The Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnese, is a unique area of ​​overwhelming beauty. The visitor encounters a wild, sometimes inaccessible nature, steep mountains, quiet beaches, impressive caves and the unique “towers of the Mani” (built by the proud and stubborn inhabitants, who were difficult to suppress, but also constantly at odds with each other), the many 12th and 13th century churches with beautiful frescoes (unfortunately usually locked), the enormous Frankish fortress of Mezapos and the oracle of the dead of Poseidon Hippios on Cape Tainaron (Matapan).


A visit to the Mani can best be started in Areópolis, a town that was once called Tsimóva. The town was renamed – after Ares, the god of war – because it was considered as the place where the War of Independence started. It has a small museum that is a must for anyone who wants to visit the numerous churches of the Mani, such as the Agia Barbara. Close to Areópolis there are also the famous stalactite-caves of Pyrgos Dírou (photo right).

castle Passavas

More or less opposite Areópolis is the castle Passavas, built around 1222 by the Frankish crusader Jean de Nully. It controlled the pass between Areopoli and Gythion. The site has been identified with the ancient city of Las by the English traveler Leake. The castle may have been deserted for some time after the disastrous Battle of the Pelagonian Fields, but was subsequently taken over by the Greeks and later the Turks. The castle walls are relatively well preserved, but the inner buildings have largely disappeared. Despite a sign on the side of the road at the village of Hosario, the path to it has been partly destroyed by a local farmer (2008), making it very difficult to reach. The site is heavily overgrown and in its current condition hardly worth the walk there.

castle Kelefas

Kelefa’s Ottoman Castle is located halfway between modern Kelefa and Oitylos Bay. It was built in 1679 by the Turks to rein in the ever-rebellious inhabitants of the Mani. In vain! As early as 1685, the Maniots besieged the castle and enlisted the help of the Venetians, who were at war with the Turks at that time. Led by Francesco Morosini, the Venetians took over the castle and large parts of the Peloponnese. This short-lived “liberation” came to an end as early as 1715, when the Turks recaptured the Peloponnese. After 1780 the castle was abandoned, after which it quickly decayed

Right: drawing of the castle from 1686 by Coronelli Vincenzo (source: Wikipedia).

Tigani, castle Mezapos

Remote, and almost as impregnable as the large castle of Monemvasia, is the large Frankish castle of Mezapos, on the Tigáni peninsula, about 15 km. south of Areópolis. The question of whether the castle can be identified with the ‘castle of Maina’ known from the ‘Chronicle of the Morea’ is well addressed by P. Burridge: The ‘castle of Maina’ was built around 1250 by William de Villehardouin to control the inhabitants of the Mani, and shared the same fate as the fortresses of Mystras and Monemvasia: shortly after construction, William had to surrender the castle to the Byzantines in exchange for his freedom. Since no buildings appear to exist from the 13th century, while the castle also does not appear to be conveniently located to control the Mani, the identification is often questioned. Remains of ancient buildings, and especially the remains of a Mycenaean cyclopean wall, have led to the possible identification of the site with the Homeric Messe. The site must have been reused in the early Byzantine times, but was later abandoned.

The castle in its current state is poorly accessible and dilapidated, but due to its location it is still very impressive. The remains of an older early Christian basilica were built over by the Franks, with one of the aisles dug out to make room for a large cistern.
Photos (right): the location of Mezapos. Below: remains of the castle walls and the basilica.


Further south you come to the town of Geroliménas, founded in 1870 to lure steamships to the Mani. The old warehouses are very beautiful. A little further one reaches the town of Vátheia, by far the most spectacular town of the Mani.