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, 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 frescos of the Peribleptos Church that date from 1348 to 1380. These are a rare survival 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 the Mystras. The city was abandoned in 1832.
Of the many churches that had been in use in Mystras, two are occupied.
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.
The Monastery of Our Lady Pantanassa (Queen of all), for women, includes a catholicon of mixed architecture with exterior porticos and a bell tower. On the upper floor the wall paintings are dated from the mid fifteenth century. The paintings of the ground floor are from the eighteenth century.
World Heritage Classification, UNESCO
- Date of Inscription - 1989
- Reference No. 511
- Criteria: (ii), (iii) and (iv)
- 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.
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