Mystras or “Morea” sits atop a hill overlooking the city of Sparta. In approximately 1248-1249, William II of Villehardouin, a prince of Achaea who had taken part in the Fourth Crusade, decided to build a stronghold there as a defence from the Byzantines.
Soon after the castle was completed, William was taken prisoner following his defeat at the hands of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. From 1262, the citizens of Sparta used the castle at Mystras as a place of shelter, but soon settled there and began building a city around it.
In 1438, Mystras reached its peak, becoming the capital of the Byzantine province of the Despotate of the Morea, a position it held until 1460 when it was captured by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II. The Ottomans held on to Mystras for centuries, except for a couple of brief periods when it was captured by the Venetians.
Probably abandoned in 1832, Mystras is today an important archaeological site listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. During its time as an active city, many churches, palaces, houses and other structures, including its famous fortress were considered to be some of the best architectural gems of their times, known as the so-called “wonders of Morea’.
What remains at Mystras today is a series of Byzantine churches and a monastery as well as several ruins including the castle, some roads and the fortress walls, all set amidst an incredible landscape. The entrance to the site is particularly well preserved. There is a nearby Mystras Museum housing finds from the site. This site also features as one of our Top 10 tourist attractions to visit in Greece.
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