Mani peninsula, also long known as Maina, is a geographical and cultural region in Greece. Mani is the central peninsula of the three which extend southwards from the Peloponnese in southern Greece. To the east is the Laconian Gulf, to the west the Messenian Gulf. The peninsula forms a continuation of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of the Peloponnese.
Mani is home of the Maniots.
The terrain is mountainous and inaccessible. The name “Mani” is thought to have originally meant “dry” or “treeless.” Until recent years many Mani villages could be reached only by sea. Today a narrow and winding road extends down the west coast from Kalamata to Areopoli, then south to Akrotainaro (the pointy cape which is the most southward soil of continental Greece and continental Europe) before it turns north until Gytheio.
Mani has been traditionally divided into three regions:
- Exo Mani or Outer Mani to the northwest,
- Kato Mani or Lower Mani to the east,
- Mesa Mani or Inner Mani to the southwest.
A fourth region named Vardounia to the north is also sometimes included.
Neolithic remains have been found in many caves along the Mani coasts. Homer refers to a number of towns in the Mani region, and some artifacts from the Mycenaean period have been found. The area was occupied by the Dorians in about 1200 BC, and became a dependency of Sparta. When Spartan power was destroyed in the 3rd century BC, Mani was self-governing for a time before being absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC.
As the power of the Byzantine Empire declined, the peninsula drifted out of the Empire’s control. The fortress of Maini in the south became the area’s centre. Over the subsequent centuries, the peninsula was fought over by the Byzantines, the Franks, and the Saracens.
Read more of Mani’s history at Wikipedia’s website
Despite the region’s aridity, Mani is known for its unique culinary products such as glina or syglino (pork or pork sausage smoked with aromatic herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint, etc. and stored in lard along with orange peel). Mani is also known for the world’s best extra-virgin olive oil, soft-pressed from partially ripened olives of the Koroneiki variety, which are organically grown on mountain terraces. The local honey is also of superior quality.
Today Mani’s coastal villages are full of cafés and souvenir shops. The peninsula attracts visitors for its Byzantine churches, Frankish castles, secluded sandy beaches and stunning scenery. Some popular beaches during the summer are Kalogria and the beaches by Stoupa harbor, while Kardamyli and Agios Nikolaos have nice pebble and sand beaches too. The ancient tower houses of Mani (pyrgospita) are significant tourist attractions, and some offer accommodations for visitors. The Dirosstalactite and stalagmite caves, near Oitylo, are also popular tourist destination. As they are partly underwater, visitors tour them in gondola-like boats.
Gytheio, Areopoli, Kardamyli, and Stoupa are filled with tourists during the summer months, but the region is generally quiet during the winter months. Many inhabitants work as olive farmers, and devote the winter months to the olive harvest and processing. Some of the villages in the mountains are less tourist oriented and often have very few inhabitants.
There were wild fires in Mani in the summer of 2007.