Gytheio was the seaport of Sparta, which is situated about 40 km to the north. Gytheio used to be an important port until it was destroyed in 4th century AD, possibly by an earthquake. Today it is the largest and most important town in Mani.
The reputed founders of ancient Gythium were Heracles and Apollo, who frequently appear on its coins. In classical times it was a community of Perioeci, politically dependent on Sparta. In 455 BC, during the First Peloponnesian War, it was burned by the Athenian admiral Tolmides who besieged the city with 50 ships and 4,000 hoplites. It was rebuilt and was most probably, the building ground for the Spartan fleet in the Peloponnesian War.
In Roman times Gythium remained a major port and it prospered as a member of the Union. As purple dye was popular in Rome, Gythium exported that as well as porphyry and rose antique marble. Evidence of the ancient Gythium prosperity can be found by the fact that the Romans built an ancient theatre which is well preserved today and is still used occasionally.
The waterfront of Gytheio has three different parts. The central section consists of the habour with small fishing boats, cafés, shops and a few restaurants. During summer months the locals are scrolling the promenade with their families during the evenings. The small square there, known as Platia Githeiou is a great place for enjoying mezedakia at the ouzeri. Mezedes or mezedakia are a variety of delicious food served on small plates (seafood, salads, dips and such). Best consumed with ouzo or retzina wine (traditional Greek wine) and good company.
Turning the corner on the south side of town you’ll find the coastal road ending at the tiny island, Kranai. On Kranai following the causeway, you can visit the Tzanetakis Tower, which houses the Ethnological Museum.
To the north side of the waterfront you’ll find the town hall which houses the Archaeological Museum. It is also an area where you’ll find cafés and restaurants – and nearby the ancient theatre built by the Romans during the first century.
Offshore of Gytheio are several small islands, the most important of these being Cranae, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway built in 1898. According to legend, when Paris of Troy abducted Helen from Sparta they spent their first night in Cranae. When Gytheio became the major port of Sparta Cranae became a resting spot for traders. After the rest of Greece enslaved to the Ottoman Turks only Mani remained free.
When visiting Mani or Gytheio in specific, don’t loose the opportunity of visiting the unique Diros caves with one of the finest, if not the most beautiful lake cave in the world. You can find a more detailed description of the caves in my post about Mani.
The Diros Caves are located approximately 12 miles south of Areopolis and they are part of an underground river. About 5,000 meters have been exposed and are accessible by small boats and through narrow passageways.
The Lakonikos bay is home to Loggerhead sea turtles, in Greece known as turtles Caretta Caretta. They are nesting along the beaches of Evrotas, Mavrovouni, Selinitsa, Valtaki and Vathi, where sand dune restoration is taking place, actually the first of its kind in all of Greece.