.To the west of the Palace is the fortified Nauplia Gate, and higher up the church of Ayía Sofía (1350), from which the castle can be reached (fine views). Near Ayía Sofía is the upper entrance to the site.In the upper city of Mistra one of the most significant monuments is the Palace of the Despot. It is a rare example of civic Byzantine architecture. It is built on a flat expanse overlooking the Evrotas valley. It is believed that the building was begun by Guillaume de Villehardouin.The Nauplia Gate stands behind the palace. It is an impressive piece of military architecture.
Returning to the Monemvasía Gate and keeping straight ahead, we come to the Pantánassa convent (dedicated to the Mother of God as "Mistress of All"), occupied by a few nuns - the only monastic house in Mistra which is still occupied. The Pantánassa church, the last major building to be erected in Mistra (1428), contains notable paintings.The architecture of the convent is similar to that of the Vrontocheion Monastery, but its proportions are more refined.
The Perívleptos monastery (second half of 14th C.), is built against the rock face. It has very fine paintings of the "Palaeologue Renaissance" - masterpieces of this late Byzantine style, full of vigour, life and expressive force.
Mistra Metropolis (Cathedral)
The Mistra Metropolis or Cathedral is dedicated to St Demetrios. It dates from 1309. Apart from its many frescoes, it contains an interesting relief of the two-headed eagle of Byzantium embedded on its floor.An adjacent building houses the museum of Mistra.
Ste Sophia Church
Ste Sophia Church is situated to the north of the palace of the Despot in the upper city of Mistra. It was erected as the burial place of the despot, Manouil Katakouzenos.Its two small chapels contain exemplary frescoes.
Mistra (Mystras) Museum
The Mistra Museum is housed in a building adjacent to the cathedral. The museum's collection is composed largely of decorative fragments from the churches.
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