>Travel Pictures


 We went to Sparta, primarily, to visit the village were Dave's mom, Stella, had been born.  Family is still there and we wanted to meet them.  We were very pleasantly surprised, then, when we discovered the amazing site of Mystras close by.  We had not originally put it on our 'to-do' list, yet it turned out to be one of our favorite sites.  The ruins spill down the side of Mount Taygetos.  The Franks built a Crusader castle on the peak in 1249.  Less than 10 years later, they relinquished the keys to the gate to Byzantine forces.  A town began to build up outside the walls, so further defensive walls were constructed farther down the mountain.  This happened three times to accomodate growth.  Mystras grew so large and was in such a strategic location that it was considered the effective Capitol of the Byzantine Empire from 1380 to 1460. The Turks and Venetians took turns squabbling over it after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.  It's fabulous history is all there as one marches down the mountain.  Gorgeous Venetian palaces mingle with Byzantine churches, Turkish baths and Crusader fortifications. 

Frescoes and Mosaics still adorn many of the walls in the churches in Mystras.  The one on the left is the Birth of the Virgin.  Frescoes are made by applying paint to a wet stucco surface.  Mosaics are made by cementing small pebbles, jewels or gold pieces to the wall or the floor to create a large scene.  In Mystras, many have been chipped off (iconoclasticism) or been peeled away.  However, enough remain to give an idea of just how visually overwhelming these places were during their heyday.

Monastery in Mystras

An arch leading into the courtyard of a Venetian palace.

The Crusader Fortress as seen from the second defensive wall.  Gates were considered weak links for security and were never very big.  The theory goes that a small entrance means those on the inside can easily knock off the few from the outside who can get through at a time. 
Byzantine Church from about 1300 CE. Most the churches in Mystras still have fragments of frescoes and mosics on the interior walls.

Byzantine churches - created between 1259 and 1430 CE.  No mosques remain from the Turkish occupation of Mystras. We don't know if this is because they were never built, they were destroyed by Christian Venetians, or were razed after a fire late in the 1790's. 

Mom and kids exploring the ruins in Mystras.  We all drove to the top and walked down through 500 years of history.  Dad got the pleasure of walking back UP to return with the car:)
After the Wars of Independence in the mid-1800's, King Otto of Greece created the 'new' town of Sparta.  Most people left Mystras and moved there.  However, a few families continued to occupy the area.  In 1953 they were finally forced to move as the government made Mystras a historical site.

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