The history of the Kinsterna dates back many centuries, if not millennia. Just seven kilometers away was once an important Mycenaean settlement, followed centuries later by thriving coastal settlements that were sunk by two earthquakes in 365 and 375 AD sank them. In 583 AD, after the local Laconians laid the foundations of the castle to repel Slavic and Saracen invasions, the wellbeing of the outlying villages became tied inextricably to the fate of the castle. Monemvasia then passed on to the Byzantines, Ottomans and Venetians, the latter having landed right where the Kinsterna's vineyards are today.
Bridging ancient and recent history
As for the mansion itself, the original structure was built some time during the 17th century, although experts suspect that there was even a very similar building on the site many centuries before that. This theory is supported by the pi-shaped design which was common to sophisticated Ancient Greek and Roman mansions built around a life-bearing cistern. Interestingly, the word Cistern comes from Ancient Greek 'Kisti' which became Latin Cisterna and was reintroduced to Greek in Byzantine times as 'Kinsterna', alluding further to the possible ancient connection of this timeless place.
Against this backdrop, in 1670 Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi noted that there were many communal cisterns in Monemvasia in her time, although today only the Kinsterna seems to have survived intact, becoming an important heritage monument of the area. The Ottoman features of the building, such as small defensive openings, large chimneys, enigmatic inscriptions and large fireplaces are still evident today, fused with Byzantine and Venetian elements such as ceramic designs and marble inlays. The mansion's rich, complex past can also be seen through the remains of a stone oven (now rebuilt), defensive cannon, oil mill and holding cell that today has become a very unique and much coveted hotel suite (Room #25).
As the Ottoman era came to an end, the local owner Ibrahim Bey ceded the property in 1821 to the prominent Ritsos and Kapetsini families. The last "lady" of Monemvasia, Lina Kapetsini, lived in the mansion until the late 1970s before she passed away, leaving the property to fall into disrepair.
Rebirth of a jewel
In 2006 a prestigious team of architects, engineers and designers began the restoration of the mansion in cooperation with the authority of Byzantine Antiquities, using traditional methods and local materials. Many local artisans and craftsmen who were handed down their skills from generation to generation contributed to this masterpiece. The Kinsterna was reborn as a boutique hotel in 2010, despite the sheer size of the project and many challenges involved.
Today there are numerous features in the mansion's original construction and design that can be spotted everywhere and deserve a guided tour by one of the hotel's knowledgeable staff members. From the old chandeliers, armchairs and inside water canal to the handmade lace in the rooms and studded fireplace, each chamber has a unique story to tell.
For centuries, the landowner's estate that later became the Kinsterna Hotel was an island of self-sufficiency and sustainability in a flourishing, bountiful natural environment. Fed by the constant spring water that sprouts from the land, the estate nourished the people around it and undoubtedly contributed to the local economy, as some of the historic records from Ottoman and Venetian times show.
These traditional practices – from a time when fields were naturally organic and communities were economically independent – form the backbone of the Kinsterna's philosophy today and that of its owners. With a dedicated drive to revive and strengthen age-old practices (harvesting, winemaking, knitting, fishing, baking, cooking, traditional building, etc.), the management has consciously gone to great lengths to ensure that the local community and the region benefit from this impressive model of sustainability.
Another major pillar of the Kinsterna's philosophy is based on emphasizing the human factor and the concept of warm, welcoming hospitality – known with pride across Greece as 'filoxenia'. Guests at the Kinsterna will immediately be struck by how warm, helpful and professional all staff members are, with a genuine desire to welcome you to their own little piece of paradise in the Southern Peloponnese.
Sustainability at a glance:
- Hiring local staff (around 90%)
- Reviving local traditions
- Reviving local cuisine
- Lobbying for stronger community ties and involvement
- Preserving local heritage and architecture
- Encouraging local producers and artisans
- Contributing to quality tourism of the area
- Highlighting local attractions and history
- Instilling a sense of pride and ownership in employees
- Strengthening the Greek concept of hospitality or 'filoxenia'
- Promoting local history and culture (visit the Kinsterna library)
Green practices at a glance:
- Towel recycling program
- Natural and ecological bedding by Cocomat
- Local natural toiletries
- Only endemic plants and herbs in gardens
- Pools filled with running spring water and rainwater from the nearby mountains
- Composting of waste
- Organic waste treatment of sewage
- Use of local and natural building materials such as black stone, as well as Greek wood, pebble and marble
- Promotion of hiking trails
- Promotion of biking activity
- Production of local wine and olive oil
- Spa treatments inspired by local ingredients
- Use of local cooking ingredients (produce, meat, chicken, herbs, wine, olive oil)
- Procurement of local organic and free-range food wherever possible