Mani is a region of Greece that covers the middle southern peninsula of Peloponnese. Despite the inhospitable landscape of barren rocks and cliffs that dive into the deep sea, this region is one of the most authentic and traditional places a visitor can experience in Greece. Follow us on this trip to Mani, meet its charming wild beauty and history and taste Greece like a local!
The region of Mani stretches from the mountain range of Taygetus to the southernmost point of mainland Europe, Cape Tenaro. Situated between the Lakonian and Messenian Gulfs, Mani is a landscape that combines an inhospitable terrain of mountainous regions of arid rocky land with cliffs and gorges and beautiful seaside areas with cool refreshing turquoise waters able to satisfy the taste of every traveller. The most valuable asset of the region though is its particular history and its people. Known even today, the Maniots, the residents of Mani, are considered to be harsh and hardy people when they have to, but at the same time authentic, close to their roots and extremely hospitable. Let us introduce you to this relatively unknown part of Greece and have a taste of what Mani has to offer.
Mani’s history stretches back thousands of years with the first inhabitants being the tribe of Leleges, according to Pausanias. During ancient times, the region was under the control of the Spartans and continued to be so until the Roman era of the Greek region. Stubbornly resistant to any change, Mani was one of the Greek regions that accepted Christianity as the dominant religion only after the 8th century AD. During Byzantine times, the area was included into the lands of the Peloponnese and, during the last moments of the Empire, it played a key role by being part of the Despotate of the Morea, ruled by the last Byzantine dynasty, the Palaiologans. After the coming of the Latins during the 13th century, Mani was considered to be a key area to control the seaways of the south Aegean and, therefore, its conquest was inevitable.
Even then, the Maniots were known as fearless warriors and brutal people with a strong claim to their ancestral lands. It really showed in the 15th century after the decision of the Ottoman Empire to expand westward and include the lands of the Peloponnese. It is known that the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed the II, did not try to conquer the lands of Mani but, instead, with carefully planned delegations, he tried to persuade the Maniots into voluntarily accepting the Ottoman rule. Unfortunately for Mehmed, the Maniots decided to stick with the Latins and fight against the Ottoman troops. Even after the absolute domination of the Ottoman Empire over the Greek region, Mani always had its particular characteristics. It was never totally subdued to their rule and had an autonomous character through the centuries.
Because of its autonomous nature, Mani was the land for every refugee and anyone that opposed to the given status quo. Life was always orbiting around warfare and this made an impact on both the region’s architecture and the character of its people. The strategic location of Mani, along with the constant danger of invasion from pirates and other threats resulted in a really patriarchal society with its focus on warfare. The very epicentre of their society is the institution of family (extended family), which ensured the survival of the family’s name and legacy and the development of strong bonds among its members. Each family had its own tower-house used in times of need for protection and as a stronghold during invasions and feuds. After the passing of the centuries, the result was a region full of tower-houses practically impossible to be controlled by anyone else but the Maniots. This is the reason why Mani was one of the incubators of the Greek War of Independence and one of the most trouble-making provinces of the New Greek State.
The picturesque village of Vatheia in Mani - credits: www.greece.com
As mentioned before, the autonomous character of Mani came to be one of its greatest assets during the preparations of the Greek War of Independence. There, any preparations could be conducted with no harassments or setbacks literally right under the nose of the Ottoman rule by the members of Filiki Etaireia. After the liberation of Greece from the Ottomans and the establishment of the New Greek State, the first governor Ioannis Kapodistrias tried to break these locally established institutions of family-controlled lands and clientelism. Unfortunately for him, it only resulted in his assassination by members of a prestigious Maniot family, Konstantis and Georgios Mavromichalis in the city of Nafplion in 1831.
It is not extravagant to say that there is some kind of connection between the ancient people of Sparta and contemporary Maniots. These people serve their own code of honour, following a strict tradition and customs, where honesty, patriotism, sacrifice, courage and filotimo are values not to be disregarded. Even today, the inhabitants of the region are really proud of the fact that they always lived free under no tyrant or ruler despite the sacrifices they had to endure. Perhaps another example of their particular ancient ancestry is their custom of laments, funerary poets that pass verbally from generation to generation, which have a striking resemblance in form to the ones described by Homer in his work Iliad.
In case you had never heard of Mani before, we hope we sparked your interest with this article about the vast history and rich tradition of this corner of Peloponnese. Whether it is the culture you are looking for or a serene, authentic place for you to relax and experience Greece like a local, plan your own visit to Mani or perhaps check out one of our Greece tours.