|the old path beckons upward in the ruined fortress town of Mystra|
The ancient stones of Olympia, Mycenae and Epidavros are joined in the middle ages by another set of fortress towns built by northern knights returning from the Crusades. One such was Geoffrey de Villehardouin, a Frenchman, who took a liking to the Peleponnese, set about conquering it and founded a dynasty which lasted from 1204 to 1460. Besides currying favour with the ladies, the Villehardouins were inveterate castle builders and three important ruins remain.
|the ruined buildings of the town from the castle atop Mystra|
|a Byzantine church in Mystra|
Monemvasia, the second Villehardouin stronghold, is a great rock, rising up out of the sea at the south-eastern tip of the Peleponnese and joined to the mainland by a narrow, man-made causeway. The younger Villehardouin built the fortress castle at the very top but the site had been occupied since 580 AD. Unlike, Mystra, the lower area of Monemvasia is inhabited to this day.
|the old Byzantine church in the ruins at the top of Monemvasia|
|an alley tempts you through its curves|
|feeding the cats - 57 of them|
Monemvasia is so charming! The small entrance into the walled town is a zig-zag configuration which allows the passage of a human or a horse but no cars or motorcycles. That makes the whole town very special - it is a "people only" place - unless you count the cats!
And Monemvasia is the ultimate in romantic villages. Its cobbled streets, its stone buildings, its planters and its shops are so well cared for. The little stone village draws you in: you love to linger and linger to love.
|lingering in romantic Monemvasia|
While the Villehardouin strongholds of yesteryear, Monemvasia and Mystra, attract many tourists, there is one more Byzantine town topped with another Villehardouin castle. This is Geraki, the poorer, smaller sister of Mystra and Monemvasia, but for me, all the more mysterious.
|The ruined Frankish castle at the top of Geraki|
|Celtic knots in the wall of a church in Geraki|
|the crusaders have left their mark|
|a painting in a niche over the door of a locked church|
|frescoes of the crusaders exposed to the elements|
I don't know if I should feel happy that crusader knights from the north were so arrogant that they felt justified in conquering a people just because they liked the land. Perhaps I should just be grateful that some vestiges of their presence remain and that I get to tell the story and witness the marks they left.
But why are these treasures not protected from the weather in some way?
|the topmost Byzantine church in the ruins of Geraki|