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History
This time it is foreigners who are rebuilding Monemvasia - visitors from abroad or Greeks from distant Athens. Today, the beauty, the romanticism, and the faded glory of this once-important city allures these foreigners. But it is nothing new for this "Gibraltar of Greece" to have a strong power of attraction...
The Information of this page is taken from
"Monemvasia - The Town and its History",
written by Rainer W. Klaus und Ulrich Steinmüller.
English Version by Lawrence P. Buck
The Byzantine settlement of Monemvasia (Sixth century - 1248)
The first city on the rock of Monemvasia (300 meters high and 1.8 kilometers long) off the coast of the Peloponnesus was built in 583 on the inclined plateau; where nearby residents of the mainland had fled from the Slavs and Avars. The name “Monemvasia” comes from the term for single entrance – mone embasis
In 747 a plague broke out in Monemvasia, devastating in particular the eastern coast of the Peloponnesus. Wide tracks of land were nearly depopulated, but Monemvasia rapidly recovered from the effects of the disease, in fact surpassing its former importance.
In the following years, the growing wealth of the residents attracted the attention of Arabian pirates. But their intense assault could not overcome the walls of the city, and the valiant defense put up by the local residents. The Normans were equally unsuccessful in their attacks against Monemvasia. The populace of the invincible rock defeated them in 1147.
The crusaders' conquest of the Peloponnesus (1248 - 1263)
In the beginning of the 13th century, the crusaders (Franks) conquered the Byzantine Empire, and also took possession of nearly all of Greek. Monemvasia was one of a few cities that remained in Greek control, and refused to surrender. As a result, a blockade of Monemvasia began in 1246. During the third year, in 1249, when the stock of provisions was used up, the city declared itself ready to surrender.
The Frankish dominion over Monemvasia lasted for fourteen years, and ended in 1263 by an agreement to cede the city to the Byzantine Empire.
The second Byzantine period (1263 - 1460)
The Frankish surrender of Monemvasia was the first step toward the Byzantine recovery of all of Greece. Monemvasia was the most important seaport and was able to acquire numerous special rights for its citizens. The 14th century was also the time of its golden age.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, Monemvasia remained under Greek control until 1460.
Defense alliances with the west (1460 - 1540)
Monemvasia now had to defend their independence and autonomy by themselves against the Turkish enemy.
At first the residents of Monemvasia gave the key of the city to Catalonian mercenary troops. Their Commander, however, soon proved to be a tyrannical dictator, whom the citizen of Monemvasia expelled nearly as quick as they had summoned him.
A next try was to place itself under the authority of the pope at Rom in 1460. This alliance did not last long either, because the military and political power of the papacy was not able to stand up to the constant pressure from the Turkish Empire. In 1464 they had to give up their position.
Finally the city's last recourse was to turn to Venice. The Venetian rule from 1464 to 1540 brought Monemvasia a period of peace and prosperity.
Monemvasia under Turkish rule (1540 - 1690)
On October 2nd, 1540, the Venetian departed and the city of Monemvasia surrendered to the Turks.
The rocky fortress also lost none of its strategic importance. The Knights of St. John made a valiant attempt to regain control of Monemvasia in 1554, but they had to withdraw without achieving their goal. It is interesting to note that the populace apparently made not attempt to ally with the Christian attackers to be liberated by them.
The Venetian reconquest of Monemvasia (1690 - 1715)
In 1653, 1654, 1655 and 1687 Venetian troops tried to reconquer Monemvasia, but the assailants were always repulsed. After a siege of fourteen month of bombarding the fortress while starving out the populace, the city surrendered in 1690, and the Venetian occupied Monemvasia.
In the following years, Albanian colonists in particular were brought to the devastated and depopulated country.
The second period of Turkish rule (1715 - 1821)
In the summer of 1715 a Turkish army moved against Monemvasia. The Venetians entered into negotiations with them. Instead of another siege, Monemvasia surrendered in return for a considerable money payment.
During this period, the population declined and the city sank into insignificance. In connection with the Russo-Turkish conflict in 1770, the Greek and Albanian population rebelled against the Turkish government. The Turks suppressed the rebellion with cruel ferocity, and many Greek families fled. By 1804, Greeks lived in only six of the 350 houses of the city.
Monemvasia after the liberation of 1821
The "sacred rock" of the Byzantine Empire was the first fortification that the Turks had to surrender during the Greek War of Independence in 1821. After a four-month siege, the Turkish garrison on Monemvasia capitulated. Again it was the thread of starvation that forced them to give up.
Some of the Greek families that fled in 1770, returned to Monemvasia after the liberation. During the nineteenth century Monemvasia remained an insignificant country town with bad infrastructure.
In 1911 the last residents moved off of the plateau of the rock, which, since then has become nothing more than an expanse of ruins. Statistics from 1971 recorded Monemvasia's low mark in population development with 32 inhabitants in the old town.
This time it is foreigners who are rebuilding Monemvasia – visitors from abroad or Greeks from distant Athens. Today, the beauty, the romanticism, and the faded glory of this once-important city allures these foreigners. But it is nothing new for this "Gibraltar of Greece" to have a strong power of attraction...