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Mystras, also known as Myzithras in the Chronicle of Morea, was a fortified Greek city and former municipality (Municipality of Mystras) in Laconia in the Peloponnese Region . Located in Taygetos, near ancient Sparta, Mystras was the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of Mystras in the 14th and 15th centuries, experiencing a period of prosperity and cultural flourishing.
The Despotate and the Ottoman conquest
In 1348 the Despotate of Morea was created, with the first despot Manuel Kantakouzinos (1349-1380), son of the emperor John VI Kantakouzinos. He was succeeded by his brother Matthew Kantakouzinos (1380-1383) and his son Matthew Dimitrios I Kantakouzinos (1383-1384). The latter was confronted by the emperor John V Palaiologos, when he claimed greater independence from Constantinople, and gave his place to the emperor’s son, Theodore I Palaiologos (1383-1407). In the years that followed, the despotate expanded throughout the Peloponnese, upgrading the political, administrative and spiritual importance of Mystras.
In 1429 a second despotate was created in Moria, based in Glarentza, whose leader was Constantine IAI Palaiologos, while in 1430 a third was founded, based in Kalavrita, with Thomas Paleologos, brother of Constantine and Theodore II, as despot. Paleologos, who was despot of Mystras in the period 1407-1443. In 1443 Constantine became despot of Mystras, a position he held until 1448, when he was anointed emperor – the last – of the Byzantine Empire. The last despot of Mystras was Demetrios Paleologos (1449-1460).
On May 30, 1460, Demetrios Paleologos surrendered Mystras to the Ottomans without a fight and clung to the sultan’s court.
The churches of Mystras
Mystras is dominated by 7 important churches:
• Agios Dimitrios (Diocese). Royal wooden roof, with beautiful sculptures on the iconostasis and frescoes. In its courtyard is the Metropolitan Palace, today the Museum of Mystras.
• The Evangelistria, single-storey with a characteristic wide narthex.
• Agioi Theodoroi, with the characteristic famous octagonal dome, the largest and most ancient church of Mystras. It preserves impressive frescoes, including a portrait of the emperor Manuel II Palaiologos dated 1423. Here is the tomb of the despot of Morea Theodoros AD.
• The Virgin Hodegetria (Boss). This is the name of the three-storey two-storey domed church with two chapels on either side, that of the “gold bullions” because it is internally covered with a hagiographic composition of angels holding gold bullions of the years 1314, 1319, 1320 and 1322, and the other of Andronikos depicting the emperor Paul despot of Mystras Theodoros I Palaiologos.
Hagia Sophia, above the palaces, of 1350, was the catholic of the monastery of the Life-Giver Christ and probably constituted the church of the Palaces. Many members of the ruling class of Mystras have been buried in it and in the tomb of the northern portico was found the silk female dress of a noblewoman of the beginning of the 15th century, which is in the museum of Mystras.
• The Predictable.
• Pantanassa (nunnery), whose church is the best preserved monument. There are also the tombs of Miss Cleopa Malatesta and Theodora, the wife of the emperor Constantine IAI Palaiologos.
These churches were catholic monasteries. In general, the churches of Mystras were a place of learning of Byzantine architecture, painting, hagiography and spatial study of the time shortly before the Renaissance. Today, only Pantanassa functions as a monastery. Many of the churches owe their present form to maintenance work carried out by Anastasios Orlandos shortly before 1940. The form of the churches is connected with the natural relief of the place where they were built. Thus, all the churches deviate to the east, in violation of the relevant rules of religious tradition. One of them, Agios Georgios, faces north to south. In terms of architectural form, the simple royal type and the typical for Mystras type dominate, combining the basilica on the ground floor and the church with domes in the gallery. The external galleries are also a trademark of the churches. Overall, the architectural form and building materials form a perfectly harmonious whole with the environment.