On the nearby mainland many traces are found from ancient Greek times. The island of Monemvasia was probably inhabited before the Byzantine period. But an earthquake destroyed everything in the fifth century CE.  According to The Chronicle of Monemvasia (a medieval text of unknown origin that describes the Avaro-Slavic conquest and colonization of mainland Greece, covering a period from 587 to 805 CE) the town was founded in the 6th century CE. Most of the archaeological evidence bears witness to Monemvasia’s heyday from the 11th to the 14th century, as well as during the 17th and 18th century.

From the 10th century Monemvasia developed into an important maritime and mercantile centre. Subsequently the imperial family of the Palaeologoi issued chrysobulls (documents) granting it special trading privileges, aimed at bolstering its economy. During the period of the town’s period of prosperity its fortunes were regulated by powerful local families, the Evdaimonoyannis, Sofianos and Mamonas. By the 13th century Monemvasia was an episcopal see, remaining the strongest in the Peloponnese until the end of the 14th century.

After the breakup of the Byzantine empire the castle was governed at intervals by the Venetians (1460-1540 and 1690-1715) and the Ottomans (1540-1690 and 1715-1821). Trade flourished and there was considerable building activity in the lower city as well as in the upper city with the castle on top of the hill. Monemvasia continued to be one of the wealthiest cities in the territory after 1715. The caretaker of the museum told me that whoever conquered the place made sure it wasn’t destroyed, because the town was strategically important for war and for trade. Thus the citizens were spared and the medieval structure of the lower city survived until today.

During the Orloff revolt (1770) in the Russo-Turkish War, many Monemvasians were captured or killed and the city was looted, and the city lost its glory. But with the tourist industry booming Monemvasia is now experiencing a revival and a great attraction for guests from all over the world.