Farewell to the Mani

Today was our last day in the Mani, this ancient and extraordinary region of the southern Peleponnese, whose fierce inhabitants were probably descended from the original Spartans but were at the least unpolluted descendants of the pagan Greeks, were only converted towards the end of the ninth century, were  never subjugated by the Turks and who played a vital role in Greek independence. All around us were reminders of a still-more ancient world: at Taenarus, on the cape, for example, the entrance to Hades, and at Gytheo the islet where Helen and Paris consummated their love on their way to Troy. My companion has been Patrick Leigh Fermor’s, Mani: Travels in the South Peleponnese (rightly renowned as a brilliant piece of travel writing, with the author’s learning worn lightly and humorously) and it has saddened me to read about a world that, since the 1950s, has disappeared as fast as a patch of damp under the fierce midday sun. Who now would warn you not to sleep in the shade of a fig tree (it brings heavy sleep) or give you a cucumber to put to your forehead (the old way of cooling down)? The ruined stone walls that we could just make out on the hillsides had been in good repair just half a century ago and where in Leigh Fermor’s time the ubiquitous donkey and mule were the only viable forms of transport (together with small boats), they now live only in a few sanctuaries. The stone towers are crumbling and roads rush people past countless sites of historic or cultural significance. The brooding stoney flanks of the Taygetus mountain range hulk distantly and invitingly. We’ll surely be back!

2 Comments

  1. Hugo Kijne

    16/08/2011 at 14:47

    Martin: did Leigh Fermor also write a (brilliant) book about the English spy operations on Crete during WWII or am I confusing him with someone else?

  2. Martin

    18/08/2011 at 10:23

    He did indeed.

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