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Top Greek Travel Destinations: Byzantine Mystras Page 3

The focus of the site of Mystras is its magnificent Byzantine architecture -its palace, the multi domed and frescoed churches (admirably preserved and restored).

Harry captures the essence of regeneration and death at MystrasFrom 1687 to 1715 the city was in the hands of the Venetians, and during those years reached its second peak of prosperity, attaining a population of 42,000, with silk worm culture its main industry. The town declined rapidly with the return of the Turks, and was burnt in 1770 by Albanian troops after the Mainotes had captured it for Orloff, and again in 1825 It was abandoned after the refounding of Sparta in 1834, saved from complete ruin only through the efforts of the French School during the period from 1896 to 1910, and served as a battlefield in 1944 between various partisan forces. Its last 30 families were relocated in 1952 by the Greek Archaeological Service.

The town ruins are on the north and east sides of the hill they occupy and are divided into three sections-the Kastro on the summit, the walled Upper Town (or Hora) below it to the north, with houses clustering around the Despot's palace, and below it the Lower Town (Katohora), added later, which includes the cathedral. The parapets and upper defence walls are mostly Turkish additions. There are two entrances to the town, at the base of the Lower Town and at the Kastro at its summit, with a car road ascending to it. The site is most pleasantly lacking in commercialism, with nothing more than a juice bar at the lower entrance, so bring whatever you might need to fortify yourself while exploring. The Monemvasia Gate links the upper and lower towns, and a choice of routes to different monasteries.

in the covent the nuns have a crafty store just as in ancient 

timesThe nuns of the Pantanassa convent were allowed to remain when those last 30 families were relocated in 1952, and there were seven of them during recent years, selling their handicrafts to visitors.

The convent church built in 1428, is one of finest (some say the most beautiful) in Mystras, blending Byzantine and Gothic styles, and there are some very beautiful frescoes from the 15th century, as well as some later ones from the Venetian period.

A broad flight of steps ascends to the loggia, which affords fine views of the Evrotas valley below. The House of Frangopoulos is a mansion further down on this side of the town, which was the home of the founder of the Pantanassa and chief minister of the despotate, with the Perivleptos monastery behind it-a very small, monastery with a single domed church partly carved from the rock, with Mystras's most complete cycle of frescoes dating mostly from the 14th century. These are in some ways even finer than those of the Pantanassa.

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