Mystras

After consulting my co-adventurer and her little book called the “Routarde” we decided to make a day trip from Messinia to Mystras, a fortified Byzantine town from the middle ages. Be warned if you are taking a car or a refrigerator with wheels (our vehicle), the drive is very difficult. At first, what seems fairly straightforward quickly turns into long winding roads going up, down, left, and diagonal on epic mountains that are straight out of the Lord of the Rings. Combine that with a blazing hot sun and a malfunctioning radio and you have a real journey ahead of you.

After several hours of painful driving we had finally arrived at Mystras. Mystras is sometimes called the Florence of the East. This is because around the 14th and 15th century Mystras became a cultural center where the arts flourished. The evidence of this statement can be seen throughout the medieval city. The site is littered with monasteries which are filled with beautiful murals. There is so much art that in the Mystras shop you can buy original Mystras art pieces which are hundreds of years old (for a hefty sum). It became the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople. Since 1262 it was ruled by the Byzantine Emperor’s relatives and various despots until it fell to the Ottomans in 1460.

It is built on an inclined mountain which is a good natural defense and creates awe-inspiring views. Some of the structures worth visiting are the Metropolis, the Monastery of Vrontochion, and Saint Sophia. If you have been lucky enough to view some famous Catholic churches in Europe and appreciate their grandeur, I recommend going to Mystras which has similar buildings similar with an Eastern Orthodox twist. The structures and art have their own distinct style which is worth the painful drive and climb. My only piece of advice would be to wear some hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, train for several months at the gym prior to this trip and bring a high-performance camera.

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