This least explored Mani peninsula is located in the southernmost part of mainland Greece, located in the Peloponissos (Peloponnes). The inhabitants are called Maniots.
Maniots are believed to be the most superstitious of the Greeks, in addition to having the distinction of the bloodline, to the ancient Spartans. Mainland Greece has a very odd shape down south, with the “three legs” (as the Greeks describe it) composed of very narrow and mountainous peninsulas with the Mani is in the middle.
Although the peninsula is small and very narrow, its landscape is very diverse. It features high, mountain, coastal cliffs, jagged mountains that slice through the peninsula in the middle, pristine
beaches hidden by cliffs, and high hills topped with fortresses. The vegetation consists mostly of shrubs and very small, stunted trees, in a semi arid climate.
The peninsula has many regions but I was fortunate enough to travel to Mesa Mani and Kato Mani. Although Mani is the least populated part of the peninsula, it is where the Sangias mountains exercise their domination. I will always have a soft spot where mountains are
For me, this was the most exciting part of the peninsula because of the Diros cave. These caves are subterranean and only assessable by boat, In very ancient Greek times, they were said to be the gates of the underworld where Charon ferries the souls into the world of the dead. Also, the gate to Vathia, a medieval fortress town which now is in ruins.
History does not reveal why the town was abandoned and what I find interesting is that so many fortress towns had high towers in them. Apparently, this peninsula is one of the three places in
Greece that still practice bloody vendettas (Crete is another). Families or family members hide in these towers for protection, from other families that seek their death.
One of the most fascinating stories I learned about the Mani, is that they have warring tempers resembling the ancient Spartans. If they are indeed the Spartan descendants, then the war-like character of their predecessors must be imbedded deep within their psyche, hence the practice of a vendetta?
It was only in the 1970’s that a road was built to connect Mani to mainland Greece, so it was isolated for years. It makes for fascinating speculation as the locals used boats to transport goods
from villages to village, from town to town. This alone has shaped its character.
The other side of Mani is called: Kato Mani (lower mani) yet it’s altitude is still high from the sea. Here lies the wreck of the Navagio Dimitrios, which stands alone..like an old rusting soldier. Roads are sliced into cliffs to connect towns to each other in beautiful landscapes.
We based ourselves in Gytheio, the largest town, for two days to explore what this hidden jewel of Greece has to offer. This was a trip to the hinterland of Greece but its wild, primitive beauty and history, was a tonic for my soul.