Our Grecian escorted tours are some of our best, but one of my personal favourites is the Dramatic Peloponnese excursion. Explore the culture and history of ancient Greece and, on the fifth day, wander through the deserted streets of the ghost town Mystras.
From imposing temples to live theatre performances, our Dramatic Peloponnese escorted tour has many fascinating highlights, but our visit to Mystras is top of the list. This dramatic historical site is a fantastic example of what a traditional Byzantine town would have looked like.
In 1249, a Frankish prince built a castle here, marking the beginning of Mystras’s existence. Over the years, it has changed hands many times, and it has been under Byzantine and Turkish control at various times throughout history. At one point it was once home to some 20,000 people (and has been inhabited as recently as the 1950s), but it is now almost completely desolate, empty and void of human life. Only a very small population of nuns remain.
Read on for my favourite parts of this evocative abandoned town – and make sure you look out for them on our tour.
I consider the chapels of Mystras to be the living gems of this ghost town, filled with history and impressive, surprisingly well-preserved art. These religious sites are a must-see on our tour.
Ayia Sofia (1350)
This stone building began as a church but, when Mystras fell under Turkish control, it was adapted into a mosque. The floor is made of polychrome marble and the frescoes of Christ in Majesty and the Nativity of the Virgin (my favourite parts of the chapel) are still in good condition.
Agioi Theodoroi (1290-1295)
Agioi Theodoroi, located in the Old Town, was constructed by two monks and is the largest and oldest church in Mystras. It features unique architecture, an impressive dome, thirteenth-century frescoes decorating the interior, and the tomb of the Despot of Peloponnese Theodore I.
Despots Palace (1249-1400)
The Palace of Despots is a large, L-shaped complex of buildings, ranging from two to four storeys tall. Construction began with the Franks and ended with the Byzantines, although most of its architecture looks like it was designed by the latter. The local governor, an important nobleman of the time, resided here.
The exterior is quite severe, while the interior of each building has cellars, chambers, arches and attics. In my opinion, the best room is the vaulted audience hall. With its vast size and prominent windows, it is truly regal – so much so that at one point it needed eight fireplaces to heat it.