The mountainous region south of Sparta is named Mani, and it is a rugged place filled with history and legends since prehistoric times. For eons, its people were fierce warriors and shrewd merchants, and made their habitat at what seemed to be the edge of the world, in proximity to one of the entrances to the dark underworld of Hades: cape Tenaro.
The people of Mani believe themselves to be the descendants of the ancient Spartans and have the honor of living on the land that was never occupied by enemy forces during the 400 year Ottoman occupation of Greece. Once we drove to Mani, it was easy to see why. The land is inhospitable and progress is slow through the meandering passages between towering mountains, where stone houses hang precariously high on the tops. Each stone house was built like a fortress with tall watch towers that would make any opposing force pay a price for attacking it. Today the great majority of these towers have been abandoned and most villages are under populated, with most of the houses left to become prey to the elements as they turn into empty shells. In recent years a great many of these stone shells have been bought by wealthy Europeans in search of an exotic vacation land to sped their summer or their retirement, and they have been revived with all the modern amenities.
There is no way to describe the raw beauty of Mani. It is a place where the pure aesthetic presence of stone becomes exposed and washed by the relentless sun rays day after day. It is a place that lets only the most resilient of life survive, and yet for those who live in its embrace, it becomes a protective stony shelter. The landscape of Mani has a unique character that shapes its inhabitants and marks its visitors for life, as its mountains come from the north, pick up speed or so it seems, and dip majestically into the sea.