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Monemvasia - Laconia - Greece
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Monemvassia and Silver Whisper

ABOVE: The Rock of Monemvasia with a cruise ship, the Silver Whisper, anchored offshore. (The Greek mainland is just to the left of the photo.)

History

Monemvasia dates back to the 6th Century, when inhabitants of ancient Laconia (now a Greek province) settled on a rock that had been split from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD. The rock offered a refuge from the Slavic invaders who dominated much of Greece from about 500 to 700 AD. Over time, Monemvasia developed into a major Byzantine trading port. The Venetians took control in 1464, when they built a massive fortress high above the town. (You can visit the ruined citadel today, if you have the time and endurance for a long hike to the rock's summit.)

In the 15th Century, when the Turks invaded Laconia, the walled enclave of Monemvasia maintained a successful blockade for a hundred years. The Turks finally seized the town in 1540 and held it until 1690, when the Venetians once again took over until possession reverted to the Turks in 1715. Slightly more than a century later, in 1821, Monemvasia was liberated during the Greek War of Independence and the Turkish occupiers were massacred.

The town declined in importance during the 19th and 20th Centuries, and most of its remaining population either left the area or resettled in the small port 2 km away on the mainland (which is now known as Gefira, Yefira, or the port of Monemvasia).

Malmsey wine

An interesting footnote to Monemvasia's history is the town's role in the Malmsey wine trade. Malmsey, a sweet dessert wine made from the Malvasia grape, originated in Monemvasia, which exported large quantities of Malmsey to England in the 15th Century. Today, the name "Malmsey" refers to a type of Portuguese Madeira wine grown from the same grape.

Next page: The town today




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