Mystras is, without any doubt, the most famous castle and medieval town in Greece. It is located in Southern Peloponese, at 140 miles from Athens and no more than 5 miles from modern Sparta.
When Crusaders overcame and seized the Byzantine Empire back in 1204, they founded various latin states, building towns and castles to protect their new conquests. Nevertheless, Francs’ dominance over Moreas (as Peloponese was called back then) didn’t last long. Their last prince, William Villehardouin, was defeated in battle, imprisoned, and forced to give up the seat of his Despotate: Mystras came back to Byzantine hands.
During the 14th century, Mystras flourished as a major political, military and spiritual centre — while being constantly harassed by Westerners and Turks alike. The fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire (1453) did not mark the town’s decline though. The castle continued to be contested between Venetians and Turks, with all the subsequent destructions and degradation, until it was finally burnt down in 1770, when a revolution of the Greeks was suppressed violently.
The town itself climbs up the slopes of a height on top of which (at about 900 feet) sits the medieval citadel. It is divided in a lower, middle and upper town, the lower being the abode of the poorer classes and the upper including the houses of the noblemen and their families. An external wall surrounded the ensemble, while there was a second, internal wall that protected the upper town. Both are visible today, although the internal wall is in much better shape.
The view from the citadel is majestic, as Mystras was a strategically selected site and oversees the plain and nearby mountain, rendering the town invulnerable from unexpected attacks.
The town of Mystras is full of beautiful Byzantine temples, monasteries and palaces in various states of preservation …or deterioration. Works are being undertaken for the erection of destroyed buildings, as the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the modern village of Mystras, at the feet of the medieval town, you will find rooms, hostels, restaurants and shops. The characteristic stone houses of Laconia create a quite singular ambience and the lush Taygetos Mountain in the background will make you feel a part of the place’s history through the ages.
Reserve at least a couple of hours, most preferably four, in order to enjoy your visit. It will take a little climbing, but you won’t regret it — especially when considering that you won’t get annoyed by large crowds of people and you’ll practically have the place to yourself. The ticket is 5 euros (2012) and children are admitted free.
If you’re going to Mystras from Athens, you should take the Autoroute from Athens to Corinth, then follow the Autoroute that goes from Corinth to Tripolis. When approaching Tripolis, follow the route that leads to Sparta and Gytheion. There is also daily bus service from Athens, Sparta, and Tripolis.