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.
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.
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!
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.
We spent the night in the Hotel “Aerospolis” – charming, quaint and very comfortable.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, what is a trip to Greece without donkeys and goats?
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.
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!
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.