The establishment of Mystras is connected to the first conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204: the Byzantine Empire is fragmented, Peloponnese is granted to Villehardouins Frankish family, who founded the Principality of Achaea. A few years later, in 1249, the Frankish prince William of Villehardouin builds the castle of Myzithras on top of the homonymous hill, a key position for controlling the valley of Evrotas. This castle will be the core of the later castle town of Mystras, one of the most important late Byzantine cities.
In 1289 “the Kephale” (governor), the provincial commander of the Byzantine possessions in the Peloponnese, transfers its headquarters from Monemvasia to Mystras, whilst in 1349 Mystras becomes the capital of the semi-autonomous Despot of Morea. The first “Despot” is Manuel Kantakouzenos ( 1349-1380), son of emperor John VI. In 1383, the Kantakouzenos dynasty is succeeded at Mystras by the Palaiologan imperial family, with the first representative Theodore I (1380 / 1-1407). A special place among the “Despots” of Mystras is held by Constantine XI Palaiologos (1443-1448), the penultimate “Despot” who, having succeeded his brother John Palaiologos (1425-1448) to the imperial throne, will be killed in the siege and capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453.
The Byzantine phase in the history of Mystras ends in 1460, with its surrender to the Turks.
From 1460 to 1540 Mystras, the capital of the Ottoman sanjak of Peloponnese, is one of the most important centres of production and trade of silk in eastern Mediterranean. A small pause in the long Turkish occupation is the period of the Venetian rule, from 1687 to 1715, while the decline of Mystras begins in 1770, after its destruction by Turkish-Albanian soldiers, as part of the great revolutionary movement of the Orlov Revolt.
With the establishment of the modern city of Sparta by king Otto in 1834, begins the movement of the Mystras residents to the new city. The last inhabitants will leave the castle in 1953 after the expropriation of the site by the Greek state. Preceded in 1921, was the declaration of the area by Royal Decree as an outstanding Byzantine monument.
In 1989 by decision of the Unesco committee, Mystras is registered as a cultural asset in the list of World Cultural Heritage.
To enter the castle city, you can use either the Lower or Upper Gate. Indulge yourselves and travel to the magic of the past. In recent years continuous maintenance and restoration work has been carried out on the monuments, making it easier for the visitor to learn the history.
It is located at the highest point of the castle. There you will see parts of the walls of the castle town. You can climb to the highest point of the castle and you will be rewarded by an exquisite view both to Sparta and to Taygetos.
Going down the hill, you will find the Church of St. Sophia, which was a monastery chapel. Rare sculptures and monograms of the first Despot of Mystras, Manuel Katakouzenos, have been preserved. You will also be impressed by the representation of Christ across the sanctuary apse.
Continuing one will encounter the five palaces of the Despots. There, visitors will get a taste of the style of the era of Katakouzinos and Palaiologos, through their palaces.
There you will find the church of Agios Dimitrios, which was the metropolis of the state. In the courtyard is the current museum of Mystras (Metropolitan Hall). According to tradition, it is assumed that in Agios Dimitrios Constantine Palaiologos was crowned emperor. It was the only coronation of a Byzantine emperor held outside the Walls of Constantinople.
The fortified Monastery Vrontochion consists of the churches of the Holy Theodores and the Hodegetria (Boss). The Holy Theodores is the oldest church of the Castle, with an octagonal dome, impressive frescoes and the tomb of the Despot of Morea Theodore I. In the four corners there are chapels, which were probably tombs of high-ranking officials or members of the aristocracy.
Hodegetria (Boss): It was established in 1310 and is the first composite type church of Mystras, the bottom is a three-naved basilica and the top consists of a four-column cruciform with five domes. It is also called Boss, possibly because here is buried the Despot – Master – Theodore II Palaiologos.
Pantanassa Monastery: The only monastery of the castle (female) and even the best preserved. Here are the tombs of Despoina Kleopa Malatesta and of Theodora, wife of Emperor Konstantinos Palaiologos. Today, the nuns of the monastery are the only residents in the castle.