The wonder of Moreas

The castle city of Mystras is located six kilometers northwest of Sparta, on a rocky hill of Taygetos, transporting its visitors on a dream journey through time and history.
Mystras was a famous political and spiritual center of the late Byzantine period and is a valuable source about the history, art and culture of the last two centuries of Byzantium. The history of Mystras begins in the middle of the 13th century, when the Peloponnese was conquered by the Franks.

In 1249, William II Villehardouin built his castle on the east side of Taygetos, at the top of a steep and conical hill, called Mystras or Myzithras. In 1349 Mystras became the capital of the semi-autonomous “Despotate of Morea” and the first "Despot" was Manuel Kantakouzenos (1349-1380), son of the emperor John VI.

In 1383 the dynasty of Kantakouzenos was succeeded by the imperial family of Palaiologos, with Theodoros I Palaiologos (1380/1-1407) being the first successor. The most important "Despot" of Mystras is Constantine Palaiologos (1443-1448), who succeeded his brother John II Palaiologos (1425- 1448) to the Byzantine imperial throne and was killed during the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453.

During the Palaeologos hegemony, the role of Mystras was very important, especially in culture and education. The small state became a pole of attraction for artists, scientists, scholars and philosophers. The great Neoplatonic philosopher Georgios Gemistos - Plethon founded a school of philosophy in Mystras and influenced Modern Greek thinking with his teaching, even during the years of the Ottoman rule.

Mystras is described as the "swan song" of Byzantine art, architecture and painting. The castle, the triple wall, the gates, the palaces, the mansions, the streets and the churches of Mystras are exquisite examples of the last cultural glimpse of Byzantium until the middle of the 15th century. The Byzantine phase in the history of Mystras ends in 1460 when it was surrendered to the Turks but It continued to be an important city until the early post-revolutionary years. Today Mystras is one of the best preserved medieval settlements and is by far the most important Byzantine monument in Greece. In 1989 the ruins, including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What to see

While visiting Mystras you will enjoy wandering around the monuments of the site, having an excellent view of the valley of Sparta and the mountain peaks of Parnonas and Taygetos. The archeological walk in Mystras is one of the most beautiful, especially in spring, when the smells of oregano, thyme and wildflowers that grow among the ruins of the castle, will tickle your nose as you walk through the cobbled alleys of history.

In Mystras you will meet typical examples of Byzantine architecture and painting, in a truly fascinating travelling experience where Byzantium had some of its most glorious and dramatic last glimpses. Mystras is a typical medieval castle. At the top of the hill is the castle with the residence of the garrison commander. Below the castle, in Ano Chora, the Palaces of the Despots stand out among the mansions and numerous houses, built in a period from the 13th to the 15th century.