MANI PENINSULA - PART II
(updated October 2020)
from Oitylo to Kardamyli
Get up rather early as this day trip will take you long to complete. From Oitylo to go to Karadmyli take the ‘Areopoli-Kalamata Provincial Road’ northbound for about 25 kilometers to the village of Platsa (Πλάτσα).
Platsa, which means ‘plateau or open field’, is a typical traditional village of Mani located among olive trees. It is built in a privileged location overlooking the majestic Mount Taygetos (Ταΰγετος) to the east and the Messinian Bay and the deep blue Ionian Sea to the west.
During the antiquity, at this location was built the ancient town of Pefnos (Πέφνος), the kingdom of Tyndareus, father of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. The port of Pefnos was at what is today the seaside village of Agios Dimitrios.
The numerous churches of Platsa prove the importance of the village during the Byzantine and post-Byzantine times, when it was the largest settlement of Mani. The most important churches are: the Assumption of Virgin Mary at the main square, Saint Dimitrios (11th-12th centuries) with excellent frescoes and reliefs, Saint Paraskevi (1412), a small cross-shaped church with frescoes of the 15th century on the outskirts of the village, and Saint Ioannis located on a square at the entrance of the village.
At Kampinari (Καμπινάρι) area, just to the south of the village, stands the most important church in the area. The church of Saint Nicolaos ('Αγιος Νικόλαος), which was the ‘katholikon’ of a monastery, is a three-aisled basilica with a dome and without a narthex. The typology of the church leads researchers to the conclusion that it was constructed around 1000 AD and presents numerous archaic elements. This is one of the oldest Byzantine churches in the area that exists until today in particularly good condition. The paintings of the church were completed in five different phases. The central arch, the central aisle and the dome are decorated with frescoes dating back from 1337 to 1338 according to an inscription and are donated by Tzaousios Constantinos Spanis and his wife Maria. Just opposite Saint Nicolas stands a modern open-air theater, constructed in such way that the audience has a wonderful view of the Messinian gulf and the olive tree groves.
Leave the village behind and at its northern exit (just after a small chapel, and before another one) leave the main road and turn inland towards Milea village (Μηλέα). You will not miss the turn as there is a clear road post here.
Milea or Milia (Μηλέα or Μηλιά) is a mountainous village which consists of five settlements: Kyveleia, Fragrianika, Kato Chora, Xanthianika and Sekourianika. The first settlement you meet is Kyveleia or Garmpelia (Κυβέλεια), which was the seat of one of the seven feuds of Exo Mani. The father of Theodoros Kolokotronis, Konstantinos, who was killed after Orlov Revolt in 1780, was buried in the area.
Kyveleia took its modern name by the blood relation of all residents who bear the surname “Kyvelos”! This phenomenon is explained by the fact that male children in Mani traditionally inherit the parental house and stay in the village creating family next to their parents, while girls leave the village following their husband’s place of origin.
The main settlement of Milea is consisted of the settlements Fagrianika (Φραγκριάνικα), Xanthianika (Ξανθιάνικα) & Sekourianika (Σεκουριάνικα), three more or less separated neighborhoods, each with his own church.
Fagkrianika is the lower neighborhood on the main road, while the other two neighborhoods are situated further back on the mountain slopes.
The name Milea is firstly mentioned in a Venetian document of 1465 and it most probably derives from the fruit tree with the same name ('apple tree' or μηλιά in Greek). Other possible origins of the name are the Homeric word for goats (“mila”) or a local herb which is found in abundance here, called “sfakomilia (σφακομηλιά)”.
The modern village of Milea has restored traditional houses with unique decoration and impressive churches such as the 14th century "Transformation of the Savior" ('Μεταμόρφωση'). The church has a unique, majestic, 22-meters high tower made by local marble, built in the early 19th century in Gothic style. As noted by researchers, the influence of the architecture of the Ionian Islands is quite evident. The church has undergone major interventions, modifications, and additions during the late-Byzantine period. Traces of its first building phase are detected in the ceramic decoration of the facades.
This beautifully restored church is located on the main road, so there is no way to miss it, even if you do not want to get out of the car.
The “Dormition of the Mother of God” (‘Κοίμηση της Θεοτόκου’) in the main square of Xanthianika was built sometime between the 14th and the 15th century. The frescoes are dated to the 18th century. Saint Ioannis in Sekourianika completes the triad of the big churches in the area, in which there are totally more than 70 churches and chapels.
Continue the same road and you will pass through Kato Chora (Κάτω Χώρα) the fifth of Milea settlements. Continue through Karyovouni (Καρυοβούνι) or Arachova as the Kryovouni was called before it was renamed in 1930, till you reach next village, Kastania. Kastania (Καστανιά) or Kastanea or Megali Kastania is one of the oldest and most picturesque mountainous villages of Mani. The village is almost invisible as it is built between three slopes of Mount Taygetos in a naturally fortified location with few and narrow roads, and it is named after the many chestnut trees (=καστανιά/kastania) of the area.
The Tower of Kapetan (Captain) Dourakis on the main square of Kastasnia offered shelter for Theodoros Kolokotronis during the great persecution of klephts (1803-1806), before him going to Elafonisos in 1806. The imposing tower is a late 18th century building witnessing the social and settlement structure of the Mani Peninsula during the time of the second Venetian Occupation (1685-1715) and the second Period of Ottoman Rule (1715-1821). It is casually linked to the “Kapetanata”, an administrative system followed mainly in the more northerly districts of Mani. The tower has a tri-partite division: it includes the five-strorey military tower, a two-storey annex at the east and a stone staircase attached to the north side of the annex. The tower is made of stone and has an almost square outline; its character is defensive; it includes a vaulted basement, four levels and a defensive parapet over the hipped roof. Four protruding cylindrical turrets (klouvia) are constructed at the cornets of the last level. The rectangular two-storey annex was badly preserved; its east side was demolished in the 1970’s, when the adjacent square of the village was reconstructed.
A remarkable feature of Kastania is its stone rooftops of the houses in color of the local grey stone, while the fountain under the huge walnut trees on the village square is a point of reference especially during the hot summer months.
Kastania has the most Byzantine churches in Mani, many of which have excellent hagiographic material. The most notable of these are 'Saint Ioannis' (13th century) at the entrance of the village, 'Saint Petros' (12th century), 'Saint Nicolaos Trikampanos' (13th-14th century), and the patron of the village, the 'Dormition of the Virgin' (11th century) on the village square.
'Saint Nikolas' “at Maroulaina” (Άγιος Νικόλαος) is one of the smallest cross-vaulted churches of the Peloponnese. It was built just after the mid-13th century, with small stones, mortar, and small pieces of terra cotta in the joints.
Most of the frescoes in the interior of the church belong to a single phase and based on stylistic and iconographic criteria, date within the second half of the 13th century. The built stone templon was constructed and decorated at a later period.
Of all the churches, though, is the recently fully renovated church of 'Saint Petros (Peter)' (Άγιος Πέτρος). It is located at the northern edge of the settlement and definitely astonishes most the visitor.
The church of Saint Petros is the oldest and most important monument of the region. It is the most important example of the so-called Helladic school of Byzantine architecture in the Messinian/Exo Mani.
It is a cross-in-square domed church of the four-columned variant that dates to the third quarter of the 12th century. A narthex, in the form of porticus, was added to the west side of the monument in the mid-13th century; the impressive three-storey (castellated) bell tower was constructed in 1813, according to a carved inscription. A substantial part of the sculptural decoration of the monument is almost intact, including the capitals of the four columns, the frame (doorway) of the western door and the marble iconostasis.
The painted, rectangle, embossed, marble doorframe of the Church of Saint Petros is remarkable as it is crowned by a marble plaque, which bears the representation of a deer between two birds, which is eaten by a mythical monster with body of a lion, and head and wings of an eagle.
The church is open to the public, so one can admire the interior.
Saidona (Σαιδόνα) & Monastery of Saint Samouel (Μονή Αγίου Σαμουήλ)
Back to the main road. The next village you meet is Saidona (Σαιδόνα), built in an area with huge oaks and flowing waters. The many nightingales sinking all year long gave most probably the name to the village (nightingales - “Aidonia” in Greek).
Half the way between Saidona and the next village (Exochori-Εξωχώρι), there are two beautiful monasteries: Monastery of Vaidenitsa (Μονή Βαϊδενίτσας) and Monastery of Saint Samouel (Μονή Αγίου Σαμουήλ), and the imposing Kitriniaris Tower (Πύργος Κιτρινιάρη).
Τhe 'Monastery of Saint Samouel' is built on a ravine on the western slope of the “Sotiritsa” area of Mount Taygetos and is a typical example of a fortified monastery. Quadrilateral fortification wall surrounds the church, which is protected on the north side by a defensive tower. There was a smithery in the Monastery of Samuel, where the monks-craftsmen repaired agricultural tools and the weapons of Klefts and captains of the era. We do not know exactly when it was built. An inscription mentions the year of 1633, but we do not know if it refers to its foundation, while the year of 1760 is written on a frescoed icon of the second wall-painting. The katholikon of the Monastery of Samuel is dedicated to the 'Assumption of Virgin Mary'. Inside there are frescoes dating back to the first half of the 17th century.
When I visited the katholikon was under restoration. A gentleman gave us some usuful information about restorations in Mani and let us get into the katholikon. To visit the monastery, leave the car at a little open space by the main road. You can not miss the spot as there is a sign just there. Walk for some meters and continue on the stairs you see on your right. The stairs are recently restored and easy to climb. It takes only 2-3 minutes to enter the Monastery, which is always open, as the fortification wall is damaged.
The Monastery of Samuel along with that of Vaidenitsa and the Tower of Kitriniaris, were the defensive fortress triangle of Saidona built to guard the villages by Turkish invasions. Kitriniaris family who built the Tower around 1786 was a powerful family and its members became captains of the mountainous villages of Androuvitsa (Exochori). The tower visually communicates with the tower of the fortified Monastery of Vaidenitsa.
Next village you see is Exochori (Εξωχώρι), which was known as Androuvitsa until 1932. In fact, Androuvista (Ανδρούβιτσα) as a conglomeration of many small and four big settlements (Kardamyli, Chora, Leptini and Proastio), was not simply a village but a key region for going from Laconia to Messenia through the “Royal Road”. This region was firstly mentioned in a historical source of the 13th century and was the mountainous fortified old capital of medieval and ancient Kardamyli.
Today, Exochori, being on the rim of the Viros Gorge (Φαράγγι του Βυρού) and inside the wildlife of Mount Taygetos, constitutes an ideal destination for mountain tourism offering impressive routes and activities such as hiking or biking. A demanding walking path starts here, crosses the gorge, and climbs up to the highest peak of Taygetos (Profitis Ilias - 2407m). More than seven hundred species of plants constitute the special flora of the region and it offers shelter to rare species of wild birds and animals preserving an important and unique natural ecosystem.
If you are not into much walking, you can enjoy the view of Profitis Ilias peak from the roof garden of “Hotel Katafigio”. Here, you can enjoy your drink or coffee served by the very gentle lady from Thessaloniki, who runs the place. Alternative, you can enjoy the local cuisine from the veranda of “Με Θέα” (meaning ‘With View’) Tavern. The tavern has really a great view over Kardamyli, the coastline and Chora with its beautiful churches.
Do not forget to walk along the village of Chora. This elongated village, consists a particularly good example of a village survived the modern architectural atrocities, and which retains all the charm and tranquility of the past. Walk to the westernmost end of Chora to enjoy the view of the Messinian Bay from the courtyard of the small church of “Saint Nikolas” of the Anastasaioi Family. This little private church is known for its built iconostasis and altar, which is toped by an ancient, inscribed slab made of marble. Beautiful frescoes cover every single wall of the church.
From here follow the road that takes you down to the coast. Just a couple of kilometers before reaching the coastal road Arreopoli-Kardamyli, I encountered one of the best surprises of my holidays in Mani, a true gem: Proastio (Προάστιο). The village is sited on the top of the escarpment above the bay of Kalamitsi and is one of the oldest and most important post-Byzantine villages with strong traditional style.Since 1479, Proastio was one of the four main villages of Androuvista. The name Proastio seems to be derived from the phrase 'pros to asti' - something akin to 'outside yet near the city' or a suburb.
The inhabitants of Kardamyli and surrounding villages all talk darkly of the allegedly gloomy and sullen Proastiotes (Proastio villagers). Expressions like "the devil's village" or "if you've got a friend from Proastio you'll never need for an enemy", are typical.
The Turkish writer and traveler Evliya Celebi who visited in 1670 just after the Turkish expedition against the Mani in that year, tends to confirm the longevity of this opinion saying "Its inhabitants are always found in opposition to the inhabitants of other villages. They are worse than pigs." He goes on to describe the Proastiotes as "completely infidels".
The village contains many churches and family chapels which are dotted around its winding streets and alleyways, as well as more than 200 old (preserved) buildings with distinctive features, including arched houses built with limestone from local quarries. This boasts of a prosperous past and indeed the town used to be much more affluent than its present sleepy appearance might suggest. Its wealth and power during the Ottoman Occupation meant it was a center for Maniate resistance to the Turks and a target for their reprisals. Proastio was burned by the Turks both in 1615 and 1670, when the Ottomans initiated a concerted and extremely punitive invasion of Mani. As a result, a large proportion of the population escaped to Taranta in Southern Italy in 1674, but it seems to have had an enduring population of at least 100 families and Evliya Celebi describes it as having 300 tiled and castle-like houses. Its position some distance away from and 250 meters above the coastline and the small harbors of Kalamitsi and Delphinia meant that it was relatively immune from piratical raids which seem to have been endemic in the region until the 19th century. This is a common feature in many Greek locations where it is only in the 20th century that low-lying large settlements around ports have developed to any great degree. However, in Proastio's case it is more likely that the locals were themselves pirates and feared government naval retribution for their own iniquities.
The existence of many Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches with exquisite hagiographies, also reflects the old and vigorous religious life. Proastio was seat of diocese in the 18th century, but even since the 15th century, when parts of its land were donated to the families of Palaiologoi and Melissinoi of Mystras, hundreds of churches were built, many of which are destroyed by time and neglect, but several of them are preserved till today.
The main church in Proastio, dedicated to the “The Presentation of the Virgin Mary” (Eisodia tis Theotokou), is an early twentieth century building tucked away from the main road on a square (square of General G.Maraveleas). It has a Venetian style tower (campanile), which belongs to an earlier church, also dedicated to the “The Presentation of the Virgin Mary”, which demolished for the new one to be built. With the stones of the old church, the village school was built. The tower is decorated with rare external frescos of the Taxiarches (Archangels) and has a date carved onto its surface, 1800.
Of more historical interest is the church of Saint Nikolaos, which is on the looping course the main road takes through the village. It is a rather big church which would accord with the fact that Proastio was once a diocese. The church bellongs to the cross-in-square inscribed type with a central dome, dated to the 12th and 13th centuries. It is constructed with rectangular, carved porous blocks enclosed by bricks, and decorated in several parts with tile patterns.
The narthex and the bell-tower were added at a later date. According to an inscription preserved on the bell-tower, master craftman Ioannis restored it in 1789, thanks to the donations of the entire population. The bell-tower has engravings inspired of the falk tradition, something typical of the area.
The frescoes preserved in the church are dated to the mid 18th century and ascribed to the local painter Anagnostis Seleberdakis. Despite their popular character, the depicted scenes are distinguished for the ascetic figures, the descriptive power and the richness of details. Characteristic frescoes are the representations of the Christ Pantocrator in the dome, the Genesis scenes of the naos, the Second Coming on the west wall and the martyrdoms at the narthex.
Unfortunately, the renovated church is locked, and you have to look for the priest somewhere-somehow to hand you the keys.
The "Tower of Perdikeas" and the "Tower of Chouseas", typical examples of architecture of the early 19th century; the 1643 "fountain of Melissinoi" with the 9 taps that was renovated in 1929 and dominates the entrance of Proastio; and the unique stone bridge (below Agios Theodoros Monastery to the east end of the village) are some impressive examples of folk architecture. Old limestone quarries are located to the north entrance of the village. Traces of the extraction of rectangular blocks are visible. Alas, the place is not preserved or signposted, while there is waste everywhere around. Shame!
In just some minutes drive from Proastio you enter Kardamyli (Καρδαμύλη), an important city in western Mani and the only one that can compete Areopoli in importance, size and beauty. The two cities are connected by a beautiful, 40km-long coastal road. It takes just over an hour to arrive in Kardamyli from Areopoli and you can take that road if you are in a rush and do not want to detour (as I did). Try to enjoy the magnificent landscape of deep blue waters, bare, rocky mountains, olive orchards and small villages with stone houses and churches.
Kardamyli is built by the sea, by the estuaries of a stream which forms the deep Viros Gorge, at the foot of Mount Taygetus. Kardamyli is known for having an especially good view of Mount Taygetus, and its highest peak "Profitis Ilias" ("Prophet Elias"). The town is located very close to Kalamata and is a very famous weekend destination for the people of the city. The modern Kardamyli looks very tidy with its 19th century buildings the beautiful craft shops, cafés and restaurants.
The town began to prosper about a hundred years ago, thriving on its local production of olive oil, the economy generated from a small soap factory, and the hustle of its small harbor. Its population reached a peak at the beginning of the 1920s, but the mid-20th century witnessed a large exodus when many villagers migrated to Athens, the North Americas and Australia. Those who remained made a living from olive farming, but those who never lost their love for the area eventually returned to open tourist businesses. The town is very popular with British tourists and feels like being in a british resort. The town centers around the high street where you will find upmarket boutiques, cafes and bars. The older buildings in the main town tend to be around 300 years old and are built from local stone. There are no high rise or large scale tourist developments and the hotels and guest houses blend in with the local architecture. At one end of the high street there is the port, the other end the main village square with its cafes, shade trees and the main church.
For the first full week of May every year Jazz comes to town getting the season off to a swing. What started as a few Norwegian Jazz fans getting together with a few locals has now become a phenomenon that has got bigger and bigger as the years pass. Now we have artists from all over the world flying in and its new title is “The Kardamyli International Jazz Festival”. At any time of day during the week there will be a choice of gigs; you may be in one bar listening to guitarist playing Brazilian Bosa Nova then wander around the corner and find a band from New Orleans playing Trad jazz. Even if you’re in a bar or shop that does not have a live performance for that week they will have their music tuned to the jazz channel.
Kardamyli is one of the oldest settlements in the Peloponnese, with its current name being mentioned in the Iliad, the epic poem by ancient Greek writer Homer. In the Iliad, Homer cites Kardamyli as one of the seven cities offered by Agamemnon to Achilles as a condition to rejoin the fight during the Trojan War (at that time, it was the main port of the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta).
Many of the townspeople can trace their lineage back to either famed clans of the area (e.g. Mourtzinos and Troupakis clans), or the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Palaiologos, one of whose descendants (Dimitri Palaiologos) settled in the region. The descendants of Dimitris Palaiologos today typically bear "Dimitreas" as their family name.
Old Kardamyli (Παλαιά Καρδαμύλη)
The main attraction of the town is the “Old Kardamyli” (Παλαιά Καρδαμύλη), nestled on a gentle slope just behind the main street of the modern town. This is the medieval part of the town which includes a castle and outworks and the imposing 18th century church of Saint Spyridon. Many of the buildings of Old Kardamyli, also known as "Pano Kardamyli", or "Upper Kardamyli", or “Skardamoula”, were built by the Venetians and feature a mix of traditional Greek and Venetian design.
During the 19th century, Kardamili was the stronghold of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos clan, arch rivals of the Mavromihalis clan from Limeni, both of which played very important roles in the Greek Revolution of 1821. The fortified tower-houses are well-preserved and the Tower of Mourtzinos (Mourtzinos was the Troupakis family nickname) has been recently renovated.
Old Kardamili can today be reached on foot: follow the main road towards Kalamata (north), at the end of the village (before the bridge over the stream) turn right, follow the sigh and then the path that leads up to the main gateway. If you drive, leave the car some 200m after the turn and then walk to the gate. The first building you see is the chapel of Agios Theodoros (Αγιος Θεόδωρος) and a couple of fortified houses which function as a hotel.
You have to walk further around the hill, pass by the byzantine spring on your right hand and then you see the main Gate.
Just after the Gate you see the 18th century church of Agios Spiridon, whose slender 17 metre-tall belltower bears ornamental designs depicting the sun and moon, the stars, concentric circles and a double eagle. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the inside of the church, because as we were told the priest of the church is the only one having a key, and obviously he doesn’t want visitors to admire the beauty of its interior.
The fortified enclave has been recently converted into a museum with modern installations. There is an admission ticket of 2€ to enter the complex/museum. The views from the top of the tower (Mourtzinos Tower) are amazing. As you walk back down towards modern Kardamili, you pass through enchanting olive groves and fruit orchards and see the last tower-houses that now belong to the descendants of the Troupakis-Mourtzinos patriarchs: the Dimitreas, Petreas and Theodoreas families.
the Old Customshouse & Kalamitsi
At the south end of the town there is the old port of Kardamyli. It is a small natural harbor dominated at its entrance by the Old Customshouse. The Old Customshouse is a picturesque, small complex of buildings located below the Demitrea Observatory and in front of the Meropi island. For many years, the Old Customshouse of Kardamili received an especially important part of the movement of the Messinian gulf, as it was the base of the Venetians. Their impressive sailboats moored here and the best goods from European ports were sold in Mani and from there throughout Messinia. The complex is under full restoration.
The next little cove south of the old port accommodates the small settlement of Kalamitsi (Καλαμίτσι). Kalamitsi is one of the ports of Proastio and is known for its beautiful beach and mainly of the, tucked away and totally sympathetic with the landscape, house of Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor. There is an allegedly true story of the early days of this fine beach when Leigh Fermor found the local habit of constructing and inhabiting small ramshackle shelters on the beach during the summer months rather intrusive of his Grecian Idyll. There are old black and white photos of Kalamitsi in the 60s showing just Leigh Fermor's splendid house - no hotels or the other extraneous bungalows which now infest the bay and, as clear as day, the driftwood and packing case shacks of the locals on the beach. Leigh Fermor complained, cajoled, and harangued, but the locals' saw no reason to terminate the tradition of generations and their direct response was to blow up Paddy's car (empty I am glad to report). Fermor quickly got the message and having a well-nourished understanding of the Greek temperament made the swift and generous action of supplying the shelter dwellers with piped water - something they had lacked previously. All reigned peacefully again.
Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor
The house at was, in his later years, the principal home of Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor and his wife Joan. Paddy was a British author, scholar, soldier and polyglot who was made an honorary citizen of the village for his participation in the Greek Resistance during World War II, especially in Crete. He was widely regarded as Britain's greatest living travel writer during his lifetime, based on books such as A Time of Gifts (1977). A BBC journalist once described him as "a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene".
Patrick Leigh Fermor in his travel book "Travels in the Southern Peloponnese", published in 1958, covers his journey with wife Joan and friend Xan Fielding around Mani.
The Fermors, left their house at Kalamitsi to Benaki Museum, which is the full owner today. According to the expressed desire of the Fermors and the donation contract, the house can be used to host intellectuals and scholars (writers, researchers, artists, poets, etc) who are looking for a quiet and hospitable place to work. The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House is open to the public, after extended repair works, with scheduled visits and guided tours.
The house was featured in the 2013 film "Before Midnight".
Leave Kardamyli behind and take the way back to Arreopoli. South of Karadamyli there are many beautiful beaches. Stoupa and Kalogria beaches, both located at Stoupa village, are two of the most famous beaches in the area and very popular for the holidaymakers from Kalamata. The village of Stoupa is not one of those picturesque places you may have in mind when you dayream about Mani, but it is famous for its nightlife. The area is also known as the place where events and persons inspired Nikos Kazantzakis to write his most famous novel "Zorba the Greek" ('Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά' - 'Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas').
Nikos Kazantzakis & Giorgos (Alexis) Zorbas
Arriving in Stoupa from Crete, in the autumn of 1916, a young lawyer and little-known writer Nikos Kazantzakis was dazzled by the peace and natural beauty of the landscape and lived there undisturbed, until the summer of 1918, very creative moments, protected from the carnage of the war and the famine that brought the foreclosure. In Kalogria he received the hospitality of poor and happy people.
There Kazantzakis "tied" his friendship with Giorgos (later Alexis and literary hero of his famous book) Zorbas, whom he had met on Mount Athos where Zorbas went in 1915 to become a monk. Zorbas was a very experienced miner and in February 1916, Kazantzakis sent him to start work on his small lignite mine he just acquired the rights to operate at Prastova (Πραστόβα). A legend was born. Zorbas was an almost "larger than life" character.
Kazantzakis rented to stay the small house of Andreas Exarchouleas which was located next to the Pritzipas (Πρίτζιπας) Spring (*), on the northern edge of Kalogria beach. Later, he had workers build a small wooden shack by the sea to escape from the summer heat in the house. Inside, he put only a campaign ranch, a chair with a table and a trilingual lamp to write and read. Only Zorba's eldest daughter, Androniki, allowed to visit him and bring food.
(*) Pritzipas: the famous spring from which gushes clean and icy water, coming directly from Mount Taygetos. It is like a small trough that can barely hold a person. If you visit the beach, do not miss the opportunity for a swim in the cold water before diving into the sea.
The company's offices and warehouse were housed in the house of Elpidoforos Hioureas, which was located at the site of the mine, in Prastova, one kilometer from the beach of Kalogria. Many of the workers lived in the surrounding caves, which still exist today. This historic stone two-story office of the mine, which still stands like a towering tower above Stoupa, was recently renovated and sold as a private residence.
At Stoupa, Kazantzakis even invited people of art and literature, such as Angelos Sikelianos, Eva Palmer, Marika Kotopouli, Kyveli and Galatia Kazantzaki, whose presence greatly disturbed the local community, especially women, because they were the first women who smoked and swam in the waters of Kalogria in swimsuits.
Zorbas was widowed when he came to Stoupa and brought with him 5 of his 8 children as well as his sister-in-law's family. They all lived together in the house of Andreas Exarchouleas. He left the area in the summer of 1918 and never returned. His daughter Androniki maintained a strong bond with the Exarchouleas family until the end and often visited the area.
Zorbas at work was inventive and imaginative and at leisure he was irrepressible, spontaneous, and fond of a drink! There were no roads, so the lignite had to be taken from Stoupa by boat, but it was also difficult to get it from the mine to the coast using pack-mules and donkeys, so Zorbas devised a fantastic cable and rail system to do the work.
In 1946, Kazantzakis, by now an established and respected author, published his best-known novel "Zorba the Greek" and the film by Michalis Kakoyianis was released in 1964. All over the world, people were enthralled with the man who epitomized the quintessential Greek character and more than anything else, they were fascinated by his exuberance, especially in the scene where he is compelled by his nature to dance on the beach. This scene, together with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, became the icon of what it means to be 'Greek'. Although the book and film were both set in Crete, the inspiration and real-life Zorba experience took place in Stoupa.
Zorbas left Stoupa and followed Kazantzakis as envoy of the Greek State in the Black Sea region in 1920, after the Pontian genocide, where he rescued about 100,000 Pontians, transporting them to Thessaloniki (according to the records of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It is worth mentioning that Zorba’s eventful life continued in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he settled in 1922 with his 10 years old daughter Katina. There he remarried, had more children and a new family. He bought mines near Niš and near Skopje and began to deal with mining. In 1940 his daughter married a wealthy merchant with whom he went to live in Belgrade. He died on September 16, 1941 and was buried in the cemetery of Vodno near Skopje (then part of the Kingdom of Bulgaria). Because of the change of the urban plans, the bones of Zorbas were transferred in 1954 to the Butel cemetery, near Skopje. His great-grandson was rock musician Pavlos Sidiropoulos.
Agios Nikolaos & Helen of Troy
If Stoupa is not what you think of Mani, then certainly Agios Nikolaos village, some kilometers to the south, is an exceptionally beautiful settlement with several fish taverns around its little harbor, cobbled streets and old houses. The older name of the village was Selinitsa, meaning "little Moon" or "little Helen” (Elenitsa). According to the myth, Paris anchored his ship on this coast when he stole Helen of Troy and from here, they departed for Troy.
Agios Nikolaos in the ancient times was known as Pefnos. The location of Ancient Pefnos is next to the small, picturesque beach south of Agios Nicolaos with the fine sand and near the estuary of river Pamisos (also known as river Milia). Just outside the neighboring village of Agios Dimitrios, there is the islet of Pefnos, where, according to mythology, the Dioscouri twins were born together with their sisters: Helen and Klytemnistra. In ancient times, bronze statues of the Dioscuri were erected on the islet of Pefnos. In August 2020, the Professor of Archaeology Petros Themelis and the Greek Minister of Culture inaugurated here, the monument of the Dioscuri, on the islet of Pefnos: an egg that has been engraved on its surface by the artist Giannis Gouzos, the intercourse of Leda with God Zeus, who had taken the form of a Cygnus. The egg can be seen from the coast and when the sea is rough the foam of the waves covers it!
At the village parking lot stands a very well-preserved tower-house.
Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux in Latin), were half-twin brothers in Greek and Roman mythology, known together as the Dioscuri. Their mother was Leda, but they had different fathers; Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Polydeuces was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Because of this, it is said that they have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra who were born from a second egg. In Latin, the twins are also known as the Gemini ("twins"). When Castor was killed, Polydeuces asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo's fire. They were also associated with horsemanship, due to the idea that they rode the 'white horses' of foam that were formed by curling ocean waves.
Οn a rock projecting into the sea, on the coastal road between Agios Nikolaos and Agios Dimitrios, there is an excellent restaurant, which I really recommend: “Voulimeneas Café-Restaurant”.
You can enjoy traditional dishes in a tranquil courtyard covered by a shady arbor. This place really reminded me of past times. “Voulimeneas Café-Restaurant” is a must visit. I had the tastiest stifado ever (veal cooked with small onions into tomato sauce) and beans coocked with spinach. We also ordered (not me!) traditional Mani sausages. I really dislike the peculiar taste of maniot sausages: they are spiced with orange peel!!! There is also another traditional maniot product I dislike. It is called "sygklino" and it is smoked pork cured into orange juice and orange peel.
The coastal road goes for another 5-6 kilometers and stops at the traditional beautiful fishing village of Trachila (Τραχήλα). Here the road ends and the only way to go back to the main road is to go back to Agios Nikolaos and through the village to get to Kalamata-Areopoli provincial road.
Trachila was firstly mentioned in the early 18th century in a document relating to people from Mani who embarked from there to Corsica, but it was developed mainly since the 19th century. Then it was a seaport of Lagada, for a marine transportation and transshipment base of the mountainous villages.
The road from Agios Dimitrios to Trachila has a wild beauty of that king you dream when think of Mani. The impressive rocky coast accommodates two natural wonders worth visiting: the “rock pool”, a beautiful natural pool, and Kataphygi (Καταφύγι) a rocky coastal place where rocks seemed like someone cut them in cubes and a small cave. You can enjoy Kataphygi from “Katafigio Village” hotel, built just next to it and offering besides beautiful views also stairs going down on to the rocks.
On the way back to Oitylo
At Trachila the road ends and the only way to go back to the main road is to go back to Agios Nikolaos and through the village to get to Kalamata-Areopoli provincial road.
You are back back to the main road towards Oitylo and Areopoli, which passes through beautiful villages and stunning stone chapels and churches. Nomitsis, Thalames, Platanos and Lagkada are some more villages you can explore on your way back. On the main square of Platanos village there is a beautiful tavern-café with the same name: “Platanos” (literally "plane tree"). At the tavern you can enjoy local food or your coffee under a huge plane tree.