01 Apr We went exploring in the Mani
The Mani Peninsula is the southernmost and remotest frontier of the entire European continent and it really does feels like the end of the road. It’s a rural, relatively isolated peninsula with a dramatic scenery and a bloody history.
Travellers will find a region of rustic villages, untrampled beaches, numerous Byzantine and post Byzantine churches and chapels (there is a church in every corner – in a way it feels as if somebody threw the churches in from above which settled in a random cluster) and Frankish castles. The chapels are full of beautiful carved-marble stonework and frescos.
During the twilight of the Byzantine empire Maniots realized that the area formed a natural fortress from which they could defy all new comers and resist the Ottoman Empire.
The architecture of the area consists of tower houses and fortified family dwellings. Owing to their tower villages the Maniots resisted the sultan and acquired the reputation of ferocious and fearless fighters. Local stories and tales reveal a history of clan rivalries. This explains the isolated nature of the villages and family fortresses. Not only did the inhabitants of the area fought any new comers, they also fought each other!
The area is however relatively barren, (the Mani does not produce many things other than olive oil and honey!) and unable to support the population, so bloody feuds were fought among the powerful families for land, power and prestige.
Both men and women in the area are thought to be tough and unsentimental, although their emotions are expressed in mourning – and funeral dirges are a prominent feature of the local culture, still sung by women in black. In fact it feels as if the roughness of the scenery and the hardships and poverty they faced up until 30 years ago, have passed on to their genes and even on the lines of their faces.
Due to the remoteness of the area and the independent nature of its inhabitants some traditions developed separately from the rest of the Peloponnese and Greece, forming a very distinct society.
Up until 30 years ago most of these privately owned tower houses were deserted and crumbling. Nowadays many have been turned into holiday homes, while others have become hotels.
The leafiest part of the Mani lies in the west side overlooking the Golf of Messinia at the foot hill of a majestic mountain, Mount Taygetos, forming a plain of olive groves and cypress tress.
Two great British travel writers made “the Mani” known to the world. Patrick Leigh Fermor, who chose the village Kardamyli as his permanent home and Bruce Chatwin who used to visit him often. Leigh Fermor himself spread Chatwins ashes on the hills above Kardamyli, as the locals claim. The village of Kardamyli on the west side of the Mani is the gateway to the peninsula and its best home base. Its is the sort of village that one can still see old widows wearing black watching the world go by. Patrick Leigh Fermour spent most part of his life in a beautiful house in Kardamylli, wrote, swam the crystal waters and walked the many paths and trails in the area. Explore the trails of Kardamyli for yourself during a week long holiday at the Mani.