Post-classical history


Mistra (mod. Mistras, Greece) was a castle and town founded in the Frankish principality of Achaia in the Peloponnese. It later became the capital of the Byzantine despotate of the Morea.

The castle was built in the 1240s by William II of Villehardouin, prince of Achaia, as part of his subjugation of Monemvasia and Skorta, in order to contain the Slav inhabitants of the Taygetos region. Quite probably it occupied the site of an earlier Byzantine fortification. What there was of the Frankish town around the castle is unclear. In 1262 the castle was surrendered to the Byzantines along with Mon- emvasia and Geraki.

As the seat of the Byzantine strategos (military governor) of the Peloponnese, the town developed as a major cultural, monastic, and administrative center beginning with the transfer of inhabitants from nearby Lakaidemon (mod. Sparti) around 1264. The houses, churches, and despot’s palace show traces of thirteenth- to fifteenth-century work, and the site today is the finest late Byzantine town to be seen in modern Greece. From 1348 to 1460, it was the capital of the despotate of the Morea and the center from which the Byzantine conquest of the principality of Achaia was planned. It was from here in 1449 that the despot left for Constantinople to become the last Byzantine emperor as Constantine XI.

The city surrendered to the Turks in 1460 and was destroyed by the forces of Ibrahim Pasha in 1824; the ruins suffered further destruction in the Greek Civil War. It has since undergone extensive restoration by conservators from the French School at Athens.

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