Research and Remembrances, Part 6

On to Mani!

How can I describe Mani? It is beautiful yet forbidding, spectacular yet humble, historical yet contemporary. It is an amalgam of opposites; a study in contradictions. It is part of my heritage. I am trying to determine which lines in my family migrated from Mani into Sparta. I’ve done a search in Election Rolls, looking for my surnames in areas in Mani. There are many, and unfortunately without corroborating evidence, I can’t determine which people are my direct lines. Church records are such a vital key, but they did not open to me during this trip. Next time!

Gregory and I met our friend, Giannis Michalakakos, in Aeropoli where our adventure began. Giannis is from the village of Nifi, and he is an expert on all-things Mani. Giannis keeps a blog, Maniatika, where he chronicles history, genealogy, and culture.

My dear friends, Giannis Michalakakos (left) and Gregory Kontos (right).

My dear friends, Giannis Michalakakos (left) and Gregory Kontos (right).

Aeropoli is an amazing town! It’s name means “the city of Ares” who was the god of war. It was here that, on March 17, 1821, Petrobey Mavromichalis united many clans of Mani and began a movement that resulted in the Greek War of Independence from Turkish rule.

Statue of Petrobey Mavromichalis, in the Aeropoli town square

Statue of Petrobey Mavromichalis, in the Aeropoli town square

I have never seen anything like Aeropoli — ever! The “tower” architecture of Mani is built into every building: rectangular with thin and narrow windows, always constructed of stone.

This post will be mostly photographs with captions, as one picture is truly worth 1,000 words!

Aeropoli

Courtyard in Aeropoli

Alley in Aeropoli

Alley in Aeropoli

Dining tables are found outside every cafe and restaurant

Dining tables are found outside every cafe and restaurant

Even Churches have the tower architecture

Even Churches have the tower architecture

This building  was erected in 1818, three years before the Greek Independence Revolution began with uprisings in Aeropoli

This building was erected in 1818, three years before the Greek Independence Revolution began with Petrobey Mavromichalis from Aeropoli

This is a restaurant , such a perfect mix of old and new.

This restaurant  is a perfect blend of old and new.

Mani-Aeropoli (32)

Trees and flowers add splashes of color to this courtyard in Aeropoli

I’ve never seen a bookstore quite like the one below! It has everything from old newspapers to history books to tourist souvenirs. Giannis knows the owner, who welcomed us warmly and gave me a CD of a helicopter ride over Mani.

 'Adouloti Mani' Bookshop owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis

‘Adouloti Mani’ Bookshop owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis

We spent the night in the Hotel “Aerospolis” – charming, quaint and very comfortable.

Hotel Aeropolis

Hotel Aerospolis

The next morning we embarked on a road trip unlike any I have ever undertaken — through the narrow, switchback roads that wind around the mountains and through villages. There are times I couldn’t believe that we were actually on a road!

Carol in car

The homes in Mani are stark, isolated and impenetrable. Many are carved into the rugged hillsides, which led me to wonder how they ever were built.

Houses and villages

Houses and villages reveal that people have tamed the forbidding countryside

Our southernmost destination on this trip was Vathia, which Giannis promised was one of the most beautiful places in Mani. He was right! As we drove the winding road into the town, we saw a produce truck. Fruits and vegetables were protected from the blazing sun by a white tarp, and the all-important scale swung back and forth as the truck made its way through the villages.

Produce truck making its rounds through the villages of southern Mani

Produce truck making its rounds through the villages of southern Mani. We drove the same road into Vathia.

Entering Vathia

Entering Vathia

Vathia is

Vathia overlooks the sea, and vegetation punctuates the rocky hillsides.

Vathia tower houses

Vathia tower houses have a seaside view

Our ride out of Vathia towards Kotrona provided us with incredible views of the sea.The aquamarine blue provides a stark contrast to the barren hillsides.

Leaving Vathia, headed towards Kotrona

Leaving Vathia, headed towards Kotrona

Churches are everywhere, both large and small. We had to stoop to enter this one, which was constructed by a family for personal use only.

Interior of a tiny church

Interior of a tiny family church

Of course, what is a trip to Greece without donkeys and goats?

Donkey and goats abound!

Donkey and goats abound!

Gregory and I left Giannis at his home in Nifi and headed north, up the east coast of

Mani. Kotronas was a beautiful place to stop for lunch.

Kotronas, an idyllic village by the sea

Kotronas, an idyllic village by the sea

A cemetery in the countryside

A cemetery in the countryside

As we drove into the lush farmland of the Spartan plains, I felt as if I had traveled from one distinct world into another. Such variety of places, people and scenery in a one-day car ride!

View of the plains of Sparta from the mountain village of Anavriti

View of the plains of Sparta from the mountain village of Anavriti

This first visit to Mani has left me with a deep-seated desire to return. There is so much to explore and experience! I can now understand why the Turks and Nazis could never overtake this area of Greece. The resilience and resistance of the people who adapted to this harshly beautiful land was no match for the greatest armies of our times. I am so deeply proud to be a descendant of Maniates!

If you would like to read more about this amazing area, this brief essay, “The Deep Mani,” written by Diana Farr Louis, combines history and photos.

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2 thoughts on “Research and Remembrances, Part 6

  1. Pingback: Research and Remembrances, Part 7 | Spartan Roots

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