Mani, Greece: History across the centuries

Sitting at the southernmost tip of continental Europe, the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese has a unique, stark landscape. Its rich history and traditions make it a stunning destination for those who want to explore the real Greece.

Mani is an arid region and it has a rough edge to it, unlike many other regions in Greece. Its stone houses often look more like small forts, while its Byzantine churches, tiny coves, and awe-inspiring caves complete a picture-worthy for history books.

Ag.Spyridonas church Kardamili

Culture and History

A skull of a Homo sapiens individual dating back more than 210,000 years ago was found in the Alepotrypa Cave on the western side of the peninsula. As of 2019, this was the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens anywhere in Europe.

Neolithic remains have also been found in many caves along the Mani coastline. The poet Homer refers to a number of towns in the Mani region. Many artifacts from the Mycenaean period have been found in Mani as well.

The area was occupied by the Dorians in about 1200 BC, who later was ruled by the Spartans. After Sparta lost its power and was destroyed in the third century BC, Mani remained self-governed.

The region became part of the Byzantine Empire, after its decline the peninsula was fought over by the Byzantines, the Franks, and the Saracens.

After the Fourth Crusade in 1204 AD, Italian and French knights occupied the Peloponnese and created the Principality of Achaea.

Τα κάστρα της Βάθειας που αποτελούν ένα ζωντανό μουσείο

Vathias castle

They built the fortresses of Mystras, Passavas, Gustema (Beaufort), and Great Maina. The area came under Byzantine rule again in 1262, forming part of the Despotate of the Morea.

In 1460, after the fall of Constantinople, the Despotate came under Ottoman rule.

Mani was not subdued militarily and retained its self-government in exchange for an annual tribute — although this was only paid once. Local chieftains or “beys,” governed Mani on behalf of the Ottomans.

The first local governor was Limberakis Gerakaris in the 17th century. A former oarsman in the Venetian fleet turned pirate, he was captured by the Ottomans and condemned to death. The Grand Vizier pardoned him, on the condition that he took over control of Mani as an Ottoman agent.

Ο πύργος Δουράκη

Dourakis castle-Kastanea

Mani During Greece’s War of Independence

Following the failure of the Orlov Revolt, in 1776 Mani’s autonomous status was recognized by the Porte. For the next 45 years until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, beys again reigned over the peninsula on behalf of the Ottomans.

As Ottoman power declined, the mountains of the Mani became a stronghold of the Greek rebels. Petros (“Petrobey”) Mavromichalis, the last bey of Mani, was among the leaders of the Greek War of Independence.

He proclaimed the revolution at Areopoli on March 17, 1821. The Maniots contributed greatly to the struggle, but once Greek independence was won, they wanted to retain local autonomy.

During the rule of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of free Greece, they violently resisted outside interference, culminating in Mavromichalis’ assassination of Kapodistrias.

In 1878 the national government reduced the local autonomy of the Mani, and the area gradually became a regional backwater.

Many Maniots abandoned their ancestral land, moving to major Greek cities, or emigrating to Europe and the United States.

In the 1970s, however, new roads were constructed and the area started receiving numbers of Greek and foreign tourists. Today, its population has grown and the area has become prosperous once again.