H Mani (The Mani)

(Leap straight to the pictures.)

The Mani is a section of Greece that I really love. It is hard to imagine why anyone would visit the rest of Greece more than once. My main experiences there were about 30 years ago, and theses pages mostly reflect that. I have made a brief visit once more recently (spring 2003), and I have found that there are significant changes.

When I started this site, there wasn't much on the web about the Mani. Now there are a number of sites better than mine. I highly recommend:

This area of Greece has a unique history that makes it quite different from anywhere else. Even in classic times the people of the Mani were noted for their uniqueness, and their fearsome reputation in war has even become part of the English language. (gr. Mani => en. mania (by way of latin), hence maniac)

The area has Karst topography, which has the side effect of it having essentially no water table above sea level. Historicly this has meant that farming was done by collecting the water in cisterns in the rainy season, and using it for the fields in the dry season. This means that EVERY area of fields has cisterns. The amount of effort needed to support the farming effort that one sees on every hillside was enormous. When the Government put the new road through the area most of the young people left, and got less back-breaking work elsewhere. The population when I was last through (1974) was just a shadow of its former glory. Many of the villages that could be reached only on the old road network were empty.

The people of the Mani have a reputation in Greece (among their other reputations) of being cold and stern. I don't believe that this is deserved. They are somewhat less outgoing than much of the rest of Greece, and they don't suffer jerks and fools well, which may be part of the reason they are seen as cold. But once you talk to them, and if you behave yourself reasonably, you'll find them as good a people to know as exists anywhere.

They celebrate Greek independence day a week early, because that is when THEY started to fight. This can tell you a lot about this area, and reflects their historical independence and culture. The people can described as either determined or stuborn depending on how you see the world. They were one of the last sections of Greece to accept Christianity, long after the rest of europe. They have historicly been a place far from the center of Greece, but not always of politics.

The Mani is a place of strange contrasts. It appears at first glance to be as patriarchal as anywhere in Greece, but it also the place where the women of one village (successfully!) fought off a landing of the Turkish navy when the men were at war. It is a place of often barren hills, with world-class caves underneath. It is a place of minimal paved roads, but 100's of miles of old stone work roads. It is a place of striking small beaches, and also rugged harborless coastline.

I have no idea why it isn't the main tourist destination of the country.

Random Pictures

I have a few random unorganized pictures of the area. They were all taken in the 1972-1974 time period. The are grouped by section below.


Roads

One of the things that endears this area to me is the old road network. The old roads are called "Kalderimi" locally. (I may have misspelled this.) [This appears to be a word borrowed from Turkish] The Government brute forced a modern road through the area in the mid 1960's, so that it was connected to the rest of Greece, but totally ignored (and in places distroyed the old network. A much later effort (late 1970's?), to put roads to all the villages, has distroyed major sections of the old road network.

The old roads were stone work, and tie all the old villages together. It was a massive undertaking, with many of the stone work roads going many uninterruped miles between villages. The roads are generally not maintained anymore, but are of a quality that most of the network is still servicible. The roads are about 2 meters wide.

The roads have steps in places, and were clearly designed for foot travel and not vehicle traffic. They make wonderfull walks, and are trivial to do on a mountain bike. Since they are stone, they are as bumpy as cobblestones (and they have steps) so they would be difficult to do on a road bike. Where the old road network intersects the new government road the old road may abruptly drop 4 meters or more. The people that put in the new road seemed to either ignore the old road or go out of their way to chop up and ruin the old network.


Villages

The area was once known for blood feuds. The villages used the ever present rocks to make towers for defense. The villages, therefore, have a character unlike anywhere else in Greece.

I didn't get the name of this village when I was there, and for thrity years I've wondered. Thanks to John Chapman, I now know. This village is called "Prophet Ilias", not to be confused with the various other mountains of the same name in the area. The village is on the east coast of inner (Mesa) Mani, North of Lagia, and south of Kokala. It is directly up the ridge from Dhimaristika (which just one ridge south from Spira).

If anyone visits this place, I would be curious as to whether or not it is still inhabited. When I was last there (1974) it appeared to have only two residents... A very nice old gentleman, and a woman I took to be in her 20's. The old man was very proud of his village, and I never got to talk to the woman.

I suspect that he is probably long gone, but if he's there I wonder if he remembers the American that wandered into his village some 30 years ago...

Nowadays there is a dirt road to the town (which didn't exist 30 years ago) so I suspect it is now possible to drive there.


Castle of Kelefa

Thirty years ago the castle of Kelefa could only be reached on the old road network, although it could be seen for miles away. Newer roads now make it accessible from Kelefa, although putting in those roads distroyed large sections of the old road network


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This page is http://www.cc.utah.edu/~nahaj/Mani/
© Copyright 2001 by John Halleck, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last modified on February 14th, 2007.
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