The palace and the many (administrative-religious) buildings around it.
The house of the Laskarids (see enlargement map 2) in the lower town, with above the Pantanassa monastery (map 20) and high above the castle of William de Villehardouin (map 15) from 1249
Map (click for enlargment)
Byzantine Mystrás, with its houses, churches, monasteries, palaces and streets, is one of the most beautiful places in Greece. Located on the Mezythra hill, this medieval town is 5 km away. away from medieval Sparta. At the top of the hill is the largely unchanged crusader castle built by William de Villehardouin. From 1349, Mystrás was the center of the Morea’s Byzantine despotate, and generations of Byzantine rulers left their mark there.
The city is divided into three districts, the Lower Town (Katochora), with the large cathedral (Mitropolis), a small museum and the remains of (modest) houses; the Upper Town (Chora), with the palace of the despotes of Achaia and the houses of the very rich; and the castle (Kastro), on top of the hill. Most churches in the city are in fact monastic churches; many are reasonably to well preserved. Some of the many churches are discussed here (source: Blue Guide: GREECE, the mainland and Scholte’s Greece, KOSMOS Travel Books).
The Mitrópolis ± 1291 (groundplan 5) and museum
The Mitrópolis (5), the large cathedral dedicated to Saint Demetrios, combines the floor plan of the Roman basilica with the Greek dome church. The cathedral is located in a spacious courtyard with an old fountain. Little remains of the original episcopal palace. The church contains a 17th century throne of walnut wood, and on the floor a marble double eagle, symbol of the emperors of Byzantium.
Next to the cathedral is the small museum, built by Bishop Ananias, who was executed by the Turks in 1770. On display are mainly church robes, some icons and some fresco fragments.
The Vrontochio-monastery (8-9)
Continuing up the path you first have the 14th or 15th century Evangelistria (7), a simple grave church. The Vrontochio Monastery complex was originally a little outside the site, and was aprobably one of the richest in the entire Peloponnese. It contains two churches, the Aghii Theodoroi from 1296 (heavily restored) and the actual monastery church, the Hodighitria, built in 1322. The Hodighitria has a beautiful bell tower, and there are still some remains of the old monastery (including the refectory). Beautiful frescoes, which can stand be compared with frescoes from Constantinople, decorate the church.
Above and right: the Hodighitria, below the Aghii Theodoroi
The Pantanassa-monastery (20)
The Pantanassa Monastery is probably the most beautiful monastery in all of Mystrás. Started in 1365 by Manuel Cantacouzenos, the monastery was enlarged in 1428. We see (including in the Gothic windows of the bell tower) some western influences in architecture. Today it houses a women’s monastery.
The Perívleptos ± 1350 (26)
The Perívleptos (26), a church on the periphery of Mystrás, built around 1350, by a couple with Franconian roots, given the French Fleur-de-Lys that line two lions above the entrance gate. The church has 3 chapels dedicated to Katharina, the Paraskeví and Pandaleïmon. Beautiful frescoes adorn the interior.
The Palace of the van de Despots of Achaea
Construction on the Palace of the Despots began in 1249 by William de Villehardouin and was expanded successively by the countless rulers of Mystrás, who built the city from an outpost of the Byzantine Empire, to what in fact became the second capital. Two rooms of the palace are currently open to the public, the large kitchen, and part of the cellars. Restoration is still in progress.
The Ayia Sophia- church (13) ± 1350
The heavily restored Agia Sophia church was built for the aristocracy of Mystrás, but mainly as a palace chapel by the first despot Manuel Kantakouzenos. Ornate columns between the windows and marble floors have to give an impression of the former wealth, although the church (and the frescoes) have been heavily damaged.
The Frankische castle and vieuw.
The actual castle, at an altitude of 630 meters, was started in 1249 by William de Villehardouin and then restored countless times. The view is magnificent, and clear evidence of its strategic importance.