Forgive us for this obsession with a shipwreck, but it is almost inescapable if one has spent as much time as we have traversing the Mediterranean on a sailboat. Within a couple of miles of Gythios, the town on the eastern shore of the Mani peninsula we were headed for, we swept around a broad bay high up on the mountainside and there below was the remains of the ‘Dimitris.’  About two hundred feet long and clearly of Greek registry, it was stranded on a lovely sand beach and had evidently been there for a long time.

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If you look closely at the photo below you can clearly see through the hull itself as waves wash through her.

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Indeed, she has even become a backdrop for sunbathing ladies.

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We probably spent a good hour walking down the beach from where we could park to the wreck and checking it out from all angles available from shore.  Only what we knew lay ahead was enough to get us moving again.

We had come to Gythios because it offered easy access to the two great centers of Byzantine culture when it was at its peak in medieval times.  Aside from Constantinople, the greatest Byzantine city was Mystra, built high on a mountainside very close to ancient Sparta.  It consists of three parts. Atop it all is the fortress or castle, almost impregnable behind its fortifications and atop tall vertical cliffs on two sides which fall off steeply to a gorge below.  It was first built by the Franks in 1249 and thus first a seat of knightly chivalry on the route to the Holy Land.

Mystras Peloponnese, Greece

Make no mistake, the climb up to the castle is at least arduous, but from there one can look down on what is called the Upper City with the huge palace undergoing restoration, and to the Lower City where the merchants and the commoners lived.

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Mystras Peloponnese, Greece_1

The Palace of the Despots in the Upper City was huge and consisted of a Great Hall, heated by eight giant fireplaces, and a separate wing for housing the royals and their followers.  The open space in front served as a sort of town square, and the arched area beneath the main building was home to the royal guards and military.

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Everywhere as you journey down into the lower buildings are the remains of what was once a major city, though all that remains are scattered arches and walls.

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Having spent an exhausting morning climbing the ruins, we parked Rocky Renault next to a quiet cool spot down below by to a river in a eucalyptus grove for lunch.

Lunch break, Peloponnese, Greece

The other great medieval Byzantine center in the Peloponnese is Monemvasia, inevitably compared to Gibraltar.  It too is a huge rock connected to the mainland by only a narrow causeway and is thus a bastion against attack as well since the only access is through a gate at the end of the causeway.  There is no way to attack up its vertical flanks.

Monenmvasia, Peloponnese, Greece

Its recorded history seems to start in about 580 AD and it has been in the hands of any number of rulers over time, though its peak as a Byzantine center occurred at the end of the 13th century.  Its populace withstood many a siege including one which lasted three years and only ended when there was simply no more food for the inhabitants.

Today it is considered by many the most romantic spot in all of Greece.  Its narrow lanes wander down its length and breadth, and charming churches, homes and shops are everywhere.  It is inescapably beautiful.

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Monenmvasia, Peloponnese, Greece_1

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Monenmvasia, Peloponnese, Greece 2