World Heritage #0511 – Mystras

Last modified 07.05.2023 | Published 27.04.2023Greece, Southern Europe, World Heritage Sites

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The Archaeological Site of Mystras dates back to the Crusades. It evolved during the Byzantine era and has kept its legacy very well.

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes over a thousand properties. They have outstanding universal value and are all part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Official facts

  • Official title: Archaeological Site of Mystras
  • Country: Greece
  • Date of Inscription: 1989
  • Category: Cultural

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre’s short description of site no. 0511:

Mystras, the ‘wonder of the Morea’, was built as an amphitheatre around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the breathtaking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape.

About Mystras

That short description was a bit too short. Here is another attempt, grabbed from an information poster on the very site:

“The archaeological site of Mystras has been included in the UNESCO list of monuments of the Worldwide Cultural Heritage (criteria ii, iii, iv) since 1989. The Late Byzantine settlement at Mystras, which developed after the middle of the 13th century, was from 1262 the seat of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities of the Byzantine Empire in the Peloponnese, and from 1348 the capital of the Despotate of the Morea, down to its conquest by the Ottomans in 1460. The preserved overall urban design of the settlement, and the architecture of the Frankish castle, the Byzantine palace, houses and churches with their important paintings, make Mystras an invaluable source for the study of the medieval culture of Byzantium and Europe in general.”

That was better. Here comes a more practical explanation and also details from my own visit in 2023.

My visit

We find the archaeological site of Mystras in the southern part of the Peloponnese, the large peninsula (island) to the west of Athens. The site consists of three levels on the north face of a mountain. The top of the mountain holds a fortress, called the acropolis and fortification castle. It was built in 1249 by the prince of Achaia (Achaea), a Frankish (French) nobleman. Achaia was one of the crusader states in Greece after the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).

The crusaders surrendered the fortress to the Byzantines a few years later and the settlement expanded downhill in physical terms. It also expanded in importance over the next few centuries. The fortress still exists and so do the Byzantine structures on the hillside. The middle section holds among other buildings an important church, the Agia Sophia Mystras, and a bit further down the Despot’s Palace, or the palace of the Byzantine Emperors.

At the bottom we find two other churches, a monastery, and an archaeological museum.

There are basically two entrances to the heritage site, each with a car park. The one at the bottom leads up to the museum and a rather steep uphill climb to the other sections of the site. The other car park leads straight into the middle section. I went for this one first. My objective was to seek out the middle section including the palace. However, there was a sign that the palace was not open. In short, I did not walk down to it, but instead I made my way back to the car.

Last sentiments about Mystras

It was a pity, and when I checked my watch, I decided there was not much time to return to the lower car park for a visit to the archaeological museum. After all, I had got some very good impressions of this site from the outside, and even a look into the structures in the central sections. One is not always this fortunate on a visit to a World heritage site.

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