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Friday, June 03, 2011

GREECE: EXPLORING THE MANI

GYTHION

The port of Gythion (Gythio) in the south Peloponnese is the gateway to what is known as "the Mani", a narrow peninsula that once could only be reached by sea.  I'll be starting out from here to explore the Mani and it's unique villages.

TOWER HOUSES
The Mani (which originally meant "dry" or "treeless") is part of the Taygetos mountain range which forms the western spine of the Peloponnese.  It's divided between the prefectures of Laconia and Messenia. Laconia was dominated by Sparta in ancient times. Homer refers to some of the towns in the regions and there have been artifacts from the Mycenaean period found here.  When Spartan power was destroyed in the 3rd century BC, Mani became a self-governing area until the Roman invasion.  Over the centuries the peninsula was fought over by the Byzantines, the Franks and the Saracens.  As a result there were many local wars until the Mani's autonomy was abolished in 1870.

The Maniots are known for their wild nature and their zealous safeguarding of family property and tower houses (pyrgospita) were built to protect the feuding families.  Many of these are now abandoned but some are being restored and occupied; some are offered as visitor accommodation.  The area attracts visitors who are interested in the Byzantine churches and Frankish castles. There are also many popular beaches.
THE MANI COASTLINE

The local people work as olive farmers.  There is some tourism during the summer near the beach areas but many of the villages are remote and have few inhabitants.  The area is known for its unique culinary products (glina or syglino) pork or pork sausage smoked with herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint and stored in lard along with orange peel)  It is also known for the world's best extra-virgin olive oil and local honey.

One of the well-known tourist spots are the Diros Caves where you can see stalactite and stalagmites.  These caves are partly underwater and can be toured in gondola-like boats.  Sounds like fun!


I will see if there are any tours out of Gythion but otherwise will just take a bus and tour the area, perhaps staying for a night along the way.  This unique area of Greece has always fascinated me so this is sure to be a highlight of this year's visit.

photos courtesy of Wikipedia commons

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