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Mystras

Greek: Μυστρας
What: Capital of the Byzentine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Located: Laconia, Peloponnese
Founded: 1248
Last Despot: Demetrius Palaeologus

A view of Mystras from the Villehardouin's Castle.

A view of Mystras from the Villehardouin’s Castle.

Mystras (the wonder of Morea) is afortified town in the Peloponnese that was at its height during the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea (Peloponnese). It is situated on a tall hill overlooking Sparta. It was thelast city of the Byzantine empire to fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1460 and had remained inhabited under Ottoman Empire and Venetian rule until 1821. When the new state of Greece was officially formed in 1832 Mystras was abandoned and the new town of Sparti was built beside it.

In 1248, Mystras became the seat of the Latin Principality of Achaea. William II of Villehardouin, the Frankish lord and Prince of Achaia, decided to build a great castle on the top of a hill overlooking Sparta. The castle was built to withstand attacks by the Byzantines. Then, in 1261 it became the new Despotate of the Morea after it was ceded by William II as ransom to Michael VIII Palaeologus, emperor of the Byzantine empire. It would become an important city of the Byzantine empire, and was the seat of the Byzantine military governor. It would be ruled by relatives of the Byzantine emperor and eventually become the second most important city in the empire after Constantinople.

Mystras contained many churches which were covered with dramatic frescoes. These surviving frescoes give a rare insight into Byzantine art. Mystras was also the last center of Byzantine scholarship and played an important role in the Italian Renaissance when scholars fled from Mystras during the 14th century, when Morea came under Ottoman Empire rule. The last despot of Mystras was Demetrius Palaeologus, who surrendered the city to the Ottoman emperor in 1460.

Mystras, a Byzantine City:

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