Welcome to The Rock: Monemvasia, Greece's Hidden City, is Refound

RealClear Staff


Monemvasia, a fortified medieval-era town in the southeast Peloponnese that has often been described as “the Gibraltar of Greece,” is a true hidden treasure. 

Ancient Beginnings, and an Earthquake

Located in the southeastern Peloponnese just a quarter of a mile from the mainland, Monemvasia was uninhabited in antiquity, but was likely the site of a Minoan trading post. 

And check this out: It was originally part of the mainland until a violent earthquake separated it in 375 A.D. Its name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvassi, meaning "single entrance," and was founded by the Byzantines in the 6th century, who developed it into an important port.

Nature's Fortress

The island's dominant feature is a rocky plateau that rises 300 feet above sea level, is up to 1,000 feet wide and two-thirds of a mile long (view from the front, above; view from the back, below), the perfect site for a powerful medieval fortress.  

It Retains Its Ancient Flavor

The town of 4,000 has seen a resurgence in importance with increasing numbers of tourists visiting the site and the region. The medieval buildings have been restored, and many of them converted to hotels.

Streets Remain Impossibly Narrow

You won't need a rental car here. Many of the streets are narrow and fit only for pedestrian and donkey traffic. 

There Is a 'New Town'

This is the newer, swankier part of town, situated along a nice beach at one inlet.

They Throw a Hell of a Party

How do you celebrate your independence? Set a boat on fire, obviously. Each July 23rd, there is a celebration of the island's 1821 independence from Ottoman rule (the Ottomans succeeded the Venetians, who had taken over after seven centuries of Byzantine rule). Speeches are made and the story of liberator Tzannetakis Grigorakis and his men is recounted in both Greek and English. A ship, built every year, is filled with pyrotechnics and set on fire!

A Greek Poet Lived Here

Yiannis Ritsos (1909-1990), a Greek poet and left-wing activist and an active member of the Greek Resistance during World War II, was born and raised in Monemvasia.

This Is from INSIDE the Fortress

If you need to unplug, hide out on the island and spend your days looking for traces of Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman influences in town, which mean there's impressive architecture and history nearly everywhere you turn. Enjoy your trip!



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