Every year, the mediaeval town of Monemvasia, attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world. This is partly because of the unalterable nature of the physiognomy of the town, which is reminiscent of an older, fascinating period of time and partly because of the fact that it was always inhabited, which makes the town a part of history that has remained alive throughout the centuries. The monuments of the Castle Town, furthermore, have lately been systematically restored and designated. More specifically, during the last year, a series of works that have actually highlighted the appearance of the castle through a different perspective, were completed, making a new visit to Monemvasia a prerequisite to get to know the Castle Town again!
The new square of Chrysaphitissa
At the south part of the defensive walls of the Castle Town, in Monemvasia, very close to the sea, at the shadow of the tall imposing rock, lies the square of Chrysaphitissa, the
biggest in the Lower Town, covering an area of 1,500 square metres. The square comprises the new “gem” of the Mediaeval Town and was fully renovated, after a lot of hard work, careful designing and perfect cooperation on the part of the local authorities with all the relevant sectors and scientists involved. The homonymous all white church of Mother Mary (Panagia), the patron saint of the town, built during the first part of the Ottoman rule, renowned for its simplicity and frugality, is situated in the beautiful square of Panagia Chrysaphitissa. On this very square, festivities and celebrations on the commemoration of Panagia Chrysaphitissa take place, every year. The church, which was built in the 17th century, on the site of an older church, namely that of Panagia Odigitria- which had been located there, even before 1150 AD- is a unique architectural and historical “masterpiece” that has enriched the folkloric tradition of the area with numerous stories and tales. According to tradition, the icon of Mother Mary (Panagia) was miraculously transferred from Chrysapha of Laconia to Monemvasia, hence its name, Chrysaphitissa. The icon, which graces the church today, is a piece of art of exceptional byzantine beauty and is said to date back to the 15th – 16th century. It is also said that the icon was found in a well, squatting at the south part of the church, under which drinking water has been spurting ever since, which has been called “holy water of Mother Mary”.
The renovated eastern defensive wall of Monemvasia
Apart from the new form of the restored square of Panagia Chrysaphitissa, the biggest square of the Castle, it is worth referring to the newly renovated defensive wall of the eastern part of the Lower Town, which comprises an utterly impressive part of the castle. The eastern defensive wall is an indispensable section of the fortified precinct of the Lower Town. It is almost rectilinear extending 80, 60 m in length, transversely placed in the contour curves of the ground.
At its north ending, there is a tower with a bastion. The tower is covered with a dome and has two levels, separated by a wooden floor; a fireplace was built inside and was used by the guards, during winter. At the south side, a domed tower, an outpost with arched openings connected to the seaside defensive wall, is known according to Venetian documents, as “Posto di San Rocco”.
Some meters lower, there are two emplacements and a small firearm opening, while along the defensive walls, crenellations and firearm openings extend. In its interior, a terraced by-road was used to help the defenders move in a more effortless way, around the castle. In the middle of the defensive wall, a gate opens up, connecting the central middle way of the town, with the eastern part, where commercial and military activities took place. The restoration and designation of the Eastern defensive wall took place and was implemented between the period of September 1st, 2012 and December 21st, 2015 with direct labor by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia in the framework of the Operational Program of Western Greece – Peloponnese – Ionian Islands (ROP of Western Greece – Peloponnese – Ionian Islands 2007-2013) with co-financing by Greece and the EU. The total budget of the work was 450,000 euro.
Restoration and designation works in the churches of Panagia Myrtidiotissa and Agia Anna.
Panagia Myrtidiotissa or Kritikia church is one of the most important, let alone impressive churches in Monemvasia. It is situated in the Centre of the Lower Town, near the
church of Christos Elkomenos, and is one of the 26 extant churches in the Castle Town. According to verbal memories, the icon of Panagia of Myrtidion, which was worshipped on Kythira, was kept in its interior, hence the name Myrtidiotissa.
In accordance with the prevalent local tradition, the church was founded by the then Archbishop of Kythira, Filotheos Darmarios, who came from Monemvasia and is considered to have disseminated the worship of Myrtidiotissa in the town. Kritikia is another name of Myrtidiotissa, as it is associated with the place where the people who first came to Monemvasia from Crete, during the second Venetian rule (1690-1715), resided.
The construction, actually, as well as the morphology of the church point to the ecclesiastical architecture of that particular period, artistic expressions of which were massively exhibited in Monemvasia. The restoration works were completed, in accordance with the authorized research conducted by the archaeologist Panagiota Skaggou and the architect-mechanic of the 5th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, Konstantina Douvi.
Agia Anna church
The church is located near the west gate of the defensive wall of the Lower Town, at the western bastion. The church is a two-aisled, domed basilica, whose east façade ends in a semicircular apse over its Altar. The structural characteristics of the church classify its construction to the period of the second Venetian Rule (1690-1715), just like the church of Myrtidiotissa. The project restoration works were implemented, in compliance with the study compiled and approved by the 5th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities scientific personnel.
The new face of the Upper Town and its opening to the public
The project “Designation of the area of the church of Agia Sophia in the Upper Town in Monemvasia”, was integrated in the Operational Program “Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship” (Axi
03-Improving the Business Environment) and was implemented by direct labor during 7/12/2013 up until 31/12/2015, initially by the 5th Ephorate of
Byzantine Antiquities and later by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia.
During the works, a neighborhood was discovered and designated in the Upper Town. In this neighborhood the following findings were included: the cluster located at the central gate, along with its individual spaces and a close-by anonymous temple, two houses and a road network that connects the gate with the most resplendent byzantine monument of Monemvasia, namely the church of Agia Sophia or Panagia Odigitria. These monuments constitute an interesting unit in the entirety of the settlement of the Castle Town, providing information in an instructive, intuitive way, on both the organization and the function of a town-castle existent non-stop, from the 6th to the 19th century! At the same time, the creation of small open botanic collections perfectly designated the remarkable local flora. After the interventions, this central neighborhood in the Upper Town was rendered to the public. What is utterly exceptional is that its monuments were propped up and designated as exhibits; their historical and educational value was brought about, while their societal character was enhanced through their incorporation in the touring network of the Castle Town.
Nowadays, the Upper Town and the church of Agia Sophia are open to the public, daily from 07:30 to 14:30.