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surrounding area

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If you are heading to Gythio from Areopolis, there are a couple of potential detours. The first is the wonderful beach called Vathi at the village of Ageranos. Just before you see Passava castle dominating the crest of a hill, turn right where signs indicate the Belle Helene Hotel and Ageranos Camping. Where the road forks the left fork heads to the campsite and brings you out in the middle of a long sandy beach . To get to Agenaros village, which looks over the beach, take the left fork which passes through fields of cane. Pausanias recorded a temple of Artemis Diktynna by the sea on a cape, to the left of which a river flowed into the sea, and this is thought to be this headland. In front of the church to your left as you enter Agenaros there used to be a large column which may have come from this temple. Ageranos is also the possible site of the tomb of Las (see Passava Castle). The village was the stronghold of Antonbey Grigorakis, who was Bey of the Mani from 1803 to 1808, and his nephews also had small strongholds here. The main fortification is just behind the large family church. The tower has an unusual feature in that it is reinforced by a two storey semi-cylindrical butress and the large building on the other side of the courtyard, facing the sea, has a similar projection. The curtain walls are reinforced by the buildings of the complex and by two circular turrets on the N.W. corner of the wall.

On the opposite side of the road, the smaller walled complexes of the Bey’s nephew parade up the hill in mutually supportive positions which would make any attack on this headland a very formidable task. The topmost complex has an impressive tower which dominates the skyline. In Leake’s time, this village was called Vathy and it was here that the “feud” between two priests took place that Leake recorded. The son of a priest had accidentally killed a boy who was related to another priest.

“The latter papas declared war against the former, which is done in Mani in a formal manner, by crying out in the streets. The first papas went to his church to say mass with pistols in his girdle; such being a common custom in Mani; but as usual in such cases, he laid them behind the altar, on assuming the robe in which the priest performs divine service. The other papas entered the church with some of his party, and the instant the office was concluded, walked up to his enemy, who was still in his robes, and fired a pistol at him, which flashed in the pan (failed to fire properly): the latter, then running behind the altar, seized his arms, shot his enemy and one of his adherents, and drove all the rest from the church. The affair was then settled by the interposition of the Bey himself, in whose village it had happened.”

Two more sandy beaches lie in Kato Vathi Bay, a little further on from Agenaros. As you drop down to the bay, ignore the right turn and keep straight to an old stone bridge. The first beach lies in the hamlet of Kamares, at the end of the road to the left and has a taverna at one end. The second beach and the road on to Skoutari requires crossing the ford at the bridge (which will be dry in summer). The marshland behind the second beach is a haven for migratory birds in the spring and a haven for camper vans in the summer. Leaving Kato Vathi Bay behind, the next junction you reach takes you left to Kalivia and right to Skoutari. The detour to Kalivia does not offer much. There are some more unusual modern interpretations of the tower house (pinky red and cream!) and a very small sand/pebble beach at Paghanea, though the road down to it is in poor condition.

Skoutari

Turning right at the T- junction, takes you to Skoutari, about 3 kilometers to the west. As you approach Skoutari you will see the village spread out on the side of a hill and running down to a beach.On your right, before reaching the village is what was once a small post-Byzantine monastery of the Zoodokos Pigi. with re-pointed church (locked) and evidence of out buildings that once must have had a defensive role.

There is a small circular route through Skoutari which takes you past many ruined houses and towers- scene of the last vendetta as late as 1931. The most direct route is left as you enter the village. You soon come to a square with a war memorial and a ruined tower, which locals believe to have been that of Katsanos, a local kapetan, related to the Grogorakis clan. If that is accurate, then it is the tower which Leake described as harbouring many fleas etc when he stayed there. Also on the square is a small, barrel vaulted church, Agios Ioannis o Chrisostomos (St John Chrisostomos – one of the leading early theologians and writers of the Orthodox Liturgy). The vault is covered with frescoes, identifiable from both the New and Old Testament, varying in quality of condition and luckily access is guaranteed as the key is kept under a stone on the sill of the window to the left of the door- well worth a look inside. Inscriptions inside date the paintings to 1750 and were the work of Anagnostes of Langada and Nikolaos of Nomitsis, who were employed in similar projects elsewhere in the Mani- comparisons can easily be made with Agios Theodoros at Kambos for example in the treatment of the Ainoi (Last Pslams).

The beach is well signed and requires a left turn at the junction to Kotronas. The beach is a wonderful, sandy stretch with a pleasant taverna at one end and a small harbour at the other- beyond the taverna is another smaller sandy beach. Right on the edge of the beach is a small, 15th century domed church dedicated to St. Barbara with a few remaining late 18th century frescos inside. The archaeologist E.S. Forster argues that Skoutari is the probable site of ancient Asine which was besieged by Philip V of Macedonia (although he failed to capture it). He states, “There are distinct traces of Roman buildings near the sea and a number of ancient blocks and columns built into the modern village”. Pausanias didn’t come this way so we cannot rely on him for an identification and not all archaeologists agree with Forster. Parking on the beach is difficult as the road is very narrow- much easier to park in a natural ‘lay by’ about 100m before the beach.

Progress on to Kotronas is rapid as this stretch of road is probably the widest in the whole Mani.

Kotronas

Kotronas is a delightful fishing port with a couple of towers, seafront tavernas and a small beach. It provides the opportunity to cool off with a refreshing dip. It has been identified as the ancient town of Teuthrone which Pausanias visited and where he recorded “the god they worship most is Issorian Artemis and they have a spring called Naia.” It was also one of the Free Lakonian Cities. The main part of Teuthrone seems to have been the small island of Skopa, now linked by a causeway to the mainland. Here there is evidence of mediaeval masonry suggesting a sizeable castle. There is a restored church on the island with old marble built into it. Although there is little to see by way of “ruins”, it is a very tranquil spot reached by driving through the village, parking when you get near the Areopolis sign and following a track that starts by painted white millstone.

The quickest way back to Areopolis is on the Areopolis/Lagia road- see the map– or you could retrace your steps and carry on to Gythio.

As Gythio nears you will come to stretch of road hosting a plethora of petrol stations and campsites. Getting to the long sandy beach of Stomia Bay is not as easy as it should be as many of the campsites that lie between the road and the beach control access. The easiest way is to turn right at the end of this stretch of road just after the KMOIL garage on the left. The beach has a number of bars/tavernas/apartments and will get quite busy in the summer due to its close proximity to Ghythio. However it is over a km long so it should not be difficult to walk a little way to get away from the crowds.

The road heads away from the beach across a headland that hosts the village of Mavrovouni. To take a quick look at the castle that crowns the village and enjoy its narrow winding streets, take the second turning into it opposite a sign on the left advertising the “TAVERNA KHPOS”. Once you have passed a restored tower on the right you’ll come to a pretty square on your left. Getting to the castle by car is tricky as the roads are very narrow and in any case there is nowhere to park, so the best option is to park on the square and walk up the road to the left of the square as you look at it. Mavrovouni literally means Black Mountain and it was here that Zanetbey Grigorakis built a fortified stronghold called the Goulades or Beanika. It was constructed on the summit in the shape of a trapezium with a strong curtain wall approx 4 meters high. On the SE and SW corners were two round towers between which was an arched gateway and guardhouse. The other two corners were protected by buildings – the NE corner was reinforced with a two storey “palace” which had a parapet around the flat roof and turrets on the corners and the NW corner had a two storey fortified building. This had a double-vaulted ground floor for animals and “official rooms” above it. The palace has completely disappeared and only one of the two vaulted rooms that supported the other building remains. The south wall with the corner towers still stands but the gateway is ruined and the guardhouse destroyed. The complex suffered damage during a Turkish attack in 1803. The Turks had deposed Zanetbey but he was still causing them many problems, so they launched a heavy attack on Gythio and Mavrovouni. The attack failed to defeat Zanetbey although the Turks did destroy some towers. The stronghold was abandoned after 1821. The other tower dwellings at Mavrovouni belonged to the extended Grigorakis family and several remain inhabited to this day.

Heading back from the square to the main road, Gythio is only a few minutes away

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