Monemvasia (Μονεμβασία)

The town had, get this, 40 churches at one point! For a reason unknown to us, this one's bell hangs from a tree.

Dave the motorhome has decamped from his spot on the island of Monemvasia to a spot on the mainland at the new sister town of Yefira (N36.68836 E23.03712). Last night we discovered why Monemvasia is called Monemvasia; the name’s derived from a couple of Greek words meaning ‘single entrance’. Yup, there’s just the one way in and out, we were parked right by it, and last night everyone using the causeway passed Dave! Exhaust-less mopeds rivalling Rossi’s motoGP bike for vibration-inducing volume, if not speed, rumbled past in between shuttle bus runs and folks laughing (the cheek of it) at the nearby taverna. No worries for us of course, we were done in and slept OK anyway, but we now understand why everyone, with the exception of a brilliant-white restored VW camper van, shifted over here to where we are now.

Tonight's kipping spot on the north end of town overlooking The Rock.
Tonight’s kipping spot on the north end of town overlooking The Rock.

What’s this? Ju? Awake? At 7am? Nope, I’ve no idea what forced this but I’m pretty sure some future Saint might claim it as one of their miracles. Before I knew it I was presented with my daily bowl of Lidl ‘Faux Crunchy Nut Cornflakes’ and ushered out the door. Charlie was still licking the 4% meat dog food from his lips as his paws hit the ground and off we stomped along the km road to the entrance to Monemvasia.

Maybe it was the potential for the place to to fill up which had my Pretty up at dawn? A small ship had slowly cruised to a pier and white socks ‘n’ sandals were slapping off into the distance as the thick ropes were pulled into place. I’m really starting to notice just how FAST fellow tourists move, even those requiring the aid of a walking stick are doing twice our cruising speed. Or perhaps it was the weather? The forecast said rain; the sun was for once fuzzed out in the sky by high level cloud, maybe Zeus would finally get his lightning out and drench us?

Whatever the reason, an early start worked a treat for us. Monemvasia’s given us four hours of sights and sounds for the total price of, zilch, and all under a cooling thin-clouded sky. Unlike Mystra, another Greek Byzantine fortress town we visited a few days back, they don’t choose to charge an entrance fee here. Another approach has been taken to fund the place. As we walked into the gate in the lower wall yesterday a sullen-looking chap sat next to some rough-looking metal jewellery loudly shouted at us ‘just buy this crap would you so I can go home’ in a silent sort of way. I ushered Ju past him, through the Z-shaped entrance (seemingly designed to slow us down and get us to buy the tat) and out into the still air on the other side, to be immediately assaulted by a Mont St Michel tat-gauntlet on the other side (if you’ve been, you’ll know what I mean). I near leaned backwards at the sight of a Greek medina, looking for another way around to avoid the sellers stood in doorways and sat outside empty restaurants.

It wasn’t anything like as bad as that, honestly, that was my immediate reaction and it was way over the top. There are a few art shops and eateries, but they all looked pretty tasteful, the pressure to buy just wasn’t there and we were past them in a jiffy. When we returned today, jewellery man was absent from his guard post beneath the gate and I breathed a sign of relief as the main street was all-but empty.

Monemvasia’s a kid’s castle of dreams. It’s impregnable, only ever fully conquered by starving the hapless inhabitants into submission. The ‘moat’ is the open ocean, lapping against a rough-footed giant’s tooth of rock, crossable on foot at one point. This causeway (where a load of New Zealand troops were evacuated in the face of advancing Axis troops in 1941) had a wooden removable section and a wall at one end with arrow-slits for fending off opportunist invaders (not much use against Panzer tanks I imagine!). Past this, you’ve about a mile of road which runs around the south of the island. Sounds easy enough but for the fact the by-now irritated inhabitants are likely lobbing rocks and smelly things down on you from above. Next job: get into the lower town. The swines have only gone and built a wall around it. Should you be bothered/have enough cannon fodder left to get through then congratulations, the lower town is yours. Huzzah. Only two jobs left: fight your way up zigzag steps cut into a 100m cliff face, through the gate at the top, through the upper town and tackle the hill-top citadel. You’d have to do all this on foot, maybe on horse-back if you’re crazy, as the tiny mesh of cobbled streets is too small for anything else. Nah, no-one got in by force, siege was the way in, one of which lasted a massive 3 years (by comparison, the unbreakable folks of Sarajevo lasted out for almost 4 years in the 90’s).

Over the course of nearly 1500 years of history, various empires have had hold of the place, and if you’ve a better eye for architecture than me you may be able to sniff out the conflicting styles. The upper town is all but rubble now, a single restored church and water cistern stand in one piece, the rest’s given over to vine-like thistles, wild flowers, legions of fat ants and infeasibly hairy spiders. The lower town’s clearly been restored, and looks magnificent for it. From above the rust-red roofs cast about like shuffled cards. Among them there are a few remaining piles of grey rubble awaiting the masons. We’re told donkeys shift the building materials about in the road-less town but we saw none, just a bloke with a barrow full of luggage.

Inside we met a couple from Vancouver, who were on the Harmony V, the flash boat we’d seen earlier. They were living in Lyon for a couple of years and were sharing the boat with only 28 other passengers, on a tour of Greece which included talks on history and art as they went. We’d spotted other passengers being given a tour of the town, and had sneakily had a listen in to him telling how the owners of outdoor drinking and eating areas hadn’t until recently been allowed to cover the area, instead giving their guests sombrero hats… An elderly chap from Athens got talking to us next to an olive tree in the upper town, a vest visible through his shirt in the 25 degrees temperature. He pronounced the tree to be a thousand years old, telling us other such trees on an island I forget are twice as old. A couple more passengers were from California, on an Alumni tour.

As we walked back from the town to Dave the sailers were preparing to cast off the ropes. Wandering over the captain was making an announcement over the tanoy, something along the lines of “ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing to leave. At 2:30 there will be an interesting lecture and then we will make a stop for swimming. Cocktails will be served at 6, and tonight we will stay in Nafplio.” I’m not jealous.

After a swim and a bit to eat we moved Dave over to the marina area, topping up our fresh water and watching the sailors work through their yellow nets. They pull them from one pile to another working loose any dead fish or rubbish they don’t want, all of which descends below the boat for scavengers to wrestle at. A lifeboat waited in the side of the harbour, water pumping from a hole in its side, opposite it a yacht flying a French flag. Earlier on I’d looked up harbour fees, interested in how this other wandering class of folks pay their way. In Greece it seems they are roughly zero, as the staff can’t be bothered with the paperwork. If you do pay, it’s between €6 and €10 a night for a 10m long boat, including hook-up. I took a walk to see if anyone was on board to chat with but on the way spotted a turtle, apparently accidentally lost in the harbour, popping it’s leathery head from the water from time to time. I legged it back to Dave like I’d just spotted his handbrake was off, raising the alert with Ju who nipped out and managed to get a photo before she headed off into the open ocean. I’m chuffed to bits.

An attempt to get onto one of the free WiFi hotspots here failed from the marina, despite our massive antenna, so we shifted over here where it’s working a treat. The town even provides an ‘officially’ open WiFi network for us; how’s that for hospitality? Time now for a chill and to release the pent-up (aka sleeping) Charlie onto yet another beach. Happy days!

We’ve taken enough photos to fill the Albert Hall today. Here are a few of ’em. Click on any of them to get a full size view:

Another fantastic day in Daveland, cheers folks, Jay









  1. yay….great post guys. so totally jealous. bet you wouldn’t want to swap with anyone for quids right now.
    FYI, that little fuel station/pump, next to the taverna on the island that you stayed opposite last night was actually really cheap when we where there. I think it was around 5-8c cheaper than big stations.

    • Hmm – let me think about it, no sorry no swap! We spotted the fuel station was a cheapie so filled Dave up to the brim. No idea how or why it’s so cheap considering where it is though.

      Ju x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.