The Island of Malmsey

Last week, we had a post from Donna @ Note to Traveller on rather lovely doors in the old medieval town of Monemvasia in Laconia, Greece. It seemed coincidental that we had just been there the day before she posted her Thursday Doors contribution hosted by Norm Frampton. More so, since I had also taken a number of photographs of doors, intending to create a post for the group at some time in the near future. I’ve accelerated that post and am presenting a few more Monemvasia doors here – different from Donna’s, so to complement hers. However, to enrich the tale, I’ve added a little bit of history.

Monemvasia, formerly known as Malvasia or Malmsey, the latter its archaic name given to it by English travellers. Some of you may know that Malvasia is an ancient family of grape varieties thought to have originated in Crete, but by Medieval times, Monemvasia had become one of the major trading centres for the Malvasia wine trade – hence the names attached to the place.

Monemvasia is also a natural fortress located on the sea – actually an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. Just after you cross the causeway there is a lazaretto (a former Venetian quarantine hospital, now ironically a rather swish hotel and spa). The road continues around, past the cemetery with its little church to end at the one (main) entrance to the old town – just out of sight in the image above as the walled town looks out to the sea. Wheeled traffic ends here – except for the wheelbarrow-like trolley conveying heavy luggage to one of the numerous hotels within the walls.

The doors of the main gate are old – now scarred, weathered and rotting wood armoured with rusting sheet iron. Absolutely fabulous to anyone who enjoys the texture of decaying buildings (and doors).

The town itself is a living version of what the Byzantine ruined town of Mystra must once have been like. There are a lot of images of Mystra on a number of my previous posts – Narrow, Tamata, Silence over the Laconian Plain and just recently Awakening Day. Both Mystra and Monemvasia have many narrow cobbled streets.

And covered archways…

Some of the cobbled paths terminate abruptly – up a set of stairs to a door.

The central square is spacious. It is flanked by the main church – the basilica of Elkomenos Christos or “Christ in Chains” on one side (on the right) and an old mosque (formerly a Byzantine chapel to Agios Petros and now a museum) on the other (outside of the image). When we visited, the place was still decked out with banners and bunting for Easter. Towering above the church’s bell tower is the upper town, culminating in the fortress itself.

From the square, are views below over the rooftops of the lower town, looking out over the sea.

A door in the lower town caught my eye.

It has an interesting plaque over the top. It has a date on it in Greek letters – Α Ω (or an old version that looks like a capital ω) Λ Ζ. As far as I can tell, it means 1837 – a possible date given the type of decorative element. And, I can just make out the name of Nikolaos, but beyond that it needs a specialist eye.

Also in the lower town, is a door next to the double aisled church of Agios Antonios and Agios Dimitrios with its Easter banner.

In fact, there are many old – Byzantine and Venetian – churches in the town. Just above the main square is the church of the Panagia Myrtidiotissa (“of the Myrtle Tree”). This particular epithet of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) originates in Kythera (Venetian Cerigo). It points to connections with this island at the tip of the Laconia Peninsula (Cape Malea), a stepping stone enroute to more Venetian holdings on Crete – and all the Malvasia wine.

The gracious doorway has a stylised tree (myrtle?) above.

At the end of town is the church of Agios Nikolaos, although there is some debate if it ever acted as a church. In Ottoman times, it served as an armoury, and later after Greek Independence was the town’s primary school until the mid-20th century.

Many students would have passed through these portals.

One of those students was the celebrated Greek poet (and left-wing activist), Ioannis Ritsos (1909-1990). His family’s house with its plain, functional doors is on a level just above the main gate of Monemvasia, marked with a commemorative bronze statue.

Back to the main gate, past the cemetery and its church, past the former lazaretto before departing the island. As seen from the other side, a little hazy looking into the afternoon sun:

Check out Norm’s Thursday Doors for many more posts on fascinating buildings and their doors.

26 comments

  1. Debi, Thanks for the link to my post. Your photos are fantastic! I love that you’ve captured different aspects of the town than I did, and I enjoyed the history lesson. Your first image of the island is spectacular.I have more Monemvasia pics to come and will link back to your post.

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    • It was magical. I’ve been wanting to see this place for a while. The only down side of visiting here was the French cruise ship docked just of the coast that continually ferried loads and loads of people to this tiny place. In many of the images, I waited for a long time until the hoards walked by. I think we may come back in winter next time – definitely off off season.

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  2. Debi, I love everything about this place, although that’s easy because I don’t have to walk up and down. 🙂 Everyone should be in pretty good shape, though, as they have a built-in exercise program!!

    janet

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  3. Ah, wish I was there – but without the hordes from the cruise ships! I was drawn by ‘Malmsey’ as I used to be quite a fan of Madeira and Malmsey was one of the varieties – as they used to be named, the others being: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual. Malmsey was the one in which George Duke of Clarence was reputed to have been, or to have, drowned.
    Am going to make a version of your fish dish today.

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