After being disappointed at the lack of remains of ancient Sparta, Gilbert was surprised by the extent of Byzantine remains on the top of the small mountain at nearby Mistra. Below the Frankish castle at the top lay the Byzantine churches and houses of the provincial capital of southern Greece. Through ports around the Peloponnese occupied by Venetians, Mistra was increasingly aware of the Italian Renaissance. Its latest buildings such as the governor’s palace and the church of the Pantanassa monastery displayed architectural features seen in contemporary Florence. Italian scholars, already aware of Aristotle, were fascinated to be exposed to Plato by Gemistos Pletho, the most famous citizen of Mistra.
After its capture in 1460 by Mehmet the Conqueror, Mistra was gradually abandoned, only to be rediscovered and resurrected as a symbol of Hellenic cultural and architectural continuity from antiquity through the Byzantine millennium down to 19th century Greece. It was a revelation to Gilbert.
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