Monemvasiá, in ancient greek, means sole passage. The name was probably given because there is only one passage to the castle and the city, via the bridge. During the Minoan civilization, the city was known as Ákra Mínoa, meaning the tip / the border of the lands belonging to king Mínoa (he was the first king of Crete and the beginning of what we call today the Minoan Civilisation).
Many years later, in the 4th century AD, a strong earthquake will detach the rock on which the castle was built from the peninsula and the land will take the shape as we know it today.
During the 6th and 7th centuries AD, Monemvasiá became the refuge of Spartans who seeked shelter from the Sklaviníes (groups of Slavic populations who came to Greece and, in the first centuries of their stay, plundered the surrounding areas). They fortified the Upper City, on top of the rock, and the Lower City, at its base.
The Spartans also built in the Lower City the church of Xristós Elkómenos (Christ in Chains), a temple that remains today, operating for 14 centuries! Inside the temple was the icon of Christ in Chains, a work of the 7th century AD, which was stolen in the 12th century. It’s “replacement”, dating from the 14th century, was also stolen in November 1979 by illicit dealers in antiquities, together with other relics, who removed the canvas from the icon and cut it to pieces! One year later, the police managed to locate the thieves and reclaim the stolen icon. The best hagiographers worked on it to restore it and today, under heavy protection, we can see it back in the temple.
During the Byzantine years, due to its good geographical position and its impregnable castle, Monemvasiá became a strong city, with a large military force but also a significant economic growth, due to the production and commerce of the renowned then, unique, sweet Malvazía wine.
When the Turks took Constantinople (1453 AD.), Monemvasiá willingly surrendered to the Venetians and entered the protection of the Pope. However, in 1540, the Venetians decided to withdraw from the Peloponnese, took with them the techniques and the agriculture of Malvazía, and went to Crete which was theirs at the time.
From the 16th century onwards and up until 1821, Monemvasiá became the …forbidden fruit between Venetians and Turks, who fought for it and interchanged in its occupation. The city castle was freed during the Hellenic Wars of Independence, one of the first to be freed, and the Turk inhabitants were moved to the coasts of Asia Minor (notice the huge difference with the Turks who coupled their victories with slaughtering all the men and selling the women and children in the slave markets).
The castle of Monemvasiá is really impressive and one of the best preserved in Greece. The walk among its alleys, its walls, its churches, is the experience of a lifetime. Definitely visit the beautiful churches of Agía Sofía, Elkómenos Xristós and Panagía Chrysafítisa.