The Upper Town is probably the most magical and alluring part of the Castle Town in Monemvasia.
Partly because the legends and stories from the top of the Rock go deep back in time and partly because the existing monuments are scant and the archaeological excavations in progress, the mystery the town exudes is utterly unique. A tour around the Upper Town may take you back in time, excite your imagination and cover you with questions about what happened in this part of the Rock, from where one can relish one of the most breathtaking images of the Lower Town and the Myrtoan Sea.
We venture to open up a small window to such an impressive course of the past centuries with ten short stories.
1. The gate of the Upper Town during the Byzantine era was arched and was crowned with a rectangular arched tower. The chamber of the gate was a rampart, while the whole part of the west wall of the town was a rampart as well. During the A’ Ottoman rule (1540 – 1690), there was an addition of domed parts, one of which was a mosque, while during the B’ Venetina rule (1690 – 1715) a two-aisled building overlooking the square was added or refitted. The last addition to the spaces of the gate took place during the B’ Ottoman rule (1715 -1821).
2. The organization of the Upper Town during the byzantine period cannot be comprehended without the excavation research, since the available data are really limited. The structuring was not as dense as in the Lower Town or as in mediaeval settlements.
3. In the Upper Town there was not any commercial activity taking place except for the administration and the military buildings, as well as the temples. The accommodation of the aristocratic families was there, although the allocation of the buildings during the byzantine times was ambiguous.
4. During the A’ Venetian rule (1463 – 1540) and quite gradually, the Upper Town was no longer inhabited. It was only the Venetian governor, the officials and the guard that remained in the area.
5. West of the gate and sitting in quite some distance away from it, there was a bulky building, which in a wood-engraving of 1541, was referred to as palazzo. This position was the crossroad of very important thoroughfares and in that particular part, the relics of the biggest building of the Upper Town have been saved. The administration of Monemvasia had been housed at this location, during the byzantine era and during the A’ Venetian rule. The building was abandoned, as only a small Ottoman guard settled in the area after 1540.
6. Christian peoples gradually disappeared from the Upper Town, after its conquest by the Turks, who did not allow Christians to settle in the area. Upon on the spot observations, the relics of two temples and possibly of a third have been recognized. The temple of Agia Sophia, a great religious, architectural monument of the 12th century, remains almost intact, and that is because the Turks turned it into a mosque. One of the first things the Greeks did, as soon as they got the town back in 1821, was to demolish the minaret that had been built in the southwest corner of the temple.
7. This is the impressive description of the Upper Town by Evligia Tselebi around 1688 during his stay in the area: “There are 500 well built houses. The roofs are covered with red colored tiles. They have not got any vineyards and their yards are quite cramped. All the houses are so beautiful that international acclaim should be due. In 7 or 8 places, there are mulberry trees and 5 to 10 cypress- trees. The houses stand one taller than the other, all gazing at the south or southeast and they are exquisite celebrating a marvelous view on the Mediterranean, where the sea looks like a lake. White as swans, all the houses are quite rich and charming, even for a king. Each one of them has one, two or three cisterns. In the interior precinct the houses are not inhabited by infidels. There is not a single bath building, nor a well or hostel, shops or any other institution”.
8. The Galera is located in the Upper Town and was created by the Venetians. A galley according to the Greeks. Lower than the derelict palazzo, a long arched cistern was constructed, being 35m long and 6,5m wide. The surface was rubbed with cocciopesto and led rain water to the cistern.
9. In 1690, when the Turks turned the Upper Town over to the Venetians, the town was totally evacuated. On the reappearance of the Turks only a small number of people inhabited the Upper Town not in distant places, but in places bearing relatively close distance from the Gate.
10. After the Greeks took over, the Upper Town became grassland, while today it is an archaeological site. Evidence of the long absence of inhabitants is that there are no title deeds for the Upper Town. Nowadays, the place belongs to the Greek administration…
(The passage is based on research, evidence and information from the book “Monemvasia, a Byzantine City State” by Haris A. Kalliga, Potamos publications)