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Agios Dimitrios and Trahila

Agios Dimitrios is a small village with a little harbour, which once was the anchorage for Kapetanios Christeas of Stoupa and Platsa. The harbour was protected by the tower which formed part of a small complex on the headland above. In 1795, J B S Morrit, a traveller, wrote;

The tower of Capitano Christea was a small distance from the port and adjoining it were outbuildings and a long hall of entertainment. We dined with the family at 12 o’clock and after dinner went to the great room of the castle. In it, and on the green before it, we found near a hundred people assembled and partaking of the chief’s hospitality.”

Morrit also identifies this as the site that Pausanias called Pephnos where:

There is a little isle off shore no bigger than a big rock….The people of Thalamai say this is where the Dioscouri were born… On this little island there are bronze statues of the Dioscouri a foot high standing on the island in the open air. When the sea sweeps over the rock in winter it never moves them. This is a wonderful thing, and also the ants here have a whiter colour than is usual.” (For Dioscouri – see Kardamyli).

The village has a taverna overlooking a small pebbly beach.

The road continues and deteriorates a little to Trahila, where it terminates. Trahila has an end of the road feel to it and has not really been affected by the growth in tourism just to the north. Its houses are large and handsome, reflecting the importanceand wealth it enjoyed in earlier times when nearly all movement was by sea. There are a couple of ‘old-style’ tavernas overlooking the harbour, and even in August you have the sense of having moved back in time.

towards Platsa

To get back to the main road turn right at Pantazi Beach. Continuing south, a fairly immediate left takes you to Ano Riglia and Eleohori (the turning to Lower Riglia is a little further back). Both Riglias are picturesque villages to wander around and Eleohori is dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop. A green walkers’ sign points to a path down into the gorge below. This walk leads to Milea and then on to Yiatrissa – part of a pilgrimage route.

The main road now starts to wind its way upwards. Pigi nestles in a valley just before you reach the plateau. The road in off the main road is unsigned but is by a public phone box and walker’s sign. To drive in involves a self-activated traffic light system as the lane is very narrow. Press the button on the pole to your left as the road narrows – this lets someone at the other end know you are coming. Alternatively, if you don’t trust the system, park further up the road where there is space after a tight bend and walk down the steps into the village. There is a taverna on the main square which seems to vary from year to year in terms of being operational or not.

Platsa

Platsa must once have the grandest square in the area. A 20th century church dominates the space, which is surrounded by large, ‘neo-classical’ town houses. On one side there are two kafenia and on the opposite side the schoolhouse is now an atmospheric bar. The village taverna is at the end of a left turn before you reach the square. It has great views down to the coast so get there before the sunsets. Platsa was a stronghold of Kapetanios Christeas. Agios Dimitrios on the coast below was its harbour – protected by the tower built there by the Christeas family. There are no dominant towers in Platsa but it is easy to see that the old houses were built with defence in mind, and indeed Platsa was attacked by the Turks several times during the 17th century. Leake reported in 1805 that a Christodoulo Christea of Leftro governed Platsa, which contained over 1000 houses (making it one of the largest settlements in the Mani). The Christeas family name still exists in Platsa. Its narrow lanes are interesting to explore and once again there are a number of churches to have a look at – refer to the map above.

Agia Paraskevi (‘Saint Friday’) is a small barrel vaulted church with a transverse barrel vault half way across its length and no dome. The outside is decorated with cloisonné brickwork bands in an X or diamond shape pattern, though the stonework is generally rather rough and ready. Above the west door are three cloisonné decorated niches. It is probably 13th century and inside there is a mix of paintings in terms of date. It is not locked.

Agios Ioannis is also accessible as the key is usually kept just above the door. There are two internal columns, one of which has been recycled from a much earlier, possibly classical building. Some of the frescos have been whitewashed over but the zodiac (part of the Ainoi), and the crucifixion are just about detectable and the bema paintings have also escaped being painted over.

Agios Demetrios is a largish single-cell barrel-vaulted church which has no particularly interesting architectural features and no paintings but has a number of interestingly carved marbles inset into the floor and internal steps to the bema. The view from the door of the church northwards over towards Stoupa is worth the short walk.

The church of Agios Nikolaos, Kabinari, is south of the village down a dirt rack off the main road, just past a taverna with equally great views. The local football team play nearby. The church is one of the oldest surviving churches in the Mani, originally built in the 9th or 10th century with three adjacent barrel vaulted chambers – probably based on the plan of a three-naved basilica. The dome was added later. Interior doorways allow access between the three chambers but they also have separate exterior doors in the west wall. The two flanking chambers are slightly narrower than the central chamber. The left hand chamber is in the worst condition. There is no plaster on the ceiling but a few faded frescos remain on the wall. The templon is carved marble. The right hand chamber has some very good frescos depicting the life of St. Nicholas. There is one curious fresco of some sailors aboard a ship which is in danger of running onto rocks. They have reversed their oars to ‘fend off’ and their distress is clearly shown in their faces. St. Nicholas is depicted on board the ship in his role of Patron of Fishermen while a sailor dangles upside-down from the mast, with his leg caught in a rope with a black, winged ‘devil’ hovering close by. The frescos in the main apse are of exceptional artistry, although suffering from age and oil lamps, and are of a unique style in Mani – possibly an artist from Mystras. The church is locked but the priest in Platsa has the keys (if you can find him).

Nomitsi

There are a number of churches and old houses, many of which are derelict, in Nomitsi. However, the churches do not really compare to those in Proastio, Kastania or Platsa, and to avoid church overkill, details will be omitted bar two. You cannot miss the church of the Agii Anargyroi as you almost crash into it as you leave the main street of the village. Anargyroi translates as ‘without silver’ and refers to saints Cosmas & Damian who were twins who gave their medical skills to the poor for free. The church is probably 13th century. There is a stone templon and a variety of frescoes, the oldest of which are of the medieval period, although the state of repair is extremely poor. There are faded depictions of military saints in medieval Byzantine armour, a hardly discernible Crucifixion above the door, and other fragmentary remains: Agios Georgios is spearing a coiled and scaled serpent/dragon. If the church is locked, try asking at the taverna opposite, which itself is a great place to have a no-frills meal in the evening. The other church, which is further along the main road just out of the village, is a little gem – the 11th century Church of the Metamorphosis. There are some faded frescos (which desperately need preservation) but more impressive are the carvings on the templon and four supporting columns.

Thalames

Almost as soon as you leave Nomitsi, you are in Thalames. Pausanias records Thalames as being one of the Free Lakonian Cities, where there was a sanctuary and an oracle of Ino:

The oracles are given in sleep: whatever people ask to be told, the goddess reveals it to them in dreams. There are bronze statues in the sanctuary in the open air, one of Pasiphae, the other of the Sun. It is impossible to get a clear look at the statue in the temple itself because of the wreaths, but they say it is made of bronze like the others. Fresh drinking water runs from a sacred water-spring; Pasiphae is a title of the Moon, not a local divinity of Thalamai.”

Plato says the oracle was Pasiphae’s, not Ino’s and this makes more sense. Robert Graves in “The Greek Myths” says the Kings of Sparta frequently consulted this oracle.(Ino was a goddess of the sea and saved Odysseus from drowning when his raft was shattered by a storm sent by Poseidon.) The site of the ‘sacred water spring’ is thought to have been the ‘Jews’ Well’ in the square on the main road. You can see a covered fountain just below the taverna ‘O Platanos’ (the Plane tree) and 50 metres north of the fountain, just below the school, is the Jews’ Well. Steps lead down to two arches, through which you can see the well. The large stone blocks at the base of the outside wall and inside the well itself are said to be of ancient origin. One of the stones set in the outer wall looks like a fragment from an old gravestone. The fountain below the taverna had a series of inscribed and ornamented classical, marble stones built into the facade of the arch which covers it but in 1996 two of these marbles were stolen and now the rest have been removed for safe keeping. Next to the fountain is the pedestal of a statue and the inscription is a dedication to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. You can clearly see that the pedestal supported two statues and close inspection of the inscription shows that, to the left the words have been deliberately obliterated. The owner of the museum opposite believes it to have been a dedication to Roman Emperor Caracalla. (As of 2008 this statue base has also been removed whilst the plateia is refurbished. It will, apparently, return.)

The ancient city of Thalames is thought to have stood north east of the Jews’ Well, on the high ground behind the school. To the left of the school, a narrow concrete road leads up behind the village. Off to the right of this road there is another old well with crude steps leading below ground level. It is not easy to see from the road but there are some stone troughs right by the well which can lead you to it. Fifty metres to the north east of this is the possible site of the temple of the goddess, tentatively identified by some Hellenic masonry. A few hundred metres further up this concrete road there is a small Byzantine church on the hillside, which is similar in size and construction to the Metamorphosis church at Nomitsi, and some frescos remain. It is dedicated to Profitas Ilias and is early 13th century. The frescos inside are also said to be 13th Century.

Back in the square, the ‘Mani Museum’ opposite the school is a private collection of miscellaneous items including agricultural and domestic implements, early prints, a few weapons, church artefacts, Lord Byron first editions and autographs and more. Across the square, the Morea olive oil press is open to visitors and the taverna is very pleasant.

Lagada

Two kilometres beyond Thalames is Lagada. This is a fascinating village, which, unlike most of the Exo Mani villages, was divided into family or clan areas like the villages of Inner Mani further south. Lagada had three main divisions. The Bloutsos family were centred in 65 houses around the main square with the beautiful church of Metamorphosis Sotiras. The area around the Kapitsinos War Tower in the south of the village consisted of a further tower dwelling (only half of which remains), a round tower and 90 houses belonging to four allied families. Above this was the Tsicholianika area with twenty houses and a church. The old houses are obviously built with defence in mind and walking through the narrow lanes is fascinating.

The main square of the village is dominated by the church of Metamorphosis Sotiras, which is probably 11th Century. It used to be encased in concrete and plaster but this was removed in the mid 1980s to reveal stonework decorated with the most wonderful cloisonné brickwork, especially on the belfry. The inside of the church has also been plastered over but tentative exploration has revealed some frescos beneath this. There is still a great deal of work to be done to expose these frescos once again and there is a written appeal and collection box for donations to carry on and complete this task. The local papas will open for you and can usually be found in the café nearby.

A narrow lane leads from the north-west corner of this square up to the church of Agia Sofia, which, although in a semi-ruined condition, is worth a visit because of its unusual architecture. The narrow lane turns into a very well made kalderimi and the church is a short walk further on your right hand side. The original outer covering of the roof is missing and close to the belfry you can see two curious humps which, when you enter the church, turn out to be two domes set in the ceiling of the exonarthex and the narthex. Some restoration work has begun.

From Lagada the road follows the contours around a gorge and on the coast below you can see Trahila, protected by the small headland jutting out into the sea. Approximately 5 kilometres from Lagada is the village of Agios Nikon. The village is named after Saint Nikon the Repenter – the soldier, monk and missionary who is credited with converting much of the Mani to Christianity.

 
 

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