Mystras – The Castle State of The Peloponnese
Mystras or Mistras, frequently referred to as the “wonder of the Morea”, is a castle – state in the Peloponnese Peninsula in southern Greece.
Mystras is built amphitheatrically around the large fortress erected in 1249 by the Achaian prince of the Franks, William of Villehardouin. The fortress was named Oraiokastro and would play an important role in the Byzantine history.
The history of Mystras
The Franks wished to establish their dominion over the Peloponnese and decided to build a fortress that would be unreachable and easily defensible. The area of Mystras, on the hill of Mizithras, was ideal because it was inaccessible from the south and safe from the southwest since the rocky cliffs were falling into a ravine.
In 1259, when the Greeks beat the Franks in Pelagonia, the Franks had to hand Mystras over to the Greeks. The area, along with the castle state, would soon become the center of the Byzantine life in the region. Mystras was populated by 42,000 people, who built monasteries and houses within the borders of the fortress town.
One of the most important and elaborate monasteries in Mystras was the Monastery of Pantanassa, which is still open to the public today. The monasteries and churches were filled with amazing frescoes and icons painted on the walls. The frescos found in the Perivleptos Church are among the rare surviving frescoes of the Byzantine art, dating between 1350 and 1380.
In 1384 the family of Paleologoi came to the region and managed to expand the despotate throughout the Peloponnese Peninsula. During these years the state of Mystras experienced the ultimate fluorite. It became an intellectual and sophisticated center, where people of the arts and letters were coming from all corners of the Empire, which was declining after the Crusades of 1204.
The town of Mystras flourished during the 14th and 15th century and became the Byzantine capital of the Peloponnese for almost 3 centuries. Under the despot Theodore Mystras, was the second most important town in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople, while the palace of William the 2nd became the residence of the Emperor.
Mystras was conquered by the Venetians and then the Turks and was finally abandoned in 1832, as the population moved towards other cities in the region, leaving behind the breathtaking medieval buildings and ruins, standing in this gorgeous landscape. The gloomy and silent world of these ruins remains till today the strongest testimony of an erstwhile glorious state, which captivates the visitors with its imposing aura.
In 1989 the fortress, monasteries and ruins in Mystras were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.