On towards the tip of Mani … here viewed looking south - Porto Kayio to the left, Marmaris to the right - the road snaking down to Taenaron...

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Ano Boulari

A small, narrow concrete slabbed road runs up the hill from near Gerolimenas to Ano (Upper) Boulari through desolate stone filled fields. It is an unprepossessing landscape - not without its grandeur but sorely lacking in softness or romantic traits. After a number of turns and a final extremely sharp one you'll end up passing a largish modern church - remember the location and carry on up the hill which now gets steadily steeper.

You'll pass a large tower house to the right, the Mantouvalos Tower - this was the home of the Mantouvalos clan who were still living there in 1980 when Paul Greenhalgh and Edward Eliopoulos were travelling around Mesa Mani. Greehalgh talked to an ancient member of the family who told him a tale of the wild piratical days of yore.

The Mantouvalos family were pretty big in the Ano Boulari area and in the main square of Gerolimenas there's a bust to Major Panayiotis Mantouvalos who was a hero of the victorious Albanian campaign of 1940-41 against the Italians. Like many Maniat families the Mantouvalos like to believe that they have Byzantine nobility as their antecedents. Whatever noble blood ran in their veins by the 18th century they were pirates. The French observer Pouqueville wrote on the Mani in the early 1800s and relates the story of the French ship the 'Jesus of the Sacred Heart' which was wrecked at Gerolimenas in 1786 which was stripped of all its cargo and its rigging and timbers (not at a lot of trees in Mesa Mani) by Ilias Mantouvalos and his clan. The port was then a little to the south of Gerolimenas at a cove called Yiali - which literally translates as cove or beach. You can find this next to a couple of ruined windmills just south of the main road.

The Mantouvalos were enemies of the powerful Mavromichalis family from Limeni/Areopolis and when Katsakos Mavromichalis and his nephew Voidis put into Yiali in their schooner. The Mantouvalos demanded harbour fees which the Mavromichalis refused them. The ship was then seized by the Mantouvalos, who took goods to the value of the fees. The furious Mavromichalis responded by dragging canon down to Ano Boulari and besieging Mantouvalos and his two brothers in the Mantouvalos tower. Katsakos called upon the Mantouvalos to surrender and which point a musket ball flew through his hat. The besieged Mantouvalos were sustained by their womenfolk bringing in food and ammunition - there were arcane rules about not firing on women (though the veracity of this rule has been questioned) and while watching the women ferrying in supplies young Voidis Mavromichalis was rather taken by the beautiful Eleni Mantouvalou and called out to her asking if he could talk to her brothers. The admiration appears to have been mutual and although one Mantouvalos brother was all for stringing Voidis up, the others, sensibly, negotiated. A betrothal was immediately called and the siege swiftly turned into a feast as the two families celebrated. Dating this story is difficult as each generation of the Mavromichalis family seems had someone called Katsakos and it was a big clan - there was a Voidis who was killed at the battle of Maniaki in the Greek War of Independence (20 May 1825) and according to a family tree of the Mavromichalis he had descendants.  So I'd guess were talking about late 18th/early19th century.

Today Ano Boulari is quiet and peaceful though I did once visit it during the early days of the hunting season (mid September) when walking in the olive groves was a particularly fraught experience as invisible hunters with slavering dogs blasted off their shotguns around us. Carry on past the Tower until the road peters out and park in a sort of square. If you dive off into the surrounding buildings you'll discover a number of small churches but the delights of Ag. Stratigos are at the top in a fold between two hills. Ag. Stratigos (or St. Michael, one of the Taxiarchs or Archangels) is one of the most famous of the deep Mani churches and apart from its frescoes is celebrated for its architectural features. The church is thought to be early 11th century - built during the upsurge in church building in Mani after its conversion to Christianity and the re-institution of Byzantine Imperial rule. The church has a full if rather damp attacked frescos - probably from the late twelfth century.

Ag. Stratigos (St. Michael) Ano Boulari

The style of architecture is relatively common, domed, inscribed cross and narthex - the exception being a later domed entrance porch which is similar to that at Soter in Gardenitsa but unlike that one, which has open sides, this proto-exo-narthex has been walled in .

Frescoes from Ag. Stratigos including the Washing of the Feet and Last Supper

The church is kept locked and the keys are with Dimitris Kolokouris. Inside it is extremely gloomy with hardly any external light so a torch is imperative. The Frescoes with an overall green tinge (whether this is intended or is due to the action of damp is difficult to ascertain). All parts of the interior including the Narthex have decorations - books by Greenhalgh, Drandakis and Skawran (see Bibliography page) give full details of who and what is what.

Frescoes in Ag. Stratigos. The lighting inside is stygian and these were taken years ago when my camera skills were rudimentary.

Returning down the hill stop and park next to the modern church. Walk back up the hill over a small bridge spanning a dry stream. Just over this there is a wall to your left which turns and follows the contour line northwards. It is a bit of a struggle but clamber up onto the top of this wall (it has been concreted on top) and walk along it. There is an old kalderimi below the wall but frankly it is so overgrown that even taking into account the barbed wire that tops the wall it is faster and less troublesome to walk along the wall. The wall continues for some half a kilometre before dying out* and you are now walking across loose scree. Continue along the contour line but keep your eyes peeled to the left. By now you'll be wondering what the hell you are doing in the middle of nowhere with just olive trees and shale - but persevere. Eventually below you you'll spot a small apsed single vaulted church with tikles roof. Push you way through the undergrowth and you'll find yourself in one of the most fascinating sites in Mani.

*…some friends who followed these directions in May 2004 complained vociferously that in fact the wall now doesn't die out but veers east - up the hill and following this direction they got completely lost in the olive groves and heaped insults and imprecations on my head. They did, eventually find the church, but boy did they moan when they got back from Greece. Follow the contour line. Don't go uphill. OK?

Ag. Panteleimon, Ano Boulari

Ag. Panteleimon - for that is what you've sweated to reach - is one of the earliest remaining churches in Mani - or Greece for that matter.

The front of the tiny church is roofless and doorless and is obviously used by the local sheep and goats as a refuge. In the roofed section are some quite extraordinary frescoes of a power and directness unique in the area.

Ag. Panteleimon, ano Boulari, May 2004

Dominating the two apses* are two Saints their hands, palms outwards in supplication, their faces in expressions of awe and wonder. They are - in the south apse - Ag. Panteleimon, clean shaven and in in the north apse another Saint, possibly Ag. Nikitas, with a full black beard. The vault shows the Ascension with a number of the Apostles. There are two layers of frescos in the chapel. A female Saint Kyriaki in a headdress on the south wall is obviously of the second layer, still medieval, as the painting is more formal and sophisticated (see below).

A small inscription dates the building of the church to 991/2 and all the earlier frescos are thought to be in the same late tenth century time scale. Despite my rash use of the over-used word 'unique', to describe these 10th century paintings there are other examples of this style in Mesa Mani. They are however extremely fragmentary. Ag.Philipas at Korogonianika above Porto Kayio has a few remaining pieces of almost identical painting and Ag. Niketas just under Ano Poula in the Cavo Grosso has similar which are showing under later 13th century frescos.

*a double apsed church is a rarity in Mani and indeed anywhere in Europe. The others in Mani are mostly within a short distance of one another. Ag. Georgios in Kato Boulari, Ag. Konstantinos, Tsikalion, Ag. Nikolaos, Ano Boulari, another Ag. Panteleimon at Kotraphi and Ag. Petros at Gardenitsa. All are very old and the first three are in ruins. This Ag. Panteleimon and Ag. Petros are frescoed.

Saints in the apse of Ag. Panteleimon - Ano Boulari

The area from Boulari around to Vathia was ravaged by a brush fire during the extremely hot weather of June 2000 and swept over the fields devouring everything in its path. It lapped up to the door of Ag. Stratigos and must have engulfed Ag. Panteleimon. The area was reported to me by Bob Barrow as being a blackened wasteland and it was amazing that no human was killed - one donkey was incinerated. The churches appear to have survived intact but Bob hadn't time to actually walk to Ag. Panteleimon and assess any smoke damage (It's OK). What the fire had done is uncover all the old field systems and courses of long abandoned kalderimi one tiny advantage from what could have been major disaster. The undergrowth seems to have recovered rather well and the district seems to have regained some greenery.

South from Gerolimenas the landscape becomes increasingly arid and desolate seeming to consist mainly of stones, though remains of field systems can be seen stretching up into the mountains, there are fewer important churches but there is ancient Kaenopolis, the hill village of Vathia and the bay of Porto Kaiyo to entice one on towards Tainaron. The road passes through the be-towered village of Alika and then one reaches Kiparissos. On a small point sticking out to sea are the remains of a Roman 'city'. Kaenopolis or 'New City' is thought to have been a resettlement from the earlier city of Taenaron further south and probably lasted into the the dying centuries of the East Roman Empire of late antiquity before fading into the undergrowth. There is a fair amount of academic havering over whether it was called Kiparrisos or Kaenopolis by its Roman inhabitants - as there is actually no inscription which uses the term 'Kaenopolis'. Most of the inscriptions are in Greek, though one does come across the odd fragment in Latin script. There are official signs stating that one shouldn't drive into this site of archaeological interest but little archaeological work seems to have occured save the odd stroll by occasional visiting experts. The remains, which are extensive (and I have only given cursory attention to) boast the ruins of one of the oldest, and largest, late Roman-early-Christian basilica style churches in Mani. Ag. Petros.

Kiparissos- Kaenopolis

There are a number of small megalithic churches which are on a north-east/south-west axis, which points to them being built on the site of an ancient temple - a Christian church is usually on an east-west axis. Many of them have pieces of ancient spolia, often inscribed with texts, set into the stonework and in cases using them as altars. I am loathe to describe precisely where these remains are as unscrupulous thieves may use the details for nefarious purposes. By all means wander round the site but please leave things where they lie - it goes without saying that stealing, appropriating or nicking ancient bits 'n' bobs is looked upon extremely dimly by Greek authorities.

Kaenopolis as seen from the north - on the main road - a maze of dry stone walls and olive groves

I've been back to Kaenopolis in May and September 2006 and given it slightly more attention, though I fear this is still only a feeble scratching of the surface. The site was investigated in July 1958 by the late Nikolaos Drandakis - the greatest expert on Mani churches of his age - and he was interested in the basilica style churches reported in the vicinity. He reckons (in his paper in Praktika tis Archaiologikis Etaireias (1958. 199 ff.) there is evidence to suggest there were three of these styled churches in the area, Ag. Petros in the middle of Kaenopolis, the Monastery of the Panagia further to the east by the tiny harbour of Kiparrisos and Ag. Andreas in Alika to the west. Of these, I've yet to hunt down Ag. Andreas.

To find Ag. Petros take the river-bed track to the west of the ancient city until you've almost reached the beach, then cut up to your left (east) past a modern cistern and follow your nose. More difficult in fact than in the writing, as Kaenopolis is a maze of dry stone walls enclosing small fields and winding pathways (Greenhalgh likens it to the famous hedged maze at Hampton Court near London). Although most of this walling is relatively modern they probably follow ancient foundations, some of which are pretty obvious (they're mortared rather than dry walled and contain Roman style bricks).

Some of the walls of Kaenopolis/Kiparissos and the stele in honour of Julia Domna

Ag. Petros stands out with the ruins of two windows of its apse jutting into the sky, though even a large edifice like this can surprisingly disappear into the olive groves just when you thought you'd got a bead on it. Most of the walls of the church are now at knee height and extremely overgrown and the area is dotted with odd bits of late Roman masonry (mostly huge enough to prevent anyone trying to steal them). One huge facing slab lying on its side in the brambles has the Cross carved onto it and at the southern end of what would have been the nave of the church are two large stones or steles inscribed with ancient Greek lettering which would have presumably been the door jambs. One is dedicated to the Empress Julia Domna (170-217 AD) wife of Septimius Severus and the other to a benefactory citizen called Lysicrates. The church is probably dated to the 500s A.D. The church was almost certainly built, like the other churches, on the site of an ancient temple - Takis Katsafados and I argued good-naturedly over this (I had the compass) the church is clearly pointing North East.

Ag.Petros - Kiparissos

A number of travellers interested in ancient sites have visited Kaenopolis. Cyriaco of Ancona lists a prodigious number of inscriptions he copied down in 1447 and Leake visited Kiparissos in April 1805 and as there was no inn - let alone rooms in it, his party had to perforce squash into the monastery church of the Panagia where they spend the night getting bitten to death by fleas. Leake ruefully commented that this was probably a punishment from On High as the party had eaten a supper of meat - when the locals were ostentatiously and religiously fasting. The members of the French Expedition Scientifique de Morée visited Kaenopolis in the late 1820s just after the Greek War of Independence. The Maniate chieftain in Alika demanded 100 piastres for them to visit the archaeological site, an extortionate price which their guide and they refused to pay. At this point the wily Greek (the French described him as 'le chef des voleurs') threatened to ring the church bells and assemble all the locals to relieve the French of their possessions. There really was no room for argument and giving the rapacious local 15 francs as an advance the party were allowed to visit the remains at Kiparissos. After the travails of negotiating the 'entrance fee' the Frenchmen were, perhaps not surprisingly, little impressed by the remains, and in the spirit of sour grapes wrote that they were of, 'd'un faible interet'.

Leake's unfortunately itchy dwelling for the night is found perched above the harbour at Kiparrisos. There's a sign pointing to it from the main road or you can climb up to it from the harbour, or approach it from the west. Look carefully at the houses you pass. Most of them are decorated with inserts of pieces of ancient marble. The katholikon church of the Monastery is fronted by a large circular courtyard and it's north wall is a patchwork of stones, some with ancient carvings and some with obviously much more recent engravings. At a guess the single barrell-vaulted edifice is 18th century. The door wasn't locked on our visit, though there is little of interest inside apart from a prodigious number of modern mass produced icons and other bits of religious frippery and furbelows. The whole area is dotted with bigger or smaller remains of Roman marbles, some used as practical objects, such as fallen columns doubling as benches to sit on.


Leaving Kiparissos Vathia looms above one. It is a cliché to liken Vathia to a miniature Manhattan or to draw comparisons to San Gimignano in Tuscany, but it's unavoidable. It stands on its hill bristling with slender towers and has been photographed to death (I have a feeling the old olive press - see below - was placed above the village by a local who just wanted to see how many tourists would use it to frame their snaps of Vathia - I, for one, certainly succumbed). When Patrick Leigh Fermor visited Vathia in the mid 1950s some of the tower houses were still occupied - today Vathia is a ghost town - almost totally devoid of inhabitants save a few noisy dogs and silent inscrutable cats.

There is a hotel complex which reputedly has 15 appartments in converted tower houses - but I've been there four times in what should have been high tourist season and not seen a soul and it seems that the whole project has run out of steam, enthusiasm and paying customers. Although one source puts this prolonged hiatus down to arguments over leases (highly probable in litigious Mani) but in fact it's difficult to know who'd want to stay in such an isolated and haunted spot with none of the hustle and bustle that is the quintessential part of the Greek experience.

Tower house - Vathia

You can walk around the village by circuitous paths - there are signs of some conservation work but generally it is an eerie silence which greets one - and unexpected holes and loose masonry. It is strange to think that in that 200 years ago this was a village riven by internecine strife. In 1805 Leake reported, "This village, my guides say, has been divided into two parties for the last forty years in which time they reckon that about 100 men have been killed."

The road divides some 3 or 4 kilometres south of Vathia - one going further down Mani the other diverting first left winding up towards Korogianika and Kenourghia Chora or a short way further left to Achilio and a smidge further on dropping down to Porto Kayio. First we'll go upwards on a fine ashalt switchback of a road which climbs in sharp hairpins up to the north of the bay of Porto Kayio, at the top it turns into a wide dirt track of reasonable quality. Here the height of the mountains, the prevailing westerly winds and the effect of damp hot air being swiftly up-drafted to nearly 400 metres means that there are often ephemeral clouds drifting over the ridge of Kenourghia Chora - petering out in the wide valley between there and Korogonianika. Neither village is really more than a scattered collection of houses but to the north of the villages in a shallow valley is a large flat plain, surrounded by low rises (which then fall steeply to the sea 350 metres below) and which is therefore protected, somewhat, from the winds that are the curse of the Mesa Mani. This was obviously intensively culltivated in the past, probably until the second half of the 20th century. The road follows the western flank of this high plateau before winding up to join the main road north to Lagia.

The Pantocrator in the centre of the barrel vault of Ag. Triada, Korogonianika and view of the church from the South East

Korogonianika has a number of churches, most of which were locked when we called in May 2005 - indeed the whole village appeared deserted - all houses were closed and I got no sensation that we were being watched as we wandered around its streets. The first church one passes is the cemetery church of Ag. Triada, isolated below the village. This mono-chambered building is unlocked and decorated with mid-19th century frescos (1862 according to Kassis) - very much like those in the Phaneromeni church some 5 kilometres north in Lagia. After giving these unsophisticated wallpaintings a quick perusal stand in front of this church and look due south. A small hill rises before you covered with low furze and other prickly vegetation, when we called through a herd of cows was mooching about on this bovine unfriendly heathland. At the top or brow of the hill there is a pile of boulders, or perhaps a shepherd's stone shelter, or - possibly - a 10th century chapel? In stark contrast to the neat and tidy and well looked after church behind you this unprepossessing heap of stones is indeed a church, Ag. Phillipas. A short walk across the scrubbly hill reveals a low doorway (no remains of a door) to the south and a distractingly stunning view out over Porto Kayio and the southern tip of Taenaron (see the pic at the top of this page).

Ag. Phillipas, Korogonianika. View from south and assorted Saints on the south wall of the bema - 10th century.

You have to crawl into the church the lintel is so ridiculously low and then stand for a few minutes to get used to the gloom of this windowless church. The place is in wrack and ruin, the floor is beaten earth and much of the plaster is missing or has that greenish tinge which points to mould and rot and the templon has collapsed and has to be climbed over. Hardly surprising as what you've entered is over a thousand years old. As your eyes become accustomed to the low light you'll see that here and there faces of the late 900s AD are staring out at you. The similarity with the frescos at Ag. Panteliemon at Ano Boulari are striking enough to put them in the same time frame, and possibly point to their being by the same artist(s). These are some of the earliest extant wallpaintings in Mani. There's a particularly odd vertical frieze of tiny portraits of Saints (I'd guess the Apostles) which runs down the centre of the north wall of the naos - unfortunately a photo crammed down to the minimal pixels demanded of a website won't do this image justice. There are other tantalising fragments of wallpaintings in the church - which was undoubtedly built on this spot due to the sheer spiritual vicerality of the location.

Angel from Ag. Phillipas and the church of Ag. Charalambos, Korogonianika with a distant tanker rounding Matapan

Porto Kayio

The present waterfront village of Porto Kayio has little to recommend it, being mostly twentieth century build, straggling along the waterfront in a desultory fashion - you are practically driving on the beach and it has a rather tatty 'end of the world' atmosphere.

Porto Kayio looking north towards the castle at Achilio in the mid 1990s and the same scene in the late 1820s from the French artist Baccuet showing members of the Expédition Scientifique de Morée observing a local fracas.

I suppose it depends on what spin one puts on the word "unspoiled" and what mood you're in as to whether you will find its charms enticing or slightly seedy. A few tavernas vie for your trade and sometimes yacht flotillas harbour in the large enclosed bay as it is the safest haven for many a nautical mile in both directions. Leake identifies the location with ancient Psamathus, described by Pausanius. The old village, now labelled as Achilio on maps, is up on the northern slopes of the bay and on a bluff in front of it to it, and difficult to spot at a distance amongst the stone it was built of, is the Kastro of Porto Kayio.

View from 350 metres above Porto Kayio - May 2005 and Porto Kayio photographed in the early 1930s by Antoine Bon

The name Porto Kayio comes from the Italian (or French - whatever, a Latin language…) and translates into English as The Bay of Quails. Evliya Celebi reports how in the 17th century the deep Maniates would catch these birds in nets then packing the with salt they would store them in nooks and crannies in the hillsides covered by rocks. After about five months these were cured and were then consumed by the locals. Fortunately, perhaps, this delicacy is no longer to be found on local Taverna menus. The number of birds was quite prodigious almost blotting out the sky. Evliya Celebi stated that, " …one cannot separate the soil from the stars for them. Ten thousand infidels and women and children run and catch them in nets." An Irish monk, Symon Semeonis, who was sailing past Mani on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1322 gives Porto Kayio and its quails a mention and even tells us that you could buy 18 birds - for one Venetian grosso. Cyriaco of Ancona also popped in to Porto Kayio in 1447 and reports on other flying creatures. Cyriaco and his companions ventured into a vast cave and were extremely startled by a huge cloud of doves that rose with a noise like a clap of thunder.

Greek males are still inordinately fond of blasting anything vaguely avian out of the skies and in the past the tip of the Mani was the first point reached by migratory flocks of these small, if tasty, birds. I think, rather like the inhabitants of Vathia, these flocks have long since gone but Porto Kaiyo's fame in days gone by was more to do with the strategic position it held vis a vis the trade - and war - routes of sailing ships - Evliya Celebi reports that the harbour could hold five hundred ships.

A map from the late 16th century depicting Porto delle Qualie, its entrance defended by two forts, Forte Preso and Castel Vechio (The 'Near' Fort and The 'Old' Castle) - it commemorates an episode in the contemporary Veneto-Ottoman conflict and is not recommended as of use to modern day travellers, as Cape Matapan is depicted to the east of Porto delle Qualie and Vitilo (Itilo) is shown on the east coast. It shows the attack of the Venetian commander Marco Quirini on the newly constructed castle in June 1570.The Venetians took the castle but decided not to occupy it but destroyed the walls wth gunpowder. There are reports from 1574 from the Pasha of the Morea which show that the Turks had rebuilt and re-occupied the fort again.

The castle is thought to have been originally built by the Turks just before the war with the Western powers which culminated with Don John's naval victory at Lepanto in 1571. Though it is yet one more contender for the site of the 13th century Frankish castle of Grand Magne. It probably isn't, mainly because Grand Magne is generally accepted to have been on the west coast of Mani - but it would have been foolish for anyone interested in controlling shipping in the eastern Mediterranean not to have secured the best harbour on the cape that everyone had to circumvent. A report in a Greek archaeological journal claims that the foundations of the fort are Byzantine - but this isn't substantiated. The contemporary Venetian prints of the castle site closely match the outlines of the fort that we can trace today. The castle was later used as the lair of pirates and privateers – during the sporadic wars between the Ottoman Empire and Russia in the late 18th century the Greek captain Lambros Katsonis constantly harried Turkish ships passing Matapan from a base at Porto Kayio. he was supported by the Russians especially during the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-1792. Although the Peace of Jassy was signed in January of 1792, Katsonis continued the fight against Turkish ships from Porto Kayio and was attacked by a Turkish flotilla in the early summer of that year supported by a French frigate. After a stiff fight Katsonis escaped to Zakinthos and then into exile in the Crimea.

The bay finally saw warfare again in the Second World War when during the evacuation of Allied troops in April 1941, Porto Kaiyo was one of the locations where British destroyers took off stragglers and there is an exciting story of Luftwaffe Stuka dive bombers nearly hitting an allied warship in the bay - it escaped by going full steam ahead and frantically making smoke.

South of Porto Kaiyo is the last swollen appendix bulge of the peninsula. The main road heads straight down to a dusty carpark at Kokinogia but there are routes off to Marmari, Mianes and Agrokampi to the west and Paliros and Koureli to the east. Just north of Paliros is the site of a putative Museum of Mani being built by Michalis Kassis, a sculptor and brother of the writer of a number of books on Mani, Kyriakos Kassis. (see http://www.mouseiomichalikassi.gr/ - be warned, the website is all in Greek and bits of it don't work) The village cemetery at Paliros is full of graves of the Kassis family, often adorned with busts, presumably, sculpted by Michalis, who by deduction may have his studio in Lagia a few miles to the north on the sunward coast. Next to the cemetery is the low monochambered church of the Phaneromeni with, probably, 19th century frescos.

The church of the Phaneromeni - Paliros and fresco of the two Saints Theodoroi

The whole tip of the Mani peninsular is called Tainaron (or Taenarum or other spelling variations on the theme, I've undoubtedly used a fair selection in these pages) in Greek but the actual point is often refered to as Matapan and the naval maneuvres of 27-29 March 1941 which ended up with an emphatic Australian and British victory over the Italians were named after the cape. The derivations of these names have kept scholars puzzling and speculating for centuries. Tainaron is supposed to have taken its name from Taenarus - one of Zeus' many offsprings although another expert claimed it was of Phoenician extraction from 'tinar rupes' - whatever that might portend. The medieval Greeks, the Byzantines, refered to the area as Taenaron but never as Matapan…

…which name is a little more complicated than I'd presumed. I assumed it was an Italian name and had given it little thought until someone emailed me asking if I had any ideas. I've done some enquiries…

It could mean 'between the waters (or gulfs)' - the Meta bit being easily translated into modern Greek as 'between' - but the -pan bit gets rather lost. Leake reckoned it was a version of the ancient's 'Metopon' or 'forehead' and this was repeated in a wonderfully entitled article 'How to enliven Geographical Instruction and lighten it' by Dr. Konrad Ganzenmüller of Dresden in the Bulletin of The American Geographical Society of 1887. It's certainly been known as Matapan since the Middle Ages and is listed as 'Mattapane' in a Portolan (a book of sailing directions, describing harbours, sea-coasts, etc., and (sometimes) illustrated with charts. OED.) published in Pisa in the early 13th century.

In a report on Mani in Dutch archives dated from 1817, a Thomas Parnell, a consul in Patras, wrote, in French, "Matapan ou Machoire d'Ane". In English 'The Jaw of an Ass'. This, if it's true, is an interesting bit of metathesis, or rather mis-hearing - imagine if you will - French seadog points at tip of Mani whilst circumnavigating it and asks a Greek shipmate, "What's that called?" - "The Donkey's Jawbone". "Ahh, Machoire d'Ane". A few attempts to communicate this, a bit of Chinese whispers, and it becomes Matapan. Simple … Except that although there is a point called in ancient times Onugnathus which means Jaw of an Ass it unfortunately is further round the coast on the other side of the Lakonian Gulf and is usually identified as the island of Elafonisos. Parnell makes a number of other mis-interpretations of Pausanias so this theory is probably wishful thinking on his part.

Finally it could have a connection to this curious linguistic lineage. A Byzantine coin was in circulation around 1000 AD on which the seated Pantokrator, or Christ in Majesty was displayed. 'Sitting King' in Arabic is Ma-wathaban. In the late 12th century there was a Venetian coin called a Matapan (it was another name for the grosso). This in turn, through various Levantine connections, became a small box for transporting spices, a Mauthapan. These were used to transport a mixture of almonds, sugar and rose water and this paste was called Matapan in 16th century France - and the mixture is, of course, nowadays called Marzipan. What, quite, this has to do with the southermost cape of the Balkans is anybody's guess.


The road ends near the ancient site of Tainaron which is in the bay just to the north east of the actual point - the spot is called Asomato. Below a few houses and a cafeteria is a carpark and a short walk from there is a ruined church which probably started life as a temple, it's on slightly the wrong orientation for a christian building. The temple was almost certainly dedicated to Poseidon - as was the whole area and the church features quite a few bits of ancient spolia. There are numerous ancient remains in the scrub and a particularly fine circular piece of ancient mosaic can be found by dropping down into the southerly cove and following the path round the next headland. From the amount of signs of ancient building and the ancient city must have been quite expansive along the coastline and onto the lower slopes of the last hills of the Taygetus - and, one hopes (and suspects), that there was more greenery than today as the fields are now devoid of all but the tiniest and most resilient shrubs. There is a cave in the small inlet off to the north of the ruined church which is meant to be the entrance to Hades. It is rather unprepossessing.

Further south still, and now a walk along footpaths, you reach the square lighthouse on the tip of Matapan which was built in 1887 and is still in use today - though now using solar power rather than the original petrol. Here one can see how important the tip of Mani has always been by the amount of shipping which constantly passes this, the southernmost point of the Balkan peninsula. The Legend that there is an entrance to Hades in the cliffs hereabouts could refer to any number of sea caves - Patrick Leigh Fermor reported swimming into one from a boat - and being rather disappointed - so don't keep too assiduous a look out for Charon paddling about.

That's the end of Mani and the tour.

Deep Mani intro

Deep Mani Areopoli - Kitta

Deep Mani Cavo Grosso

Up the Eastern Sunward Coast