Imagine stepping into a world frozen in time, where the echoes of a bygone era reverberate through ancient ruins and cobblestone paths. Such is the captivating allure of Mystras Greece, an enchanting destination nestled in the heart of Greece’s Peloponnese region. In this article, we invite you to embark on a journey of discovery as we delve into the marvels of visiting Mystras.
Perched upon a rugged hillside, in the middle of the Peleponnese peninsula Mystras transports visitors to the medieval era, where the splendour of Byzantine civilisation unfolds before their eyes. As you traverse winding streets and ascend stone steps, a sense of awe takes hold as centuries of history come alive in the remnants of palaces, churches and fortifications.
Explore the intricacies of Byzantine architecture as you wander through ornately adorned churches adorned with frescoes that depict scenes from the Bible and tales of saints.
Beyond its historical significance, Mystras offers breathtaking panoramas that sweep across the surrounding landscape. As you ascend to the highest points, the sweeping vistas of olive groves, vineyards and the Taygetos Mountains unfold, creating a serene backdrop that complements the ancient marvels.
Overall, Mystras is a destination where the past intertwines with the present, offering a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Greek history. From its majestic ruins to its awe-inspiring vistas, Mystras beckons adventurers, history buffs and culture seekers to immerse themselves in a time long gone but not forgotten.
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What is Mystras?
Mystras is a captivating historical site located in the Peloponnese region of Greece. It was once a thriving fortified town that served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site and a remarkable testament to the glory of Byzantine civilisation.
Situated on the slopes of Mount Taygetos, near the modern city of Sparta, Mystras offers visitors a glimpse into the medieval past.
The History of Mystras
The history of Mystras in Greece intertwines with the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire. The city was founded in the 13th century by William II of Villehardouin, a Frankish ruler, who established a fortress atop the hillside (he was also responsible for the initial settlement and forticcation of nearby Momenvasia).
In 1262, the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos expelled the Franks from the Peloponnese and incorporated Mystras into the Byzantine Empire. The city soon became a thriving centre of art, culture and intellectual pursuits, attracting scholars, artists and theologians.
Under the rule of the Palaiologos dynasty, Mystras flourished as a cultural and religious hub. Magnificent palaces were constructed, including the Palace of the Despots, showcasing the opulence and grandeur of Byzantine court life. Lavishly adorned churches and monasteries, such as the Church of Agios Demetrios and the Pantanassa Monastery, displayed intricate frescoes and mosaics that showcased the artistic mastery of the period.
Unfortunately, the decline of the Byzantine Empire and the encroachment of the Ottoman Turks brought about the downfall of Mystras. In 1460, the Ottomans captured the city, marking the end of Byzantine rule in the Peloponnese. Residents abandoned Mystras over time, and the once-thriving town gradually became ruins.
In the early 20th century, concerted efforts preserved and restored the remarkable historical site. Today, Mystras is a captivating open-air museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the Byzantine civilisation and a poignant reminder of Greece’s rich historical legacy.
Where is Mystras?
Mystras is located in the Peloponnese region of mainland Greece, approximately 6 km southwest of the modern city of Sparta and 220kms from Athens. The site can be easily reached by car or taxi from Sparta, which is approximately a 10-minute drive away.
Alternatively, visitors can take a bus from either Athens or Kalamata to Sparta and then hire a car or taxi to get to Mystras.
How to get to Mystras from Athens
To get to Mystras from Athens, you have several transportation options. One convenient way is to drive by car, which takes approximately 3 to 3.5 hours, depending on traffic.
You can take the National Road E94 westbound from Athens, heading towards Corinth. Continue on the E94 until you reach Tripoli, then follow the signs for Sparta on National Road 39. From Sparta, it’s a short distance to Mystras, and you’ll find signs along the way to guide you.
If you prefer public transportation, you can take a bus from Athens to Sparta, which takes around 4 to 5 hours. Buses depart from Kifissos Bus Terminal. Once in Sparta, you can hire a taxi or take a local bus to Mystras, only about 15 minutes away. Timetables can be found on the K-Tel website.
Alternatively, you can join a guided tour from Athens to Mystras, where transportation is provided along with the expertise of a knowledgeable guide.
Parking at Mystras
There is a large carpark at the bottom of the site next to Xenia taverna and more parking available along the main road provided you arrive early or late in the day. You may need to walk a fair way to the entry. There is another carpark at the top of the site with a seperate entry – keep following the road up.
Visit Mystras by Bus
It is possible to visit Mystras by bus from several locations including Athens, Patras, and Kalamata.
For more information check out the KTel website.
Opening hours and admission price
The opening hours of Mystras in Greece vary depending on the season, so it is advisable to check the current schedule before your visit.
Generally, the winter season runs from 1st November to 31st March. Mystras is typically open to visitors from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm during this time.
During the winter season, the cost of entry for all visitors is €6. This price enables you to see the archaeological site and the museum. Free admission for children and discounted prices for students and seniors may also be available.
In the summer season, which runs from 1st April to 31st October, Mystras is typically open from 8 am to 8 pm. Ticket prices are €12 for adults, with free admission/discounted prices possibly available for those who qualify.
Book a Mystras Tour
There are a number of tours you can consider. Mystras can be visited in around 2 hours from Athens as a day trip or it can be an overnight trip or part of an extended itinerary around the Peloponnese (which we highly recommend!)
- Mystras, Sparta, Corinth Canal and the Tomb of Leonidas Day Trip from Athens – use ‘GTS’ at checkout for 10% discount
- a 4 day tour of the Peloponnese, Delphi & Meteora – use ‘GTS’ at checkout
- private day trip from Kalamata
- half day private tour from Gythio
Mystras Main Car Park
How to explore Mystras and for how long?
If your schedule allows it plan to spend two or three hours here. If you have a bit longer at your disposal, there is plenty to see around the town and in and around nearby Sparta as well. It’s an area where you could easily check into a great small hotel and slowly explore the local wonders and way of life.
Tip* If you are not particularly fit you can explore the Museums and lower buildings near the main gate, and if you’re up for it, the middle buildings, such as the Pantanassa Monastery. It’s not a particularly hard climb, but there are a lot of uneven surfaces, so go slowly and stop and admire the incredible views from time to time. If you have a car, you can drive up to the top car park and see some of the buildings and even more astonishing views from there.
People that are quite fit and active can, of course, do the whole site on foot. Be sure to wear suitable footwear!
Main Highlights of Mystras
Mystras is brimming with captivating historical highlights that showcase the grandeur of Byzantine civilization.
Outlined below are some of the main attractions and highlights to see there:
Palace of the Despots
The Palace of the Despots is a remarkable highlight of Mystras in Greece. This majestic palace complex served as the residence for the rulers of Mystras during the Byzantine era. Located within the fortified citadel, the palace showcases the architectural splendor and opulence of the time. The palace features an impressive façade with ornate details and intricate stonework.
Inside, visitors can explore the grand halls and chambers that once hosted lavish ceremonies and court activities. The palace is adorned with beautiful frescoes and artwork, depicting religious and historical scenes. These well-preserved frescoes provide a glimpse into the artistic mastery of the Byzantine period.
From the Palace of the Despots, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, including the olive groves, mountains, and the town of Mystras below. The combination of its architectural grandeur, historical significance, and stunning vistas make the Palace of the Despots one of the most important sites in Mystras.
Church of Agios Demetrios
The Church of Agios Demetrios is a captivating religious site that should immediately capture your attention. This Byzantine-era church holds historical and cultural significance, dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki.
The church showcases the architectural and artistic prowess of the Byzantine period. Despite its relatively small size, it boasts intricate frescoes and vibrant wall paintings that depict religious scenes and figures. These well-preserved artworks offer visitors a glimpse into the rich artistic heritage of the time.
Its tranquil atmosphere and mesmerizing artwork also create a profound sense of reverence and awe.
Perched on a hill overlooking the town of Mystras, the Pantanassa Monastery is a fascinating religious complex. It showcases impressive Byzantine architecture and stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
The highlight of the monastery is a beautiful church adorned with intricate frescoes and an elaborately carved wooden iconostasis. Visitors can admire the vibrant frescoes that depict biblical scenes, saints, and angels inside the church. The artistry and craftsmanship of these frescoes exemplify the skill and devotion of the talented Byzantine-era artists.
The peaceful atmosphere of the Pantanassa Monastery, coupled with its breathtaking setting, creates a serene and contemplative environment. While there, be sure to explore the monastery grounds, wander through the courtyards, and enjoy moments of tranquility within the peaceful surroundings.
Standing as a testament to the religious and cultural heritage of Mystras, the Pantanassa Monastery provides a unique insight into the spiritual life of the Byzantine era while offering a thought-provoking experience for those who visit it.
Church of Our Lady Hodegetria
Another important religious site at Mystras is the Church of Our Lady Hodegetria.
Showcasing intricate stonework and decorative elements, the church dates back to 1322. It features frescoes that depict scenes from the Bible and the lives of saints.
One of the church’s most renowned and striking frescoes is the ‘Descent into Hell’ painting, which depicts the rescue of souls by Christ after his crucifixion.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the church is that it epitomized a new architectural style – the Mystras type. The ground floor accommodated a three-aisle basilica, while the gallery level incorporated an innovative complex five-dome, cross-in-square design.
Fortress and Wall Walk
The Fortress and Wall Walk offers visitors an intriguing opportunity to explore the fortified citadel and experience the impressive defensive structures that once safeguarded the Byzantine city. It features formidable walls, towers, and gates that offer insights, from its lofty position, into the architectural and military prowess of the time.
Ascending the hill, visitors can traverse the well-preserved sections of the city walls and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. From this elevated position, the picturesque town of Mystras, verdant valleys, and distant mountains come spectacularly into view.
Walking along the walls, visitors can appreciate the strategic placement of towers that served as lookout points and fortified defenses. The ruins of houses, churches, and other structures within the fortress provide glimpses into the daily life of Mystras’ inhabitants.
Beyond its historical significance, the Fortress and Wall Walk offer a serene and contemplative atmosphere, allowing visitors to connect with the natural beauty and the serenity of the surroundings.
The Laskaris House consists of multiple interconnected rooms and courtyards. It is believed to have belonged to a wealthy Byzantine family, so it provides insights into their lifestyle, social status and artistic tastes.
As you explore the Laskaris House, you can appreciate the intricate details of its architecture. The rooms feature beautifully carved stone elements, including arches, columns, and ornate window frames. The design of the house demonstrates the fusion of Byzantine, Frankish, and Venetian influences, reflecting the multicultural nature of Mystras.
The courtyards within the Laskaris House provide spaces for relaxation and social gatherings. The presence of a private chapel further emphasizes the spiritual dimension of daily life in Byzantine society.
While the interior of the Laskaris House is not furnished, the structure itself is a testament to its former occupants’ wealth and sophistication. Its well-preserved state allows visitors to appreciate the original layout and envision how the rooms were once furnished and adorned.
Archaeological Museum of Mystras
Housed in a modern building, the Archaeological Museum of Mystras showcases a diverse collection of archaeological artefacts unearthed in and around the Mystras archaeological site. The exhibits provide valuable insights into various aspects of life during the Byzantine era, shedding light on the time’s art, culture and everyday existence.
One of the museum’s highlights is its display of sculptures, which includes fragments of architectural elements, tombstones and statues. These sculptures provide glimpses into the grandeur and architectural beauty of the structures that once adorned the city of Mystras.
The museum also features a wide array of pottery, from utilitarian vessels to intricately decorated ceramics. These pieces not only showcase the craftsmanship of Byzantine potters but also offer clues about the period’s daily life, trade and artistic traditions.
Visitors can admire a variety of religious icons, some of which are masterpieces of Byzantine art. These icons depict Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints and biblical scenes, reflecting Byzantine society’s deep spirituality and devotion.
Additionally, the museum houses an assortment of jewellery, coins and metalwork. These objects provide insights into the adornment, fashion, and economic activities of the time, offering a glimpse into the material culture of Byzantine Mystras.
The Archaeological Museum of Mystras is an invaluable educational resource, providing contextual information about the historical significance of Mystras as a vibrant Byzantine city. Through its exhibits, the museum bridges the gap between the present and the past, allowing visitors to appreciate the region’s rich cultural heritage.
Visiting the Archaeological Museum of Mystras deepens one’s understanding of the historical context, artistic achievements and daily lives of the people who once inhabited this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Town of Mystras
After visiting the archaeological site and museum why not take the opportunity to explore the charming town of Mystras itself?
Within easy walking distance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the small town has a number of quaint shops and gift stores to peruse. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants, and tavernas in which to eat, as well as interesting landmarks like the town square to see and photograph.
This is a lovely place to stop for lunch or a drink or even a few days especially if you love hiking and the outdoors.
Where to stay in Mystras
There aren’t a lot of hotels and houses for rent in Mystras but the few that are there excellent.
Also in the middle of town is Mystras Castle Hotel which is a great mid-range option and right near the town square. Pyrgos of Mystras is another great mid-range hotel but on the outskirts of town surrounded by citrus orchards. Very tranquil and authentic – a lovely respite after a day exploring the mountain.
Where to eat in Mystras
Bring a small village there aren’t many places to choose from but the few that are there are excellent.
You’ll find the locals eating at places like Bridge Tavern, Ffterolakka and Ladokalla, where we had a huge plate of slow-cooked Greek lamb and salad on our visit.
Weather in Mystras
Because of its predominantly continental climate, Mystras occasionally experiences abrupt weather changes. The summer months, from June to October are the hottest, when temperatures can reach 35 to 40 degrees Celsius ( 95 – 104 F)
The following months, from mid-October through March, see the heaviest rainfall.
When winter arrives in Mystras, temperatures can drop below zero, and Mt. Taygetos is typically blanketed in snow.
data courtesy of climate-data.org