Monemvasia, the Gibraltar of the East, was a ruin, top to bottom, until not too long ago. Another bypassed casualty of larger, longer range transportation, it eventually lost its strategic significance, and the sleepy village on the mainland side, Gefyra, was all that was left. It dropped to ten houses at its smallest, and the isthmus to the rock had subsided due to an earthquake in 375 AD. Once the citadel inhabitants left, the isolation protected the town(s) from large scale vandalism.
In 1971, a causeway was built. Then some years later, wealthy Greeks (and a few others) decided to rebuild the town as a weekend get-away with homes and small hotels.
The “rock” itself looks like a faded basalt plug from a long gone volcano but is actually limestone tilted perpendicular. There are two citadel towns, one at the seaward end and one on the top of the massif. We were told that at one time the high (old) town held the low (“new”) town under siege for ~3 years, and then everyone just gave up and had an ouzo together.
We felt Monemvasia seemed to look and feel like Akrotiri might have, had we seen it as a town and not a dig. We were there during siesta* and had the place pretty much to ourselves along with some Euro tourists. A few shops selling artisan products (only four “been there, done that” ball caps in the whole town!) were open, and we bought some beautiful olive wood utensils from a very nice shopkeeper. After the crowds on Thera (Santorini), this was a very relaxed, if cloudy, day.
Before we trekked back to the pier, we stopped in a cafe for ouzo, local wine, olives, and sandwiches made from local bread, feta, and olive paste. Yum.
The walk out to the Monemvasia, which means “one way in,” among a thinning group of pedestrians seemed like stroll back in time. The walk back in was spent glancing over our shoulder for fast cars heading home.
* Siesta in the U.S. tends to be associated with Mexico. In fact, it is a Mediterranean tradition that found its way to most Mediterranean nations’ colonies. It started as a defense against the heat but became a year-round life pattern. Basically no goods and services are available from about 1300 to 16, 17, 1800 depending on local traditions — and just depending. The port towns we visited might adjust their siesta depending on a ship being in port, and depending on the size of the ship. We got used to things being closed.
Please enjoy the photos. Click on first one to scroll.