Mystras (Greek: Μυστράς, Μυζηθράς, Myzithras in the Chronicle of the Morea) is a fortified town and a former municipality in Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Sparti, of which it is a municipal unit. Situated on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta, it served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, experiencing a period of prosperity and cultural flowering. The site remained inhabited throughout the Ottoman period, when it was mistaken by Western travellers for ancient Sparta. In the 1830s, it was abandoned and the new town of Sparti was built, approximately eight kilometres to the east.
In 1249, Mystras became the seat of the Latin Principality of Achaea, established in 1205 after the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and Prince William II Villehardouin, a grand-nephew of the Fourth Crusade historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin, built a palace there.
In 1261, the Latins ceded Mystras and other forts in the southeastern Peloponnese as ransom for William II, who had been captured in Pelagonia, and Michael VIII Palaeologus made the city the seat of the new Despotate of the Morea. It remained the capital of the despotate, ruled by relatives of the Byzantine emperor, although the Venetians still controlled the coast and the islands. Mystras and the rest of Morea became relatively prosperous after 1261, compared to the rest of the empire. Under the despot Theodore it became the second most important city in the empire after Constantinople, and William II's palace became the second residence of the emperors. The main church of Brontochion Monastery was completed around 1310.
The frescos in the Peribleptos Monastery Church, dating between 1348 and 1380, are a very rare surviving late Byzantine cycle, crucial for the understanding of Byzantine art.
Mystras was also the last centre of Byzantine scholarship; the Neoplatonist philosopher George Gemistos Plethon lived there until his death in 1452. He and other scholars based in Mystras influenced the Italian Renaissance, especially after he accompanied the emperor John VIII Palaiologos to Florence in 1439.
The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, was despot at Mystras before he came to the throne. Demetrius Palaeologus the last despot of Morea, surrendered the city to the Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1460. As Mezistre, it was the seat of a Turkish sanjak. The Venetians occupied it from 1687 to 1715, but otherwise the Ottomans held it until 1821 and the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. It was abandoned by King Otto for the newly rebuilt Sparti.
In 1989 the ruins, including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Geography and statistics
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The municipal unit Mystras is subdivided into the following communities:
- Agia Eirini
- Agios Ioannis Lakedaimonas
The municipality seat of Mystras is in Magoula.
People from Mystras
- Gemistus Pletho (usually called Plethon) (1355–1452), philosopher and scholar
Plan of Mystras after works by G. Millet (1910) and M. Chatzidakis (1981).
- 1. Main entrance;
- 2. Metropolis;
- 3. Evangelistria;
- 4. Saint-Theodores;
- 5. Hodigitria-Afendiko;
- 6. Monemvasia's Gate;
- 7. Saint-Nicolas;
- 8. The Despot's Palace and the square;
- 9. Nauplia's Gate;
- 10. Upper entrance to the citadel;
- 11. Saint-Sophia;
- 12. Small Palace;
- 13. Citadel;
- 14. Mavroporta;
- 15. Pantanassa;
- 16. Taxiarchs;
- 17. Frangopoulos' House;
- 18. Peribleptos;
- 19. Saint-Georges;
- 20. Krevata House;
- 21. Marmara (entrance);
- 22. Aï-Yannakis;
- 23. Laskaris' House;
- 24. Saint-Christopher;
- 25. Ruins;
- 26. Saint-Kyriaki.
Entrance of the Mystras'fortress.View from the inside
Fresco at Hodigitria's church
A street at the town of Mystras
Courtyard of Metropolis of Mystras.
- Runciman, Sir Steven (1980), Mistra: Byzantine Capital of the Peloponnese (2009 reprint: The Lost Capital of Byzantium: The History of Mistra and the Peloponnese; New foreword by John Freely.)
- Romer, John (1997), Byzantium: The Lost Empire; ABTV/Ibis Films/The Learning Channel; 4 episodes; 209 minutes. (In Episode 4 ["Forever and Ever"], presenter Romer devotes a section to strolling through Mistra evoking its glory in the days of Plethon.)