Throughout the fourteenth century and the first decades of the fifteenth Mystra was the principal cultural and intellectual centre of the Byzantine world, attracting the finest Byzantine scholars and theologians and sponsoring a renaissance in the arts. Most notable of the court scholars was the humanist philosopher Gemisthus Plethon, who revived and reinterpreted Plato’s ideas, using them to support his own brand of revolutionary teachings, which included the assertions that land should be redistributed among labourers and that reason should be placed on a par with religion. Although his beliefs had limited impact in Mystra itself – whose monks excommunicated him – his followers, who taught in Italy after the fall of Mystra, exercised wide influence in Renaissance Florence and Rome.

More tangibly, Mystra also was home to the final flourish of Byzantine architecture, with the building of a magnificent palace for the despots and a perfect sequence of churches, multi-domed and brilliantly frescoed.

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