Rest and relaxation — time to get out of Sparta! After 2-1/2 weeks of long and tedious days handling dirty and moldy old documents, my body screamed for sun and surf. So I went where the locals go, south to Gytheio. It’s only 40 kilometers but a world away.
Gytheio is the capital of Mani and the second largest city in Laconia.
Archaeological findings date Gytheio to ancient, even prehistoric, times. It has served as an important port for Sparta and the entire southern Peloponnese. Merchant ships bring in goods from foreign lands and take out olive oil and other products.
This city is a haven for tourists. I met people from the Netherlands and Germany, and I spotted several Americans. Sometimes when I speak Greek in public, people answer me in English. I once asked my friend, Giannis, why is it that people don’t think I am Greek–after all, I am a full-blooded Spartan and I was speaking the language. He replied that it is obvious that I am American. I thought that was an odd response until today, when it was easy to pick out Americans among native Greeks and Europeans, and they were not wearing jeans, white sneakers or tee shirts! Maybe we emanate a certain aura?
This is a fish-lovers’ haven, and fresh octopus was hanging everywhere, but not for me.
The city’s neoclassical buildings provide charming sophistication. Each one is distinct and different. The colors blend beautifully and give Gytheio its distinct look. A lover of architecture could spend days here.
As I wandered along the waterfront, I noticed a lighthouse situated on a promontory.
A fortress / castle / tower! This is the Tzanetakis Tower, built in 1829 by General Tzanetakis Grigorakis, who was one of the leading figures of the Grigorakis family of Eastern (Lower) Mani and a hero of the 1821 Revolution. One can only imagine what this building has witnessed. Its position on the island gives it a perfect view of the harbor and the city. The family continues to be prominent in contemporary Greece, and donated this tower to the government. It is now a museum but unfortunately was not open.
The lighthouse looks fairly new, but the structures adjacent to it testify that a look-out building on this point has been in place for centuries.
As I sat on a rock and absorbed the spirit of this place, I noticed an unusual round, stone circular structure at the edge of the water–obviously historic and meaningful, but unknown.
I sat for a long time, taking in the sea, the view and the history. I wonder: what was life like for people living here in the 1700’s, 1800’s and even before. This is a land of rock and stone. There were pirates patrolling the seas, invasions by Turks, Venetians and others; there were vendettas among families and wars among clans. And of course, there were other harsh realities of life and the forces of nature–all combined to make Mani a very difficult place in which to exist.
But countering all this is the sea. And today, Mani’s beaches draw people worldwide who seek respite from the challenges of their own lives. Spending an afternoon in this environment of serenity and beauty is rejuvenating and refreshing.
This day was so very needed by my body and soul. A dip into history and a dip into the sea. I’m now ready to get back to work next week!