Monemvasia, Lower and Upper

I know that in the introduction to yesterday’s post I said it would probably be short. I failed you there. Sorry about that. But I truly think today’s entry will indeed be brief. It involves almost exclusively a visit to Monemvasia. (Almost exclusively, but not quite.)

Then again, based on yesterday’s experience, maybe you shouldn’t trust me on that. I think it will be short. I’m even confident of that. But we’ll see.

Monemvasia in the morning
Monemvasia in the morning

Monemvasia is a huge rock that juts out of the sea just offshore from Gefyra. Yesterday, I included a picture of it taken from my hotel room balcony not much before sunset. Here’s one taken from the same location, zoomed, but in the morning, when the sun better lights Monemvasia’s features.

To get a sense of the scale of the rock, squint at the buildings at its base. The taller one is two storeys. When I was there, the storeys looked to me to be a little taller than those in the average residential building. What’s more, the building is on a slight rise from the road at the base of the rock. So, the top of that building is probably three or three and a half normal storeys above the base of the portion of Monemvasia that is above sea level. (Hey, it doesn’t float on the surface, you know.)

(Re the view from my balcony: It is beautiful, but I’m now on the eastern side of the Peloponnese peninsula, so I don’t get a sunset over the water. The sunrise might be gorgeous, but how would I know? Verifying that would require getting up from my bed before the sun rises. Yeah, um, no.)

The tallness of the rock, combined with the sheerness of its sides, which rise unbidden from the sea to a plateau rather than to a sharp peak, makes Monemvasia look almost unnatural. I’m working on a theory that it is indeed unnatural. I believe aliens built it as an easily defendable landing site for their spacecraft.

I didn’t find any proof of the validity of my theory, or even any evidence of it. But, heck. This is the internet. The defining principle of the internet is that you don’t need evidence or proof to state anything as fact here.

Single Approach

Monemvasia’s name is derived from two Greek words. Substituting our Latin alphabet for the Greek one, they are moni, meaning ‘single’ and emvasis meaning ‘approach’.

The etymology of the name is literal. There is only one land approach to Monemvasia, a causeway.

Monemvasia has both a lower and an upper town. I visited both.

Lower Town Monemvasia

I started my visit to Monemvasia in Lower Town because I didn’t have the helicopter, jet pack, wings, or spaceship necessary to go directly to Upper Town. Besides, no one goes up there that way and I didn’t want to stand out. I’m afraid the paparazzi will find me if I stand out. Not that I’ve ever encountered any paparazzi, but I’m afraid of almost everything.

Yesterday evening, when I walked across the causeway and saw just a few buildings almost immediately on the other side I was disappointed. I thought, “That’s it? That’s Lower Town? Just a few farshtunken buildings?”

Then I remembered that my guidebook told me that Monemvasia’s Lower Town is on the seaward side of the rock. I didn’t walk around the island yesterday because darkness was close to falling by the time I got there and I worried it would fall on and injure me. I don’t think my out-of-country medical insurance will cover that. Today, however, I can confirm that the guidebook was right, at least about Lower Town being on the seaward side of the island.

Lower Town “Gate”

Lower Town "gate.
Lower Town “gate.

The gate in the protective wall around Lower Town sits the equivalent of about six or so storeys higher than the base of the island. Although, I’m wretched at estimating distances. Reality probably lies a few storeys on either side of six or so storeys.

Gaining that height involves walking along a gently sloped road on the south side of Monemvasia.

Two paragraphs ago, I used the word “gate” and will continue to do so in subsequent paragraphs. I use that word only because it’s the word my guidebooks and a sign in town use. I’m uncomfortable about that because it’s misleading, at least for me.

To me, a gate is something that can swing open or closed to grant or block entrance through an opening in a fence or wall. There is no such gate there now, open or closed. There likely was at one time. Otherwise, what’s the point of a protective wall with an unobstructed gap in it? But, I don’t know if indeed there was ever one.

What is there is what I’d call a portal through the old, thick defensive wall around the town. However, I’ll continue to call it a gate rather than a portal because of established precedent.

A Lower Town street
A Lower Town street

Cars and trucks cannot go through the gate. Thus, the town is for pedestrians only, assuming cats can be considered pedestrians. Many of them roam around Lower Town. I’ve never seen a cat drive, and specifically not in Monemvasia, so I’m going to stick with the pedestrian-only descriptor.

The streets, if you can call pedestrian-only ways streets, are paved with well-placed, moderately flat-topped stones.

The street leading from the main gate is lined with restaurants and shops mostly selling trinkets for tourists. Although, having said that, some of what I called trinkets are somewhat higher-end than what one would normally call trinkets. Others looked exactly like what the word trinket conjures.

At least one store sold foods such as olives, olive oils and wines that the shopkeeper hoped tourists would want to buy and take home. Or consume on the street. I don’t think the shopkeeper cared, as long as they made the sale.

And before you say it, yes, wine is a food. I don’t want to listen to any pendants in the chorus who feel the need to explain to me that wine is more drinkish than foodish. So, shush.

Levels of Lower

A view from a lower level of Lower Town
A view from a lower level of Lower Town

Lower Town climbs up and down a hill from the main street. Down is about three floors’ worth. Up extends pretty much to the point where the hill meets the sheer cliff behind the town, about seven floors’ worth.

I’m more confident in these height estimates than the ones I gave earlier. I sat in a town square and counted the number of levels of windows I could see up and down from there.

Stairs. Always stairs.
Stairs. Always stairs.

However, even then, the various levels of the town are not precisely the equivalent of one storey above or below the adjacent level. And not all of the levels are entirely level. So I might still be a bit off. If you’re looking for several decimal points of accuracy, or even any, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. What are you even doing reading this?

Getting from one level to the other requires climbing up or down steps, not walking up or down ramped paths.

A few of the stones on the streets and steps are polished to a fine lustre, I imagine by all of the shoes that trod on them. As a result, those stones can be very slippery even when dry.

I think Canadians have an advantage in that regard. Many of us are quite proficient at regaining our balance in a slip before it becomes a fall. Anyone who walks along at least a few, and often many, icy streets every Canadian winter knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m thrilled to say I never made contact with the ground other than with my feet. Although, there were some tense moments.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why only some of the stones are so highly polished when nearby ones likely get similar amounts of traffic. I think town employees come through at night, roughing up most of the stones with rasps so the few slippery ones will catch people by surprise. I may be wrong about that.

That was a joke. I do think I spotted a pattern. Some of the stones were mostly jet black. Those almost always were shinier and slippery. I suppose that’s due to the chemical composition of the rock. The other rocks were mostly mottled grey. Those were rarely slippery. Not never, but rarely. If a geologist pops by this journal, feel free to explain that in a reply below if you can.


Waves doing what waves gonna do
Waves doing what waves gonna do

If you know where to find it, a set of steps leads down to and through another so-called gate in the defensive wall and takes you much closer to the sea.

If you don’t know where to find it or don’t even know it exists, I can confirm that you can still follow it down if you serendipitously stumble upon it as I did. I spent a few minutes watching waves crashing on rocks whenever the waves felt so inclined.

There is a very small archaeological museum in Lower Town. That’s all I’ll say about it because the sign in front says the one day of the week it’s closed is Tuesday. Today is Tuesday, of course.

Most of the buildings in Lower Town are occupied, but there are some old, abandoned ones. An example of the latter is a tiny, single-aisled Byzantine church built early in the 12th century. Today, it is not only abandoned but also, shall we say, airy.

Even the occupied buildings are sights in themselves. Most have stone and mortar walls and tiled roofs. But a few have smoother walls, of a material unknown to me, painted with sand, ochre or grey palettes.

I spent all morning wandering up, down, and around Lower Town, up to and including lunch. I chose to have lunch there because I read there’s nowhere to eat in Upper Town. That, and I thought I required the nourishment of lunch to power me for the climb to Upper Town.

Upper Town Monemvasia

Upper Town "gate"
Upper Town “gate”

The climb to Upper Town from Lower Town wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be. I don’t know why. You saw the picture. Even with the head start that the hill to Lower Town gave me, it still looks like quite a difference in elevation from Lower Town to the Upper Town “gate.” (The comment I made about the Lower Town gate also applies to the Upper Town gate.)

I expected that I’d be huffing and puffing heavily, my heart would be beating fast and furiously, and I’d be sweating profusely by the time I got to the top. It didn’t happen. My breathing was a little deeper, but not much. I didn’t check it, but it didn’t feel like I raised my pulse into the peak zone, maybe the cardio zone. And my body remained largely perspiration-free. Maybe the climb isn’t as difficult as it looks.

Or maybe I’ve become much more fit on this trip. Yeah, that’s it. For sure.

The hardest part of getting up there is finding the way. There’s one small sign pointing to Upper Town that’s easy to miss, off to the side of Lower Town’s main street. However, when I headed up that way, I came across a couple of points where there were options as to which way to go. Only one of the options would take me to the steps to Upper Town, but there was no sign telling me which one it was. I did eventually find the steps, though.

A view from Upper Town
A view from Upper Town

My guidebook told me that the last resident abandoned Upper Town almost a century ago. Now, Upper Town Monemvasia is almost all ruins in various states of decay, from near total to you can almost recognize what it was without the accompanying sign. The one exception is a church up there, the Church of Agia Sophia (also spelled Agia Sofia, Hagia Sofia, Hagia Sophia, and goodness knows what else).

The church is in pretty good shape and pretty much complete. A nearby sign says admission is free and visitors can go inside Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 08:30 – 15:00. As I mentioned above, today is Tuesday. (If you go, don’t trust those opening days/hours. It was a computer-printed sign on laminated paper fastened loosely to another sign, not a permanent posting. Opening hours of sights here tend to vary greatly depending on the season. This is the off-season. If you come when the place is lousy with tourists you’ll probably have better luck at finding places open. But the place will likely be lousy with people, so there’s that.)

Church of Agia Sophia
Church of Agia Sophia

Wait. The Church of Agia Sophia? I was just at a Church of Agia Sophia (also called Agia Sofia and, although I didn’t see any references to it, probably also Hagia Sofia and Hagia Sophia) a couple of days ago during my hike from Kardamyli. Is this a church chain? You just can’t escape the conglomerates, can you? The two churches looked different, so I’m glad they avoided the homogeneity one so often encounters with chain stores and chain restaurants. Or maybe the two churches are unrelated and I’m only being inane with that whole “chain church” thing. When you read things like that from me, it’s always best to assume I’m being silly.

Most of the major ruins in Upper Town have signs briefly explaining what the buildings were back in the time when they were indeed buildings, not ruins.

However, there are lots of paths and steps through Old Town. Few of them are marked in any way. Some of them lead to dead ends. Others lead to stone stairs that are far too decayed for anyone with my angst level to climb. However, there were usually alternate routes to the ruins that, while they often tended to bring out my inner mountain goat, weren’t too panic-inducing for me to bear, or goat, as the case may be.

Looking down on Lower Town from Upper Town
Looking down on Lower Town from Upper Town

Having said that, the difficulty of finding my way along viable paths and, when I was ready, finding the steps back down, did occasionally raise intense fears that I’d get lost and not find my way back. There were moments when I thought, “I know I said a couple of days ago that that was the hill I was going to die on. Obviously, I was wrong. THIS is the hill I’m going to die on.” Thankfully, I was wrong again about the hill I’m going to die on.

Despite those fears, it was well worth the visit up to Upper Town to scramble up close to the ruins and to take in the on-high views of the sea, the mountains behind Gefyra, and Lower Town down below.

And I did manage to find my way back down safe and sound. Wonders never cease.

Monemvasia Summary

It’s easy to see why people wanted to live in Monemvasia back in the days when many, or maybe most, towns, nations and intermediate political stratifications had enemies eager to attack them. The single approach, the walls they built around Lower Town, and the sheer, high cliffs that naturally defend Upper Town, no doubt protected well the people who settled in Upper Town and Lower Town.

What’s more, the few cannons placed around town probably made quick work of any adversaries who managed to scale the other defences.

Of course, today, we scoff at such thinking. Now that the world is at peace and we all live in equanimity and harmony, there is no need for such defences.

Wait. Abandoned Upper Town is a bit too remote, but I wonder if there are any homes for sale in the Lower Town of Monemvasia. And let’s get a sturdy gate in that portal for goodness sake.

Gefyra, Brief Note

A Gefyra street
A Gefyra street

After walking back from Monemvasia, I had a bit of time to wander around Gefyra, the town on the mainland side of the causeway to Monemvasia. To be honest, I think it’s a meh town.

It’s fine, but the town doesn’t stand out. The buildings don’t have the Old World charm of many other European towns and cities, but it also isn’t daringly modern. It just exists. It’s probably nice to live in, but it doesn’t stand out as such.

Unless I missed something, or a lot of somethings, which is always a possibility, Gefyra’s high points are the adjacency of Monemvasia; the views of the sea, mountains and Momenvasia; and the town’s seashore.

South of the causeway, the seashore is a nice, wide seawall walk that extends much of the way to the southern end of town. North of the causeway there’s a pebble beach that extends a fair piece along that half of Gefyra’s waterfront.

CarPlay Update

Yesterday, I told you that I thought I found on the web a way to have Google Maps display its maps and navigation on CarPlay so I can use it, rather than Apple Maps, when driving. I went to my rental car today to try it. It works!

In fact, it’s kind of easy, just not intuitive. In case you ever need it, but don’t know how to do it, here it is:

Some of this may vary somewhat for different makes of car, but for the Hyundai I rented, when the car starts up, it first displays the car’s own menu options. Then it automatically displays Apple Maps, or at least it did for me. There’s a way to switch back to the car’s menu from Apple Maps.

What I didn’t know is there is an Apple CarPlay menu buried under that. There’s an icon on the car’s menu that brings up the Apple CarPlay menu. What showed on the screen when I brought it up were a bunch of Apple apps that come with iPhones, namely iMusic, Apple Maps, and I forget what else.

Google Maps didn’t show on the screen. But, I found I could scroll down with my finger on the car’s screen through the rest of my apps capable of interacting with CarPlay. And, when I did, there was Google Maps. I tapped on it and, Bob’s your uncle. Well, not literally unless Bob is already your uncle, but you know what I mean. Google Maps worked and displayed on the car’s screen.

I also found that I can go into my iPhone Settings > General > CarPlay and customize the order in which apps appear for each car I’ve ever connected to CarPlay. (There’s another car I rented before that it remembered.)

So I now have Google Maps appear on the first screen of the CarPlay menu. I also left Apple Maps on that first screen so I should be able to switch to it easily if necessary or desired.

Truly, I wish I had known this earlier.

I don’t have all that much driving left on this trip, but I’m going to switch to Google Maps to see if it too tries to kill me or if it’s just Apple Maps that wants me dead. For the life, or death, of me I don’t know why that would be. I’ve never given any money out of my pocket to Google. It gets revenue by presenting ads to me, but that’s it. On the other hand, I could afford a lot more travel were it not for all the money I’ve given Apple for its products and services.

(If this is the first entry you’ve read in my Greece trip posts, read the earlier ones to find out what I’m talking about when I say Apple Maps is trying to kill me.)


Damn! Or, for those of you who find the word “damn” offensive, gosh darn!

This was another long post after telling you I expected it to be a short one. That’s the second time in a row. Why you people ever trust me is a mystery to me. Then again, do you people ever trust me?


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