Twenty years ago on my first trip to Greece with my husband, we visited the once flourishing Byzantine city of Mystras situated on the hillside of Mount Taygetos near ancient Sparta in the Peloponnese. Accompanied by my husband’s life-long Athenian friends, we had entered the fortified historic site via a narrow dirt path along a steep hillside from which a slip and fall would have lead to unfortunate consequences. Despite my reluctance to walk the path, at the end of the harrowing hike, I was rewarded by the breathtaking ruins of Mystras. Can you tell I’m not a fan of walking along a cliff’s edge?
For many years now we make an annual road trip to the Neapolis, Laconia region of Peloponnese to visit friends and family. When it’s time to return to Athens, we are loaded with gifts of olive oil, honey, sweets, fruits, and farm-fresh vegetables. The organic, family grown and locally processed olive oil is gold to us.
To take the olive oil home with us to California, it needs special packaging. So, every year on our way back to Athens, we stop at a packaging shop on the outskirts of Sparta. With several hours or more to spare, we make our way down narrow, winding country roads through several tiny villages to one of the tavernas nestled in the foothills of Mount Taygetos. While eating lunch is of course always our priority, this year we were determined to revisit Mystras. After a quick lunch, we were left with two hours until closing to explore the steep slopes of the lower town of the ancient city. At least four hours is needed to explore the lower town at a leisurely pace.
Upon entering the main gate of Mystras, we headed first to the right side of the lower town and came upon the Metropolis (Cathedral of Saint Demetrios), one of the most important churches of Mystras founded in 1292 AD. Combining features of ancient Roman and Byzantine buildings, the church has prominent rounded roof lines, arched passageways, and domed ceilings. Inside the church are frescoes illustrating the miracles of Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary, as well as, frescoes that depict the torture and burial of Saint Demetrios, the saint to whom the church is dedicated.
Walk with me through the courtyard and passageways into the church where I’m featuring one door that leads into and out of the church from several points of view.
More to come later about our fast-paced tour of the lower town of Mystras.