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The Castle of Mistras

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The Castle of Mistras with its now abandoned settlement occupy a steep foothill on the northern slopes of Mt. Taygetos, 6km northwest of Sparta. Because of the steep and conical hill, it was named Mystras or Myzithras and as it was strategically placed, constituting in itself a great natural fort. The history of Mistras starts from the mid-13th century, when the Franks completely occupied Peloponnese. The castle was built in 1249 by Guillaume de Villehardouin on the hill top of the byzantine fortress town.After the battle of Pelagonia, it was occupied by Byzantines where Mistras was built, which was also the capital of the Despotate of Moria. The fortress town remained the center of arts and writting until 1953, housing within great emperors, like Kostantinos Paleologos. Today, within the wall of Mistras, there are four abandoned settlements with great post byzantine churches, houses and palaces. Since 1989, the archaeological site of Mystras is listed as a natural heritage from the Unesco World Heritage List.

Built on a natural fort and strategically-placed hill of the Byzantine Myzythra on the northern slopes of Mt. Taygetos, the castle of Mistras is directly linked to the first Fall of Constantinople. In 1249, the Frankish prince Guillaume II de Villehardouin built the castle of Myzythra on the top of the hill of Myzythra in order to control the Evrotas valley. Ten years later the castle was given over to the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Paleologos. In the following years, the castle constituted the center of the later founded fortress town of Mistra, one of the most significant post byzantine cities. In 1262, after the battle of Pelagonia, the castle along with the ones of Monemvasia and Mani are surrendered to the Byzantines, in exchange for the release of the French prince that was captivated. That point marks the starting of the main historic period of Mystras that lasted two centuries. The castle was fortified with walls and inhabitants from the neighboring Lacedaemon came and settled nside the walls, in a place that was named Chora.Over the years a new settlement outside of the walls was created, named Kato Chora, which too was protected by walls.

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In 1349, Mistras becomes the capital of the semi-independent Despotate of Morea with Manuel Katakouzinos in reign.In 1383, the royal family of Paleologi superseded the Katakouzinos Dynasty.Konstantinos Paleologos, the last Emperor of Byzantine, occupies a very special place among the despots of Mystras. At that time, Mistras becomes the Empire’s center of political and cultural life. The byzantine era ends for Mistras in 1460 when it was surrendered over to the Turks.

Between 1460 to 1540 it becomes one of the most significant centers of silk production and trade in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A short intervention of the long-standing Turkish Occupation was the Period of the Venetian Rule. The decline of Mystras started in 1770 during Orlov Revolution, after its destruction from Turkish

Albanian soldiers. During the War of Independence in 1821, Mistras was looted by Ibrahim and every one gradually abandoned it. In 1843, King Othon rebuilds Sparta and Gytheion, and from then until 1943, when the Greek government expropriated the area, the last inhabitant leave the fortress town. In 1989, Unesco decides to include the archaeological site of Mistras as part of the cultural and natural heritage in the World Heritage list.

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Today, Mistras with its medieval castle, the Frankish Acropolis, and the four fortified settlements holds inside its walls many houses and palaces, while it is also famous for the post byzantine monuments, the monasteries and the churches with the beautiful frescoes, scattered in the archaeological site.Some of the most important monuments are the temple of Agia Sofia in Pano Chora, the Cathedral of Agios Dimitrios, Agii Thedori, and the Odigitria in Kato Chora and lastly, the churches of Perivleptos, Evaggelistrias and the church of Pantanassa in Mesochora. The so called Ekso Chora of Mistra, at the slopes of the hill consists today of a few architectures which date back to the 15th century and after.