The castle town of Monemvasia is a place where you feel like you’re walking through an open-air museum. It’s filled with traces of Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman history.
Two of the top things to do in Monemvasia are visiting Yiannis Ritsos’ House (the famous Greek poet) and the Upper Town which lies high on this huge rock. We recommend booking a day tour to see everything easily and quickly.
The Lower Town of Monemvasia is a beautiful maze of narrow cobblestone streets that are only wide enough for pedestrians and donkeys. In its heyday, the town had 800 houses and was so well-defended that pirates were never able to penetrate the castle walls. Explore ruins of guardhouses, protective towers and a vast cistern that provided water for the people in times of siege. You’ll see evidence of Byzantine, Frankish and Venetian influence all around you.
The main street in the Lower Town is a delight to stroll along, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes with rooftop seating that overlook the walls. Many of the old houses are now boutique hotels or expensive weekend homes.
At the church of Elkomenos Christos, you can admire a stunning icon that dates back to the Palaeologan Renaissance, a period in Byzantine history when the Palaeologos dynasty sought to restore the empire’s glory. Also check out the Archaeological Collection, which is housed in a former mosque in the central square of the Lower Town.
From the Lower Town you can make your way up to the Upper Town – or ‘kastro’ – via a path that is a kilometer long. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the castle, and you’ll be rewarded with epic views across the cliffs and sea. On the way up you’ll see a few of the 40 or so Byzantine churches that still survive in Monemvasia.
The Upper Town is a small, awe-inspiring settlement inside the castle walls. This is where you’ll find the 6th century Christ Elkomenos Church, as well as a mosque that today houses Monemvasia’s Archaeological Collection. It’s also the site of the imposing Tapia Square, from which you can enjoy one of the most stunning views over the Mediterranean sea and Kastro.
The main cobbled path that runs through the Upper Town was always used as a commercial street with small taverns and souvenir shops concentrated on it. It’s definitely worth a walk around to see these quaint buildings, which are incredibly well-preserved. Other sights worth a visit are the Church of Panagia Myrtidiotissa, Yiannis Ritsos’ house (one of Greece’s greatest poets), and the main gate that leads to the Castle.
As a bonus, don’t miss the chance to try some PDO Monemvasia-Malvasia wine, a sweet variety that has been produced here since the medieval times. You can buy a bottle at most bars and restaurants in the upper town. You can also stop at To-Kelari, a store on the main walkway that sells all kinds of local produce like cheese, honey, olive oil, herbs and tea. The owner is happy to let you sample their goods before you purchase them, so don’t hesitate! They also have a great selection of wines.
Dozens of Byzantine churches are scattered around the cliff-backed medieval town. The oldest is Elkomenos Christos, built sometime in the 6th century. Its sparse exterior belies a stunning interior with a magnificent icon of the Crucifixion that survived the Crusades. The church also has a collection of wall paintings from the Palaeologan Renaissance, a short cultural revival period that restored the Byzantine Empire’s art glory. Other notable churches include Agios Nikolaos, Panagia Chrysafitissa, and the octagonal Agia Sophia.
The octagonal church was once the palace’s main attraction, though its current state is only part of its story. It was used as a mosque under the Ottomans and returned to Christian worship after Greece’s independence. The rest of the church is still intact, and it’s worth a visit to marvel at its stunning interior and gilded iconostasis.
The uninhabited upper part of Monemvasia was once home to Venetian aristocrats. Though it’s a steep climb to get there, the views are worth it. Plus, you can try some of the local food like cheese pies (saytes) or pork served in a clay pot (stamna).
Several old homes and buildings have been converted into luxury boutique hotels, cafes, and restaurants in Monemvasia. The result is a charming town where you can feel the past. The fortress’s narrow alleyways, Byzantine churches, imperial thrones, and coats of arms take you back in time.
The castle town’s most notable church is the Church of Elkomenos Christos, which was built in 1697. This church has two thrones that were once used by the Byzantine Emperor and Empress. It also has a few impressive wall paintings. Another church that’s worth visiting is Panagia Myrtidiotissa, which is a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Matoula is one of the most famous tavernas in the town and serves delicious home-cooked meals like saitia pie and lahanodolmades (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, rice, and lemon sauce). You can also try some of their local wines, which they make on site.
If you’re looking for a modern bar and restaurant, head to Chrisovoulo, where you can sample the local wine, which is called Malvasia. They also serve traditional Greek cuisine. They have an excellent view of the sea and the mountain from their balcony. Another option is To Kanoni, a taverna that has an amazing view of the sea and the village of Gefyra. They have a good range of local wines, including the famous Malvasia, which has been produced here since the Middle Ages.