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Mystras (Greek: Μυστράς, Μυζηθράς, Mizithras or Myzithras in the chronicle of Morea, also known as Mistra, Mystra and Mistras) is a fortified town on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta in Morea, within the Prefecture of Laconia in the region of the Peloponnesus. It lies approximately eight kilometres west of the modern town of Sparti and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The active history of Mystras began in 1249 when Mystras became the seat of the Latin Principality of Achaea that was established after the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. In 1261, the Byzantines, under Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, recovered the area of the principality as ransom for Prince William II Villehardouin, the ruler of the principality who had been captured. Mystras was then made the seat of the Despotate of Morea. Mystras prospered under the Byzantine rule, and William II's palace was used by the emperors.
This prosperity was reflected in the churches of the despotate, especially as noted in the frescoes of the Peribleptos Church that date from 1348 to 1380. These are a rare surviving example of late Byzantine art. Mystras was also the last center of Byzantine scholarship to survive before the conquest of the despotate by the Ottoman Turks in 1460. The Turks held the area until the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, except for the years 1687 to 1715 when the Venetians occupied Mystras. The city was abandoned in 1832.
Of the many churches that had been in use in Mystras, two are occupied.
Constantine XI Palaiologos (1404-1453)
Monastery of Vrontochi
The Monastery of Vrontochi comprises a group of large buildings, some ruins, and an outer wall surrounding the entire complex. At the peak of its existence it was the wealthiest monastery at Mystra and called "Vrontochion." This monastery complex was founded by the cleric Pachomius of the Peloponnese as a service to the emperor. In the course of 20 years, he founded the two large churches (The Holy Ss. Theodoroi and the Panagia Hodegetria, or Aphentiko).
Monastery of Pantanassa
The Monastery of Our Lady Panagia Pantanassa (Queen of all) is a women's convent founded in the 15th century (1428 AD) by John Phrangopoulos. It is an excellent example of various styles of church architecture blending into an architectural unity. This monastery includes a catholicon of mixed architecture with exterior porticoes and a bell tower. On the upper floor the wall paintings date from the mid-15th century. The paintings of the ground floor are from the eighteenth century.
Historical icon of Panagia Pantanassa of Mystra
Tradition has it that Theodora Tocco, the first wife of Constantine XI Palaiologos, was buried at the Pantanassa Monastery. However, the historian Phratzis records that her mortal remains were buried in 1429 in the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring (the Agia Sophia of Mystra).
- St. Demetrios (the Metropolis) is a three-aisled basilica with a narthex and bell tower. The church dates from the thirteenth century. On the upper floor of the church a cross-in-square church was added in the early fifteenth century. The interior paintings date from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.
- Agia Sophia
- St. George/St. Chr.