Mani. The name conjures images of a wild and dramatic past; of a rugged, inhospitable interior married to idyllic turquoise bays and welcoming harbor towns.
The Maniot people consider themselves descendants of the ancient Spartans, and that warrior character has continued through the ages. The Maniots (Maniates/Mανιάτες in Greek) were notorious for their grudges and vendettas, and their architecture illustrates this. Their famous stone tower houses dot the harsh brown landscape. The towers served as battlements during centuries of feuds and rivalries. Today they remain - some abandoned and others refurbished - as a reminder of the area's tumultuous past. Mani was also a stronghold for the insurgents, known as "klephts" - literally "bandits" - of the War of Greek Independence in the early 1800s.
Mani is located in the center prong of the three peninsulas of the Peloponnese, in the south of Greece, and the region straddles the prefectures of Lakonia and Messinia. It's also the location of Hades - at least, what the ancient Greeks believed to be the entrance to Hades - Cape Tainaron, the southernmost point of mainland Greece. The peninsula is also home to the stunning and very underworld-like Dirou Caves, which I visited as a teen, but unfortunately have no photos of for this gallery.
The capital is Areopoli, which means City of Ares, who was the god of war. (There's that war-like echo again.) But the Old Town of Areopoli couldn't be farther from war-like; it's a beautiful, cobblestoned pedestrian area lined with tiny tavernas and artisan shops, bursting with potted flowers and wildly colorful tables and chairs where you can order anything from crepes to braised rooster in red wine.
I started my Mani road trip in the iconic town of Gythio (sometimes called Gythion). It is the quintessential postcard of a Greek fishing town. Then the trip wound around the stony hills to towns like the much-photographed Vathia, which is probably the most "Mani" of Mani towns, with it's panoramic collection of tower houses, to harbor villages like Gerolimanas with it's crystal green water, to aquamarine beaches so small I didn't get their names.
Enjoy this little tour of Mani! And better yet, GO if you can!
(Click on images to enlarge. All photography by me.)
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