An Odyssey to Monemvassía
A cruise along the southern tip of Greece’s Peloponnesus brings a crew to this walled and mysterious city
The mountainous coast was dark, silent, and empty. But occasionally, high up on the hillside, there would be a flickering of light. Perhaps it was a small chapel. The Greeks build little white churches in the most remote and inaccessible places possible. You’ll often see them at the top of mountains. They haunt the landscape. Then, after I’d seen nothing for several miles, there appeared a string of lights in the shape of the cross. It must have spanned hundreds of yards. I was reminded of the words of Lord Byron: “Where’er we tread ’tis haunted, holy ground.”
Low in the eastern sky, Venus faded in the early light of dawn. I woke up the crew. Over a breakfast of crusty bread, feta cheese, and strong coffee, we watched Monemvassía emerge. At first, it appeared to be a barren mountain towering above the shore, but as we came closer, we could see thick walls running across its base and extending upward. Gradually, we began to see the shapes of roofs and domes within the walls, and these took on shades of color. If we’d been the vanguard of the Venetian fleet approaching by sea, the impression would have been one of impregnability. When we were within a few hundred yards, we could see that the rock was connected to the mainland by a small bridge. The little city was built on a steep incline and climbed upward between narrowing walls. At the top of the rock, beyond the ramparts, it appeared that all was in ruins except for a single church sitting alone at the very edge of the precipice.
We doused sail and motored into Gefyra, a town on the mainland with a ferry dock and 20 slips for visitors. We had to muscle our way into the only slip available between a finger pier and a broad-beamed sailboat flying the French flag. As I jammed a fender between the two boats, a puffy-faced skipper poked his head out and mumbled a less than friendly greeting. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled apologetically, and pointed to Vasilis. It was a tight squeeze, but there was no damage done, and our new friend went back to bed. The bad news was that there were absolutely no services available; the good news was that there were no charges or regulations. In my mind, this represented a reasonable compromise.