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Places of interest in the Mani


10 km south of Areopolis are the famous Diros Caves. They are part of an underground river that flows out into the surrounding sea, and their natural beauty is fascinating. From the entrance, gondoliers steer small boats through narrow passageways around beautiful stalactites and stalagmites (calcified formations created by rain water that penetrates the calcium carbonate in the rock) whose colours, enhanced by the surrounding lights and waters, are spectacular. The caves were inhabited from 4800 to 3200 BC, serving as places of worship in Paleolithic and Neolithic times, but the life of the community was interrupted abruptly by a severe earthquake in about 3200 BC: the mouth of the cave was blocked and those trapped inside died of starvation; those who escaped abandoned the area because they had lost their supply of drinking water. First explored in 1950 – and the archaeological research that followed brought to light important findings dating from Neolithic times – they are nowadays a major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of travellers each year. Diros also has a museum where the original findings are stored on display: artifacts and perfectly preserved human skeletons.
Further information:


In the year 1249, Prince Guillaume II de Villehardouin was the Frankish master of the Morea (the old term for the Peloponnese). The heart of his kingdom was in the south, at Kalamata, where he had been born, and his rule was consolidated and powerful over most of the region – with the exception of one area: the Mani. The Mani was then populated by the Meringi, a fierce, independent (originally Slav) tribe of who lived in the foothills and mountains of the high Taygetos. Displeased by this, the Frankish Prince took council. The typical way to dominate a contumacious hill-dwelling population in this period was to build castles that encircled and contained them (many kings in England had used this method with success...) and so it was decided that another castle, similar to that at Mistra, must be built. According to The Chronicle of the Morea, an ancient document, "the Prince himself made a tour on horseback, following the directions of the people of the land, and he passed Passavas and journeyed to Maine. There he found an awesome crag on a promontory. Because he found it very pleasing, he built there a castle and named it Grande Magne.". Although several places in the Mani are suitable contenders, it is likely, given its ideal setting and situation, that the great fortress of Kelefa atop the craigs of Itilo is the exact location of this important landmark.
Further information: » Kelefa


It has been suggested that the castle, churches, monasteries and palace of Mistra are the Eighth Wonder of the World. Mistra was a fortified town in Morea (the old Peloponnese), situated on a steep hillside of the Taygetos, lying approximately 8 km west of the modern town of Sparta. After the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, Prince Guillaume II de Villehardouin lived at its palaces from 1249. Mistra however grew prosperous after 1261, when it became the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople and the palace became the second residence of the emperors. Mistra was also the last centre of Byzantine scholarship: neo platonist scholars based in the city greatly influenced the Italian Renaissance. The Venetians eventually occupied it from 1687 to 1715, and then the Ottomans held it until 1832, when it was finally abandoned by King Otto for the newly rebuilt Sparta. In 1989, the ruins, including the palace, fortress, churches, and monasteries, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Further information: » Mistra


The Rindomo Gorge (aka Altomira Gorge) descends from the peak of Profitis Ilias (Taygetos summit) and is accessible through 2 routes: either via Kambos or via Proastio. A jeep is recommended for this excursion, but if you're fit and up for it the climb is well worth the effort. Here, you can see the Monastery of Profitis Ilias, which contains some very fine frescoes and the deserted village of Pigadia, as well as impeccable views of the Messinian Gulf, southern Mani and the Taygetos. The atmosphere is a little bit foreboding – this is not a place for the faint-hearted – because the vistas that drop steeply away are literally breathtaking in their grandeur.
Further information: » John Chapman's Guide to the Mani – Rindomo


The Taygetos is a mountain range in the southern Peloponnese which extends about 100 km north from the southern end of Cape Matapan (aka Tenaro) in the Mani Peninsula. It rises to about 2,410 metres at its summit, Profitis Ilias (Saint Elias). Although from Byzantine times up until the 19th century it was known as Pentedaktilos (Five Fingers), the mountain is actually named after Taygete who, according to ancient Greek mythology, was a nymph and companion of Artemis. The goddess, however, turned Taygete into a doe after Zeus pursued and raped the nymph. According to Pausanias, through Zeus, Taygete conceived Lacedaemon, the mythical founder of the ancient city of Sparta. Today, the Taygetos is home to a wide variety of fauna and flora, certain species of which exist only on this specific mountain range.
Further information: Taygetos Conservation Society


Formerly known as Cape Matapan, Tenaro is at the southernmost point of mainland Greece. During the Second World War, the British won an important naval battle against the Italians here in 1941, but in ancient Greek times, this was the location of the temple of Poseidon, a temple which had an influential role in the ancient civilization of Tenaro. Because of its strategic position, the ancient city prospered from about 300 to 150 BC, but it was known to be a very dangerous place, full of mercenaries and prostitutes, and folklore had it that Tenaro was the entrance to the Hades' underworld.
Further information: » Tenaro


The Viros Gorge is described as a sublime experience. Descending from the peak of Profitis Ilias (Taygetos summit), it unwinds into the seas of Kardamili Bay and, though the gorge is usually bone dry in the summer, its river in full spate is reported to be awesome in winter. There are numerous beautiful things to see on this hike: caves, cliffs, monasteries full of frescoes and, of course, wild life. Setting off from Kardamili, the Viros river bed soon narrows into a classic gorge; after a kilometre or so this opens out into a verdant valley. Paths lead off to the right (towards Aghia Sofia), but the real jewel of the Gorge is hidden in the trees to the left: the monastery of Lykaki whose interior is delectable. This church was built in 1570 but the frescoes date from 1783. The church is in a parlous state, but inside the frescoes inside are vivid and in an almost complete state.
Further information: » John Chapman's Guide to the Mani – Viros


The castle of Zarnata in the village of Kambos is thought to be founded on an ancient city and, according to Pausanias, Nestor spent his childhood here. Venetian chronicles of the 13th century describe the place as being the home of pirates...
Further information: » John Chapman's Guide to the Mani – Zarnata