KINSTERNA HOTEL IN MONEMVASIA: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

Nov 03, 2019 94
Published in MR. POSH

THE MANSION 

The Kinsterna Hotel is a Byzantine mansion which has been faithfully and meticulously restored with great respect for its long history.

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Winner of numerous international distinctions and awards, the Kinsterna today is a true paradise for nature lovers. Words alone cannot describe the peace and quiet, the clean air and the majestic atmosphere of the mansion and its estate – all with a view of the legendary castle-rock of Monemvasia.

The Kinsterna Hotel is located in the settlement of Agios Stephanos, 7 kilometres south-west of Monemvasia in the southern Peloponnese and is built on the edge of the “Ibrahim Bey estate”.

The fertile 22-acre estate contains centuries-old olive trees, mainly of the local “Athinolia” variety, numerous citrus trees and an orange grove producing the famous Monemvasia oranges. Fruit-bearing trees have been a feature of the estate since the early 19th century, and whenever individual trees die they are replaced by traditional native varieties. There are also impressive stands of ancient eucalyptus trees and towering cypresses, vegetable gardens and beds of flowers and aromatic herbs. Across from the manor house on 5 acres of gentle sloping land lie Kinsterna’s private vineyards featuring native Greek varietals such as Kidonitsa, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and Monemvasia – from which we produce our own vintage wines.

Kinsterna’s owners have revived the traditional agricultural practices and occupations of the estate, such as: harvesting grapes, making olive oil, distilling tsipouro (traditional Greek spirits), baking bread and producing soap – creating a working model of sustainability that lies at the heart of their goal to make the estate as autonomous and self-sufficient as possible - as it was centuries ago.

Enjoy the delicious local specialties prepared by our chef and his team; relax by the sparkling pools filled with fresh water from mountain springs; browse rare volumes in the estate library; sample the wines from our own cellar; revitalize your senses at the atmospheric Kinsterna Spa, or hike through the verdant hills surrounding the estate, and enjoy majestic views and the beauties of nature. Kinsterna also organizes historical, cultural and athletic events and activities, which are intimately connected to the estate and specially designed for visitors who wish to learn more about the mansion’s region and history.

 

History

The region’s history dates back hundreds of years, if not thousands. At a distance of 10.6 kilometres north of Monemvasia, on the hill named “Kastraki” (“Little Castle”), there was an important Mycenean centre. In the 6th Century B.C., Dorian Argives built the city of Epidaurus Limira on this hill, which developed into an important administrative and residential centre in classical times.

Above the estate, on the hill “Kastraki”, one can see remains of a Hellenistic fortress (250 B.C.), which served as the fortified border outpost of Epidaurus Limira. In the Limnes area (about 1 km from the estate) you can see in the courtyard of the Church of Agia Thekla various architectural elements that may have come from the ancient sanctuary of Artemis Limnatis, which was described by Pausanias (170 A.D.) in his travels. In classical times, tufa limestone quarries used to operate in the areas of Nomia and Agios Fokas (relevant studies in the estate library). The great earthquakes of 365 and 375 A.D. destroyed and submerged the coastal settlements of the region.

In 583 A.D., after the local Laconians laid the foundations for the fortress to protect themselves from raids by both Slavs and Saracens, the security of the outlying villages in the region became irrevocably tied to the fate of the castle-fortress. After the fall of Byzantium, Monemvasia came under Venetian rule (1461-1540), then passed to Ottoman control (1540-1690) before reverting once again to the Venetians, who landed in the “Ambelakia” (“little vines”) region (1689), where Kinsterna’s vineyards are located today. After a year, they succeeded in taking the fortress, which they held until 1715, when the Ottoman’s recaptured and held it until 1821.

 

Bridging ancient and recent history

The early history of the mansion is lost in the mists of time, and, unfortunately, no records have been found regarding the original structure and the time of its construction. The age of the lintels in the Reception area and in Room 37, according to a study carried out by Democritus Institute, places their likely dates of construction at 1667-1783 and 1720-1784 respectively. The manor house is situated in an ideal position for monitoring the area and forms a classic “Π” shape common to medieval defensive structures. The interior courtyard is dominated by a great cistern encircled by 20 imbedded columns. The mansion actually owes its name to this unique and imposing cistern, since the word “kinsterna” traces a circuitous route from the ancient Greek “kisti”, which then joined with the Latin “sterna” to become “cisterna” and then reentered Byzantine Greek as “kinsterna”.

In 1670, the Ottoman traveler Evliya Ҫelebi noted that there were many public wells and cisterns in Monemvasia and that these comprised important monuments of the region’s cultural heritage. Ottoman characteristics of the building, such as its embrasures and gun holes and the large fireplaces and chimneys are still evident today, combined with Byzantine and Venetian elements most clearly visible in the exterior faces of the walls and the ceramic designs and brickwork. The rich and complex past of this fortress-manor can also be traced in the base of a defensive cannon, in the estate’s olive-press, in a detention cell that today comprises the mansion’s most unique and sought-after suite (Byzantine Suite 25) or in hidden storage rooms (Kinsterna Suite 39).

After the Revolution of 1821, the manor and its estate, whose previously recorded owner was Ibrahim Bey, passed to the ownership of the new Greek State. In 1870, the estate was purchased by the Kapitsini family. A portion of the manor complex was inhabited until the 1970s by Lina Kapitsini, the last “Lady” of Monemvasia. After 1980, the property was gradually abandoned to the elements. By 2002 when it was purchased by its current owners, nature had once again taken over and was slowly destroying the manor house and outlying buildings.

 

The rebirth of a jewel

In 2006, a talented and experienced team of architects, engineers and designers began to restore the mansion, in close cooperation with the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. Throughout this painstaking process, traditional methods and materials (both old and newly crafted from local sources) were employed. During the restoration process, a great deal of original and local materials were used: cypress wood, reeds from nearby wetlands, slate slabs for paving and roofs, handmade ceramic elements from Geraki, old Pendelic marble, hand-made forged iron doors and various antique items such as lanterns, chandeliers, chairs, etc. Many craftsmen from the surrounding region, whose skills have been handed down from generation to generation, contributed their passion and know-how to this masterpiece as well. The Kinsterna was reborn as a boutique hotel in 2010, despite the enormous size and complexity of the project and its many challenges.

During your tour, you will discover many elements and characteristics from the original construction and design of the mansion. From the Byzantine domes and internal water pipes and conduits to the handmade embroideries and original fireplaces in the rooms, every part of this splendid building has its own unique story to tell.

 

Philosophy

For many centuries, this property, which later witnessed the revival of Kinsterna manor, was a model of autonomy and sustainability, functioning harmoniously within a rich and lively natural environment. Fed by abundant flowing water from natural springs, the estate nourished the people living on it and undoubtedly contributed to the local economy, as shown by historical archives from the Byzantine and Ottoman years.

These traditional practices and occupations – from a time when communities were economically independent – lie at the heart of Kinsterna’s model of sustainability and of its owners’ philosophy and vision. With special emphasis on reviving and strengthening these ancient practices (harvesting grapes and making wine and tsipouro, gathering olives and producing olive oil, baking bread, making soap, weaving fabric on the traditional loom, etc.), the owners have consciously made great efforts to ensure that the local community and wider region will benefit from this impressive model of sustainability.

Another important pillar of Kinsterna’s philosophy is based on a cultivation and celebration of the human element in warm, sincere and welcoming hospitality – a well-known point of pride throughout Greece. Visitors to Kinsterna may be surprised by the friendly (and at the same time consummately professional) attitude and performance of the entire staff, who are genuinely eager to welcome visitors to this little corner of paradise in the southern Peloponnese. This is their home, and it gives them both pride and pleasure to share it with our guests.

 

MONEMVASIA

Monemvasia, known by the Franks as “Malvasia”, is a small, historic town in the southeastern Peloponnese, in the Epidauros Limira region of the prefecture of Laconia. It is better known for the medieval fortress on the “Rock of Monemvasia”, a small island connected to the mainland town by a 400-metre causeway. The surviving buildings and defensive structures of the fortress include impressive ramparts, gates and numerous small Byzantine churches.

Monemvasia’s name comes from two Greek words: “Mone” (“single”, “only”) and “emvasis” (“entrance”), in other words: “a place with only one entrance” – further highlighting its defensive advantages. Because it resembles a smaller version of the Rock of Gibraltar, Monemvasia’s nickname is “Gibraltar of the East”.

In 583 A.D., Laconians built fortifications on the island and moved there to defend against the frequent raids by Slavs and Aravs. Since that time, the fate of the surrounding region of Agios Stefanos has been closely tied to that of the fortress. The fertile coastal fields and gardens of the region supplied the residents of the fortress with food necessary for their survival. All along the foothills and slopes of Mount Parnonas one can find towers, fortifications and Byzantine churches from the Venetian and Ottoman periods. In the surrounding region there are many Byzantine churches from the 13th and 14th Century (Teria, Pantanassa). One such church, Panagia (13th – 14th Century) is the best preserved medieval church in the region and is located on the ancestral property of the family of Yiannis Ritsos, one of Greece’s most important 20th-Century poets, and 1.5 km from Kinsterna.

Monemvasia was occupied by the Franks for only a few years (1246-1259). In 1461, the fortress surrendered to the Pope and was then handed over to the Venetians by the last Byzantine lord, Nicholas Palaiologos, in 1540 (1st Venetian occupation). A long period of Ottoman occupation ensued (1540-1690). In 1689, the Venetians once again occupied the fortress. In 1715, the Turks took over Monemvasia from the Venetians and either murdered or took hostage all the local authorities. The post-Byzantine history of Monemvasia ends on July 21, 1821 – when, after a long siege, the Turks handed over the keys of the fortress-town to Prince Alexander Katakouzinos. 

 

SIGHTS & SITES

The southern Peloponnese has a cornucopia of amazing sights, majestic natural wonders and picturesque places to visit by car. 

 

The Medieval fortress of Monemvasia

The gorgeous castle town of Monemvasia is an authentic treasure of enormous historical, architectural, cultural and geographical importance. Today, its historic churches, castle walls, low arches, vaulted passageways and its winding cobbled streets and alleys all speak of its medieval past. This Byzantine fortress, coveted down through the ages by all the powers around the Mediterranean: Venetians, Franks, Arabs, Saracens and Turks, stands imperiously at the entrance to one of the most enchanting corners of the Peloponnese. The medieval fortress town is only a ten-minute drive from the estate, and while there you can visit the Upper Town at the top of the plateau with its 13th Century Byzantine church of St. Sophia. You can also enjoy a special excursion with the Kinsterna boat and view the medieval fortress as pirates did centuries ago – from the sea.

The Cave of Kastania

While staying at the Kinsterna, a truly magical experience involves visiting the 1,500-square-metre Jurassic-era Cave of Kastania, only the second of its kind in Europe and by all accounts, one of the most colourful and impressive caves anywhere – with fantastical stalagmites, stalactites and crystal formations. Getting there by car takes about 1 ½ hours, while you can also visit the cave with the estate’s boat.

The ancient submerged city of Pavlopetri

If your imagination is fired by mythical civilizations and long-lost cities beneath the sea, there is such a wonder to be found within a 45 minutes drive of the Kinsterna. Below the crystal-clear, turquoise waters across from the island of Elafonissos (“Deer island”) lie the ruins of the city of Pavlopetri, the oldest submerged city in the Mediterranean, while another fascinating submerged city, Asopos, lies just off the sandy beach of Plytra.

Gerakas

You should really visit this lovely traditional fishing village set in a unique natural fjord at Europe’s southernmost tip. The landward end of the fjord comprises an important natural wetlands area, ideal for birdwatching and a favorite resting (and wintering) place for migrating birds of all kinds thanks to its shallow, clean waters and abundant food. As a unique ecosystem, Gerakas provides a safe haven for swans, mallards and many other kinds of fish and fowl. Visitors also find Gerakas a wonderful place to visit and eat, with fish restaurants and traditional cafés right on the water’s edge – and with a priceless view of both sea and mountain. And only 200 metres away lie the ruins of the ancient city of Zarakas (200-150 B.C.).

Petrified Forest

East of the nearby town of Neapolis are the remains of a petrified forest by the sea, where you can still see numerous fossils and sections of ancient palm trees that turned to stone millions of years ago. A spectacular, secluded location, with many coves and beaches, this miracle of nature is listed in the Atlas of Geological Monuments of the Aegean.

Talanta Watermill

The last remaining water-powered mill of the 11 that used to operate in the area, the newly restored and truly functioning Talanta Mill is an exceptional example of traditional technology. It sits in a splendid natural landscape full walnut, plane and myrtle trees, while the watermill of Vrysika, only 20 minutes from Kinsterna, is also worth exploring.

Mani

You can visit Areopolis on west coast of Mani, a very scenic drive of only 98km. An historic settlement which fiercely defended its independence under Turkish rule, Areopolis has been designated a restored architectural monument and still maintains the traditional color and atmosphere of Mani.

Kyparissi

Rock-climbing enthusiasts will certainly want to visit Kyparissi, a climber’s paradise featuring at least 15 climbing routes through vertical limestone walls, stalagmites and caves.

Geraki

On a small hill overlooking the traditional village of Geraki with its many splendid 12th-Century Byzantine churches, you will find a unique Byzantine fortress, hiking to which is a wonderful experience in itself.

Ottoman residence at Megalo Perivoli (Grand Orchard)

A scenic 35-minute drive from the Kinsterna mansion brings you to an old Ottoman residence (circa 1760) in the Megalo Perivoli area, next to the village of Koulentia. One can also reach the residence via an even more scenic Byzantine footpath dating from 1300 A.D. (2 hours by foot from Kinsterna).

Teria

In this uninhabited settlement there are two adjoining Byzantine churches from the 13th Century, with a gushing spring in their shared sanctuary. Tradition has it that construction of the churches was begun by the daughter of Emperor Emmanuel Palaiologos. Recent restoration and conservation work has been undertaken thanks to support from the Leventis Foundation and Mrs. Haris Kalligas. From Kinsterna, Teria is a short, scenic drive (8.5km, of which 2km is on unpaved road).

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