Still, the island of Monemvasia (meaning ‘one entrance’ in Greek) is impressive on it’s own. Towering out in the water it seems so out of place. A cast off from his brothers and sisters along the shore, he is alone out to sea. Solitary and alluring with large cliffs rising from the base he yells ‘challenge me’! No wonder a bridge was built out to reach his shores and one of the most magnificent settlements was created there.
While traveling, someone likened Monemvasia to le-Mont-Saint-Michel. It is in the idea that
they are both islands (well, le-Mont-Saint-Michel has a natural land bridge depending on the tide). Monemvasia is much larger and more rugged with much less population. It has two towns: the lower city which is a small hamlet around the south/east side of the island, and the upper city accessible only by one large snaking path of stairs in a small clef between the cliff walls.
Standing from the shore of the mainland, I could see 2 structures on the topmost area of the island. These were haunting enough in their own right and made me want to explore up close. However, after climbing to the top I was surrounded by 100’s of ruins.
A former Byzantine fortress ruled by the Venetians, I can imagine grand homes and churches adorning this topmost region. A place for the aristocrats to enjoy amazing sunrises. Later, when the Turks took over, churches converted to Mosques, and bath houses appeared. Now all that’s left are crumbling walls, paths that used to be roads, and partial water cisterns (since there would be no fresh water).
What was most spectacular was that it wasn’t ‘tourified’ at all. A simple sign stating that you
should ‘please take care among the ruins’ was it. Nothing between you and crumbling history and the shore below. Gaps in the fortified wall taunting you to come closer for a look at the rocks below. Overgrown weedy paths filled with rubble from what used to be buildings, guide you from ruin to ruin. Crumbling buildings left untouched to crawl around if you dare brave the unstable rocks. Only the occasional sign board left standing and partially legible was there to give you information on what you were looking at.
This is the type of exploration I crave: no line-ups, no admission costs, no tourists, and real history. Nothing had been renovated or re-made. Only the Hagia Sophia had had attempts at restoration. So different from other attractions where you’re left wondering if anything original remains. Sure, this stems from the result of lack of time and funds for restoration projects, but creates a wonderful haven for the imagination.
Brian has always had a wish when going through out buildings and different places. He
would like to be able to sit in one place and see what it was like throughout the past. Something like one picture from each day. To see how it has changed, what took place there, who passed by. I thought about that a lot as I walked down roads carved through rock, saw marble wells worn down by ropes, and climbed loose rocks to access cave churches. What went on here and what was it like before it was in ruin?
The lower city was a treat to behold as well. With the typical ‘strip’ filled with shops and restaurants, there was still a charm to it. With old shuttered windows folding down to create a little shelf or ledge for peering in. Plus, there was the added benefit of it being off-season
so only about a ¼ of the shops were actually open. Still, a few men with long flowing robes and beards of the same nature made their way from church to church, and a donkey carrying bricks to a building site squeezed past us on the narrow streets. Like Venice, you could completely get lost among the twists and turns, walks past doors, through sitting areas and over gardens. A network far more intricate than a spider’s web. A unique Mediterranean feel with old-style shingles, plants growing out of massive pots, and flowering vines draping over doorways and spilling over walls. Around ever turn was another ‘ruin’ of a building oozing with history that can’t be described. Oftentimes the sign would only read ‘unknown church’. Yet carefully walking through you would find remains of pictures painted on the walls nearly 500 years ago!
An island full of history and imagination, we easily lost a day wandering through the remains with every conversation starting with ‘what if…’ or ‘I wonder…’ If only we could know for sure!
I think I read somewhere that this was the best place to watch the sunrise. With a huge mountain to the West, the suns et prematurely and I was anxious for a little more light the next morning. But Helios’ winged chariot had to fight it’s way through a large bank of clouds before bursting into the sky much later than expected.