Monemvasia, as a word derives from the composition of two different words “Moni” meaning “The only” and “Emvasis” meaning “Entrance”, in other words the only entrance to the Rock and the renowned Castle Town. The image of the only entrance, today, which connects land with the Rock, through a narrow panhandle- part of which was cut to become a small horizontal bridge, under which small boats were able to pass -was formed after 1890, when the road from land to the Gate of the Castle became vehicular (it is actually said that it was the only highway, which ended in a dead end!) Until then there was an older bridge, at the end of which and at the side of the Rock, a tower had been built.
This bridge consisted of 13 domes that went across 14 openings among masonry pillars built in the water, which in various parts were enhanced with buttresses or other forms of retaining structures. The openings were 14, because, as they started off from land, after the first three, the domes were interrupted and there was an opening that remained in a horizontal structure where the bridge existed, which in the 13th century was recorded as retractable.
At the end of this bridge, there was a tower, which was surrounded by two lower walls with embrasure on its right and left side, which are known as “wings”. These almost rectilinear parts on the left and right sides of the wall, at the end of the bridge have been saved, but there is still one more part still remaining in the continuation of the bridge.
The northern part is almost 40 cm thick, while the other parts 50. In their highest part a continual alignment of embrasure is opened up. Only the lower part of the southeastern side of the tower has been saved, along with the pillar of the gate, from which all the people who entered to reach the Rock had to walk through. This must be the one that coincides with the Gate “Sideraia” referred to during the first period of the Venetian rule.
The operation of the Gate Sideraia must have been restricted to the control of the people who entered the Castle from a small number of men. Therefore, the oldest saved illustration of Monemvasia, in a 1541 block print, shows only four domes in the bridge and in the middle an opening for the passage of boats. The “wings” look like a tall cohesive wall in the exit to the Rock, with one gate in that wall, while the tower has been designed in a comparative distance.
The existence of the bridge is suggested from the establishment of the town, but evidence concerning the date, when the construction that had been saved was created, is not provided.
It has been attributed to the Venetians in an unsolicited way; with no evidence at all, whatsoever.
The bridge saved was not constructed by the Venetians.
A bridge of this kind was a very important technical work and there is no record, nor a single clue, source, report or any other sort of information that could lead to the conclusion that either during the first or the second period that the town was under their rule, was it programmed, funded or constructed by the Venetian administration.
From Venetian recorded reports, it has been confirmed that the bridge existed before the first Venetian rule. Even if, the fact that the bridge was constructed in the middle or early byzantine period cannot be completely ruled out, its strong typological connection to the form of bridges of the period of Ioustinianos or even of older periods, like the roman, leave only slight doubts about its construction.
This utterly impressive work, with its 13 domes, should be integrated in the scale of important works that took place on the establishment of the town in the 6th century.
As time went by, the bridge underwent a lot of destructions, some of which were repaired while some others were not. Therefore, in 1668 the retractable bridge did not seem to be working, probably because of some sort of destruction. The picture of 1890 is a record, revealing abandonment of both the bridge and the tower.
After the “wings”, an area, which reportedly flourished in Monemvasia during the byzantine period, stretched; it was the region of the port, the source of prosperity of Monemvasia, which according to various sources, was located on the Rock.
The facilities of the port stretched over both sides of the endings of the bridge. The northern part includes the natural pan, where relics of ancient use are revealed, while the pan on the southern part is shallow and protected by northern winds.
In the port, there were no wharves and goods in and out of the ships must have been conducted by boats, while long docking in the port on the area of the Rock was limited.
(The passage is based on research, evidence and information from the book “Monemvasia, a Byzantine City State” by Haris A. Kalliga, Potamos publications)