The island of Monemvasia was part of the mainland until it was cut off by an earthquake in AD 375. Its name means ‘single entry’ (moni – single, emvasia – entry), as there is only one way to the medieval town.
During the 6th century barbarian incursions forced inhabitants of the surrounding area to retreat to this natural rock fortress. By the 13th century it had become the principal commercial centre of Byzantine Morea – complementing Mystras, the spiritual centre. It was famous throughout Europe for its highly praised Malvasia-grape wine.
The Franks, Venetians and Turks all invaded in the following centuries. During the War of Independence its Turkish inhabitants were massacred after their surrender, following a three-month siege.