This was the view we awoke to in the morning – a giant hunk of rock looming out of the deep blue waters. This is Monemvasia.
It’s not really a mountain, as you can probably see.
It’s a bizarre place. The main attractions are the medieval town inside the fortress walls, and the crumbling ruins of an ancient Byzantine fortress which, of course, perches on the very top of the huge rock iceberg-shaped rock. It’s history goes back almost more than fifteen centuries, and you can almost taste it. It’s a lovely walk over the causeway from Gefyra, and we passed some horses grazing like mountain goats as well as a tiny Orthodox cemetery on the way to the entrance to the old town.
The small cemetery was quite interesting, with bright white tombstones topped with crosses overlooking a spectacular scene. Some graves had little glass boxes holding photos of the deceased as well as plastic flowers, toys, or treasured possessions. In corners, small boxes – almost like army ammunitions boxes in some instances, while others were aluminium or wood – were heaped up haphazardly, and I wondered what these were for. Did they hold ashes of those who had been cremated, did they hold further treasures, or were they tiny tombs for children? It remains a mystery.
Another mystery was one grave which had a broken slab and the ground beneath had collapsed. I’ll admit that there was a brief moment when I considered the possibility that this was the first sign of the zombie apocalypse.
The fortress is entered through aging gates, which – made of salt-bleached wood and covered in rusting metal – must weigh a ton. I was quite impressed with these doors, having something of a fascination with old gates and doors and locks and the like. Through these, it was a narrow winding path through the medieval village. During peak season it must overflow with tourists exploring the beautiful souvenir shops and tiny museums, before finding the town square cornered by lovely old churches. While the road to the entrance was lined with cars, it didn’t feel full inside. I suspect that most of the cars belonged to the shopkeepers, as few visitors were to be seen.
What there was absolutely NO shortage of was cats. I’m going to write a separate post about the cats. For now, let’s just say they were entertaining.
We only briefly explored the village at first, as Mother was more keen on climbing up to the plateau, to discover the old rocks and ruins of the ancient Byzantine town amid wild scrub up the top. I wasn’t so enthusiastic as my knees were feeling a little wobbly after our climbing the two days previous. I’ve got the knees of an old woman while Mum doesn’t have half as much trouble scrambling up things! Partway there, she spotted a little white doorway in the side of the cliff. She wanted to find out what was inside, and so I let her wander off on her own while I had a bit of a break.
I think I’ve mentioned before that my mother is not so crash hot with heights. From where she left me we couldn’t really see the quality of the track to the little doorway, but she assured me later that it was a serious challenge – being narrow and up against the side of the cliff with a sheer drop down. She edged along sideways for a bit and then disappeared through the door. You can just make her out in the doorway in the photo above.
It turns out it was a tiny cave-like shrine, with some rustic red paintings of angels inside. A bench sat to one side, and on rounded white-painted ledges rows of pictures and photographs sat, as if on an altar or someone’s bedside table.
We continued climbing to the top of the plateau, and where we arrived looked fairly orderly. This did not last. Little signs pointed in various directions to different monuments, from churches to cisterns to old tombs and fortress walls and other monuments no longer recognisable. Finding them wasn’t so simple though, as for the most part there wasn’t any clear paths or tracks. We tromped through waist high scrub, sometimes coming across the equivalent of a goat track. I can’t complain though, as it was beautiful.
Succulents in vibrant greens crawled over the rocks on the plateau edges, while the grey-green of giant eucalypts battled with spiny olive-green bushes. Along the few proper tracks we found grew gorgeously fragrant jonquils, reminding me of spring back home, and every now and then we saw little bluebells peeking out. Delicate orchids hid in crevices, while dark red flowers covered hardier shrubs. It later thinned out to rounded clumps of grass, which made it far easier to find the different landmarks. It was a pleasure.
Our first stop was an old church from the Byzantine era – St Sophia – which stood proudly on the edge of the cliff, far enough from it that you could walk around it but close enough that the strong winds prescribed caution. The stormy skies, which brought fierce bouts of rain, only added to the magic up here. We couldn’t get inside, but the exterior was spectacular – especially given its location. I stood on the edge and almost lost my beret, which Mum probably thought would have served me right.
We saw the remains of the Byzantine cistern; we saw what once covered a tomb, and another pile of bricks that we had no idea what was. Perhaps part of a tower, perhaps just a rather sticky wall.
We rested for a while at the fortress walls overlooking the mainland and the town of Gefyra, enjoying the way that the peninsula condensed to only the causeway, and how the modern town spread like butter along the shoreline and into the hills, with soft terracotta rooftops.
We climbed a lonely set of stairs, wondering to what they once led, and posed for photos accordingly.
As the skies threatened to open again we returned to edge of the plateau to start the descent to the medieval town, thinking about the possibility of lunch. It didn’t take half as long to get down, using our umbrellas as walking sticks and trying not to slip where the rain had created puddles of mud.
I took a lot of photos up on the plateau. As I’m struggling to choose which ones to use, here’s a few more!