Monemvasia: Europe’s Oldest Continuously Inhabited Castle Town Is In Greece

  • by XpatAthens
  • Wednesday, 29 June 2022
Monemvasia: Europe’s Oldest Continuously Inhabited Castle Town Is In Greece

Monemvasia, on the southeastern shores of the Peloponnese, Greece is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited castle town.

Founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the Slavic and the Avaric invasion of Greece and surrounded by the Myrtoan Sea, Monemvasia is located on an island about half a mile long.

A man-made road and stone bridge leads to the castle gate and main entrance of the majestic castle town onward through the colorful and lively citadel offering all who visit her both stunning views and an unforgettable ‘ambiance’ of times past.

The fortress’ stone walls protected the citadel of Monemvasia from various invaders throughout its history. Invasions by the Crusaders, Venetians, and lastly, by the Ottomans have all left an indelible cultural and architectural mark, granting the citadel a unique charm and romantic atmosphere close to none.

The town’s name is derived from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning “single entrance.” The “Gibraltar of the East” or a “stone ship” about to set sail, as the famous Greek poet Yannis Ritsos described his birthplace, beckons you for a journey through time, wandering through vaulted alleyways and past churches and aristocratic mansions.

Monemvasia: A trade center that withstood invasions

From the 10th century AD, the town developed into an important trade and maritime center. The fortress withstood the Arab and Norman invasions in 1147; farm fields that fed up to thirty men were tilled inside the fortress.

By 1193, Monemvasia was a major city in the Peloponnese. Ships sailing between Constantinople (now Istanbul) and what is now Italy stopped there, giving rest to aristocrats and high-ranking church members and loading Greek exports like olive oil and wine headed for the West.

The resurgence of the Greek castle town

In more recent history, the castle town has seen a resurgence in importance with increasing numbers of tourists visiting the site and the region. The charming town of Monemvasia is made up of a labyrinth of winding cobblestoned streets that can only be traveled by foot. The medieval buildings have been restored, and many of them converted to hotels, artisans shops, boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.

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