Less than 40 kilometers south east of Sparta, near the road that links Leonidio on the east coast with Gytheion or Monemvassia, Geraki Castle and the remains of the settlement below cling to the slopes of the Mount Parnon range. Also known as ‘the small Mystras’, Geraki faces west across the fertile plains of Laconia just as Mystras lies on opposite on the Taygetos range facing east across the same plain.
It may be hard to believe, but this little-known, out-of-the-way site was once one of the most important Frankish castles of the Peloponnese.
Like many of its contemporaries, Geraki Castle was built in the early part of the 13th century when most of the area had come under Frankish rule after the Crusaders’ Seige of Constantinople in 1204 caused the Byzantines to lose control. When the Principality of Achaea was formed it was divided into twelve baronies, and Geraki was created as one of them under the charge of the Baron Guy de Nivelet.
Only a decade or so after Geraki was built, the Franks were defeated by Byzantines at the Battle of Pelagonia in1259, which signalled the end of the Latin Empire. During 200 years or so of Byzantine rule that followed, Geraki grew in importance as a city.
After 1460, Geraki along with the rest of the area, was occupied by the Ottoman Turks, however they do not appear to have given the place much attention since they left little evidence of their presence behind. Nor is there much to indicate any great interest by the Venetians. Instead, the castle seems to have been deserted over the course of Ottoman rule.
On the other hand, as a result of ongoing restoration works, no less than ten Byzantine churches remain preserved on its site to this day as a testament to its high status in the Byzantine era. These date back from the 12th to the 15th century, with varying architectural styles. Almost all of them are still decorated with the original wall paintings of their time.
The best approach to the castle is by taking the ring road around the village of Geraki following signs for Agios Dimitrios, then there are signposts to the castle itself.
Entrance cost: Free
Opening days/times: Open Mon-Fri, 08:30–15:00
Closed Sat-Sun and on public holidays.
Other: Small car park at entrance.
Tel.: +30 2731025363, 2731028503
All images copyright Eric CB Cauchi / Eternal Greece Ltd, unless otherwise stated.