Exploring Byzantium 1

28 May 2019

Sometimes called Greece’s Gibraltar or just “The Rock”, the small island of Monemvasia was separated from the mainland by an earthquake over 1500 years ago. Some 700 years ago it became a major Byzantine fortress and port sustaining a population of 60,000 people despite having no natural source of fresh water. It only fell into decline after the 1820’s and is now split into a lower town – still populated and having a bit of a renaissance – and the larger upper town of picturesque ruins spread across the hilltop.

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We crossed the short causeway that now connects Monemvasia to the small town on the mainland and set off on foot along the footpath along the lower slopes, at the base of the towering cliffs. A bit of a nightmare trail for Danny as there were large spider webs everywhere. many strung above the path at head height all with big fat spiders in them, many wrapping a new victim in a silken cocoon. 

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We entered though the upper gate of the lower town and slowly wound our way up the steep cobbled paths to the upper town. By the time we reacched the impressive double gateway we were hot but a little smug as we had actually overtaken other visitors!

Once inside we explored the steep rocky paths amongst the ruins of houses and churches. At the northern end we found the restored 13th century church of Aghia Sofia  – locked of course but great views. 

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An even rockier path climbed back south to the fortress at the top. We knew we were the first to bother with the climb as there were spiders webs across the paths, both up and down. At 400 feet above the port we got a lovely breeze and great views and it was just us and the spiders with some rock nuthatch and Sardinian warblers flitting about – hopefully making a meal of some of the spiders!

The route down allowed us to properly appreciate the the extent of the upper town and the huge cisterns built to collect rainwater for the town’s water supply. We looked down on the gatehouse and the pretty jumble of the lower town below. With about 800 homes perched on the steep hillside, the narrow footways weaving between them can only take only pedestrians or donkeys – no cars.

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We dandered down past long abandoned homes being brought back to life and found ourselves in the small town square with its gem of a medieval cathedral, large cannon, town hall and views over the blue waters of the Aegean. The narrow cobbled “main street” down to the lower gate is now filled with tavernas and tourist shops but in a low-key way, and it was far from crowded. 

Before heading off we used our binoculars to check out the super-yacht moored in the bay – the Surpina, built in 2015, 183ft of luxury with 2 master and 6 double bedrooms, a gym, swimming platform (which appeared to have table, chairs and its own bar) and fitted with stabilisers that work even when at anchor. How the other half live! 

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We drove down to Neapoli because it is the most southern town of any size on this peninsula. A lovely drive but an unremarkable little town. We considered continuing south to the tip but the roads looked just a bit too scary on the map so we wimped out and headed back up on the west coast of the finger. We overnighted near Bozas next to a lovey sandy beach and a closed taverna. There were a couple of other camping-cars in the shade of the trees but they were far enough away for us to all to feel private. We settled in as the wind whipped up the waves and watched the sun set over the sea and the moon rise in the kind of black sky you only get away from people, deep black and twinkling with countless stars.

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