Western Mani Beauty

The Mani, the area in the southwestern finger of the Peloponnese, has traditionally been one of the harshest, driest, most remote areas of Greece. It was one of the only regions never really taken by the Ottomans (though that didn’t keep the Turks from trying). And it was the heart of the Greek independence movement, which saw its birthplace in the town of Areopoli in 1821. This man, Petros Mavromichalis, led the charge:

IMG_2438.jpg

Today Areopoli — fittingly named after Ares, the god of war — is one of the few towns of any size in the Mani. The guidebooks aren’t in love with it, but Jocelyn and I find the town appealing. We like walking down the streets …

IMG_2455.jpg

… poking around the shops …

IMG_2441

… and looking at the old churches and their frescos:

IMG_2443.jpg

IMG_2445.jpg

IMG_2463.jpg

I even got to ring the church bell (quietly) at one of the tiny churches! I love ringing church bells – every church has one – but Jocelyn usually puts the kibosh on my doing it.

71cc5c83-0c7e-4813-83c5-ab2c375c92c4.jpg

We also found our new favorite bakery of Greece, which I think is called το ψωμί της μηλιάς (Google translates this as “Bread Apple;” I’m not sure that makes any sense):

IMG_2451.jpg

IMG_2452.jpg

This bakery offered us our first glimpse at someone making Greek rusks, known as paximadi. They tear up loaves of bread and make them into giant dried croutons, which they later soak in water for salads or a dish with grated tomatoes and feta.

IMG_2453

We bought a warm cheese and phylo pastry at the bakery that was out of this world.

IMG_2491

Our next stop in the Mani was the small beach village of Limeni.IMG_2464.jpg

Limeni is incredibly picturesque, very clean and fairly new looking.

IMG_2474.jpg

We had a great swim there right off of the town docks, which also serve as a public swimming area.

IMG_2469

We staying in town for a terrific fish lunch at Takis Taverna. The grilled red snapper was simple and perfect. We took it down to the bone!

IMG_2494

This was our view out over the water from the veranda (and yes, the water really is this color): IMG_2498.jpg

We next drove south, zipping through the cute port town of Gerolimenas …

IMG_2502

… making a brief stop to see this ruined tower in Oitylo …

IMG_2508.jpg

… and finally committing to some beach time at Kyparissos.

IMG_2512.jpg

Wow, was this beach beautiful!

IMG_2515

But as we’ve learned to expect in the western Mani, it’s also incredibly rocky.

IMG_2520

To hear us getting in and out of the water (the word “ouch” is used a lot), you might wonder why we bother at all. But the swimming itself is lovely.

Our last stop along the southwestern coast of the Mani was in the village of Vathia. This town offers a good example of the way that the people of the Mani, known as Maniots, used to live: in huge, blocky, nearly windowless towers that were excellent for defensive purposes.

IMG_2543.jpg

The Maniots were interested in defending themselves from the Turks, but they were even more interested in defending themselves from other Maniots. The Maniots had a rich tradition of feuding and vendettas, one family sometimes trying to kill another down to the last man. So it was important to build structures in which you could barricade yourself safely indoors.

IMG_2526.jpg

Wealthy Athenians are now coming down to the Mani and restoring many of these towers, as in the photo above. But you can still wander around the ruins of other towers to see what life might have been like.

IMG_2533.jpg

Vathia ends up feeling like a ghost town – in June, at least, it’s deadly silent. When you poke around the ruins, you walk into rooms and find old mattresses with the stuffing spilling out, old chairs felled on the floor, or general chaos:

AOTI2090.jpg

Wanderings to and through these rooms have the potential to be incredibly unsafe. No matter how narrow and steep, the stairs have no railings …

IMG_2542.jpg

… many buildings have no roofs …

IMG_2530.jpg

… and lots of the walls look like they might fall down (perhaps right on top of you) at any minute:

IMG_2529.jpg

Here’s Jocelyn standing on a rooftop with no railings, next to a house whose roof has fallen in to create a big hole, and in front of a random electrical wire.

IMG_2541.jpg

This is pretty typical of Greece: they leave a lot of their ruins out in varying states of benign neglect. Maybe they figure that they have other, more significant ruins on which to spend their limited preservations reserves, or maybe they figure that these things have been standing for hundreds of years and a couple of Americans clambering around every once in a while won’t do much harm. In any case, we keep remarking on the fact that you can explore places that are hundreds of years old with very few limitations.

The southwestern Mani feels isolated and remote — it remains sparsely inhabited, hot, and dry. But it has a beauty all its own that makes it well worth a visit.

IMG_2550.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s