Mystras was a fortified town in Morea (the Peloponnesus), on Mt. Taygetos, near ancient Sparta. It lies approximately eight kilometres west of the modern town of Sparti.
In 1249, Mystras became the seat of the Latin Principality of Achaea, established in 1205 after the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, and Prince William II Villehardouin, a grand-nephew of the Fourth Crusade historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin, built a palace there.
In 1261, the Latins ceded Mystras and other forts in the southeastern Peloponnese as ransom for William II, who had been captured in Pelagonia, and Michael VIII Palaeologus made the city the seat of the new Despotate of Morea. It remained the capital of the despotate, ruled by relatives of the Byzantine emperor, although the Venetians still controlled the coast and the islands. Mystras and the rest of Morea became relatively prosperous after 1261, compared to the rest of the empire. Under the despot Theodore it became the second most important city in the empire after Constantinople, and William II’s palace became the second residence of the emperors.
Mystras was also the last centre of Byzantine scholarship; the Neoplatonist philosopher George Gemistos Plethon lived there until his death in 1452. He and other scholars based in Mystras influenced the Italian Renaissance, especially after he accompanied the emperor John VIII Palaeologus to Florence in 1439.
The last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, was despot at Mystras before he came to the throne. Demetrius Palaeologus the last despot of Morea, surrendered the city to the Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1460. The Venetians occupied it from 1687 to 1715, but otherwise the Ottomans held it until 1821 and the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. It was abandoned by King Otto for the newly rebuilt Sparta.
In 1989 the ruins, including the fortress, palace, churches, and monasteries, were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.