Listed by Unesco since 1989, the archaeological site of Mystras – also spelled Mystra or Mistra is one of the top tourist attractions in the Peloponnese region!
Put on your walking shoes and follow the guide!
👍 Helpful insights 👍
How to get to Mystras? Where to stay near the archaeological site? … Find all the practical information as well as tips from the Captain at the end of the article!
Preparing your trip to the Peloponnese? Check out the Captain’s detailed article A Guide to Peloponnese.
Brief history of Mystras
The history of Mystras is eventful to say the least! Founded in 1249 by the Franks under the leadership of William II of Villehardouin, the city was quickly conquered by the Byzantines. William II of Villehardouin, who had been taken prisoner during a battle, gave up Mystras to his enemies in exchange for his freedom.
During the following centuries, the city took grew considerably, so much so that it was at some point the 2nd largest city in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople.
In the 14th century, Mystras came in turn under the control of the Ottoman Empire, then of the Venetians between 1687 and 1715 and briefly of Russians in 1770 before returning to the hands of the Turks.
But the latter destroyed the city during the Greek war of independence (in the 1820s). It was then abandoned in favor of of Sparta, which became the new local administrative capital.
In 1989, the ruins of the city of Mystras were listed as the Unesco World Heritage Site. Today, the archaeological site has become one of the top tourist attractions in the Peloponnese.
The fortress of Mystras
Perched on top of the promontory on which Mystras is built, the fortress culminates at 620 meters/680 yards of altitude and offers a magnificent panorama on the rest of the site below and the surrounding landscapes as well as Mount Taygetos. In spring, the fortress is covered with wild flowers.
Built by William II of Villehardouin in 1249, the citadel of Mystras was enlarged during the following centuries by the Byzantines and later the Turks.
The Despot’s Palace
Below the fortress, the Despot’s Palace is comprised of a group of buildings erected at different times.
This was the residence of the despot who ruled Mystras during the Byzantine Empire. The palace also housed the headquarters of the Despotate of the Morea , a Province of the Byzantine Empire.
The churches and monasteries of Mystras
The archaeological site of Mystras includes a plethora of churches and monasteries decorated with magnificent frescoes and surprisingly well preserved. Among these, be sure to have a look at:
- The Metropolis: a religious complex nestled in the lower city and formed by several buildings, including the basilica of Saint Demetrios
- The Monastery of the Brontochion: comprising the two largest churches of Mystras, the Church of Saints Theodores and the Hodigitria (also called Afendiko)
- The Evangelistria Church: the sculptures exhibited in the church are of artistic great value
- The Church of Saint George: it has miraculously remained untouched since the Byzantine era
- The Church of Hagia Sophia: located a stone’s throw from the Palace, it is believed to have been built in the 14th century
- The Monastery of Peribleptos: nestled on the side of a cliff and decorated with 14th century frescoes
- Pantanassa’s monastery : it is the only building of the site of Mystras which is still inhabited nowadays (by a community of nuns)
Although there remains very few traces of the ancient houses of Mystras, some have survived the test of time and allow us to know more of the daily life of the inhabitants of the city.
The Museum of Mystras
On site, you will also find a small museum exhibiting paintings, sculptures and other vestiges discovered on the archaeological site.
💡 Tips & Precautions 💡
– Precautions: the archaeological site of Mystras is steep! Remember to bring good shoes and comfortable clothes for the visit. In summer, temperatures can be extremely hot in the Peloponnese: don’t forget to bring sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen! Also remember to bring plenty of water!
– Once on site: the site of Mystras has two entrances, one giving on the upper city, the other on the lower city. If you are visiting the Peloponnese by car, you can split the visit and explore the lower city first by taking the lower entrance, then the upper city by taking the other entrance. This will save you a lot of trips back and forth! Each of the two entrances has a parking lot and the entrance ticket to the site is valid for 24 hours.
Getting to Mystras
Located at a little over 5 kilometers/3 miles from Sparta, the archaeological site of Mystras is easily accessible by car:
- 2,5 hrs from Athens (220 km/135 miles)
- 1,5 hour from Monemvasia (90 kilometers/55 miles)
- 1hr40 from Nafplio (125 kilometers/78 miles)
- 40-45 minutes from Gythion (50 kilometers/30 miles)
🚘 Visiting the Peloponnese by car 🚘
If you’re planning on exploring the Peloponnese on your own, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends renting a car: it is by far the most practical way to get around the peninsula. Not to mention that car rental in Greece is on the whole very cheap!
To find THE best deal, the Captain recommends Rentalcars, which compares offers from a host of rental services.
One last piece of advice: the Peloponnese is crisscrossed with small mountainous roads, so you should definitely opt for a fuel-efficient car, even if it is a little more expensive to rent!
You can also get a bus from Athens to Mystras, although the journey is quite long and unpratical. You’ll have first to take a bus to Sparta before taking 2nd bus to get from Sparta to Mystras. Find all the rates and schedules on the website of the bus company.
Staying near Mystras
While Sparta is the closest city to Mystras, Captain Ulysses recommends looking for an accommodation elsewhere: it has indeed very little tourist interest (… not to say none)!
You’ll find some accommodation in the village of Mystras, below the tourist site. Find out more here here.
But if you can, the Captain recommends stopping in Mystras during the day and to spending the night further away, for example in Kalamata, in the medieval city of Monemvasia or in Gythion, at the gateway to the Mani Peninsula.
Opening times & admission
The entrance ticket for the archaeological site of Mystras is available at the price of 12 € (full price) / 6 € (reduced fare). Admission is free on the following days:
- March 6
- April 18
- May 18
- last weekend of September
- October 28th
- Every first Sunday of the month from 1st November to March 31
The site is open every day:
- In summer : from 8am to 8pm
- In winter : from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm
Mystras is exceptionally closed on January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and 26th. It’ll take between 2 and 3 hours to visit the entire site.
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions in the Peloponnese!
🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodations in the Peloponnese, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Booking.com. From youth hostel to luxury boutique hotel: there’s plenty to choose from!
🎟️ Activities: monuments, guided tours, sports activities, boat tours, excursions… To book your activities in advance, the Captain recommends two trusted sites: GetYourGuide and Civitatis.
🚌 Local transportation: to get around the Peloponnese, Captain Ulysses can only recommend renting a car. He suggests renting your car on Rentalcars, which compares offers from a host of brands, including Hertz, Avis, Europcar and trusted local agencies.
If you prefer to avoid driving, GetYourGuide and Civitatis offer a selection of day-trips in the Peloponnese.
✈️ Flights: to book your flights to Greece, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends the Skyscanner comparator. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
Leave a reply