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Looking torwards Monemvasia in GreeceMonemvasia is set on a stark, steep and rocky islet just off Laconia's eastern shore. It was first settled in the Early Middle Ages, but its main flourish, dominating the present appearance of the place, lasted from the 12th or 13th to the 17th century, a period during which this strategic spot repeatedly changed hands between Byzantium, Venice and the Ottoman Empire. The top of the promontory, a virtually unassailable citadel surrounded by a cliff-top system of defensive walls, now holds the ruins of past dwellings and a superb 12th century Byzantine church. It is a stupendous place to visit, rewarding the steep climb with extensive views across the Aegean Sea and the Peloponnesian hinterland.

Looking out from Monemvasia towards the cliff and seaMuch better preserved is the lower town, set on the islet's southern slope and surrounded by well-preserved city walls. Inside them is a labyrinth of stepped streets, lanes and the occasional square, lined by a great variety of houses - most of them beautifully restored in recent decades, Their origins range from medieval to 19th century dates and each of them comes with its own distinctive features, such as limestone door-frames or window surrounds carved with patterns, elaborate chimney-covers of stone or tile, and various protruding levels, street-spanning arches and other ways to expand living space and create room for balconies or verandas. Many houses also include shady interior courtyards. The picture is completed by a number of domed churches and - at this time of year - a wealth of flowering plants, some wild and others potted. Here and there, semi-feral cats are dozing in the spring sunshine, all related to each other, their furs sporting a range of colours rivalling that of the flowers...

Looking out from Monemvasia in Greece across the old town across the seaWhen we visit Monemvasia, we typically stay in a restored historical building such as a Venetian mansion. The overall impression of a coherent medieval town that Monemvasia offers is spectacular, but its true beauty reveals itself only gradually, as it is made up of innumerable details and a sheer endless array of views, a kaleidoscope of architecture, cliff, vegetation, sky and sea. Exploring the town, walking its crooked lanes and ascending or descending its omnipresent steps subtly imposes a sense of intimacy and peace, a pre-modern pace of stride and thought, and an appreciative eye for the instant of space, light and detail. The picture, nay, the experience is completed by the scent of flowers and the sound of the gentle surf caressing the southern city wall. At night, there is an extra attraction: a starlit sky above the sea horizon.

You can discover Monemvasia on our expert-led archaeological tour of the Peloponnese in Greece.

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