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above Kardamyli

The two most immediate villages above Kardamyli are Agia Sofia and Petrovouni. Both are reached from the main street in Kardamyli by turning left at the town hall. En route to Petrovouni you will pass a green walker’s sign on your left. This leads to a wonderful kalderimi that winds its way up to Petrovouni (in just 10-15 minutes). The hamlet is perched on the edge of the escarpment overlooking Kardamyli and is centred around a small square, off to the left of the road, with a small, restored tower house and some old houses. On the corner of the road, opposite the entrance to the square, is an old house with an arched door at ground level and two arched windows higher up. It is worth noting the carvings on the wall between the windows – a very good Byzantine double-headed eagle at the top, a cross and hieroglyphs below this and a crude lion or dog, a half sun, a rosette.

By wandering through the hamlet from the square, following the red way marks along cobbled alleys, you will soon get stunning views down to the coast. Keep following the path to get to the kalderimi coming up from below. From this point the track leading down the side of a ruined house (with what must be one of the best views in the area) heads to a junction in walking paths, and what used to be the local launderette. From this shady junction you can loop back to your car by following the sign to Exohori, but then bearing right past a colourful house until you meet the main road. Turn right to get back to your car.

Heading inland from the square you pass the post-Byzantine church of Panagia Zöodhokhos Pigi – the Virgin Mary as “the life-giving fountain” – on the right. From here the road runs alongside a small gorge, on the opposite side of which you can see the post-Byzantine church of the monastery of Koimesis Theotokou (Dormition of the Virgin), but known locally as Karaveli. To reach it, take the first dirt road leading off to the left as you come round the apex of the gorge and this leads past a stone threshing-circle to the monastery. As you approach the church from the east you can see it has a single, semi-hexagonal, apse, and is surmounted by an ornate cupola with relief decorations all the way round the drum. This has fourteen arched facets, each with a small tympanum and a stylised angel inside. Above each arch the design alternates between a circle and a small tympanum and above these is a highly decorated band which runs round the dome.

Return to the road, turn left and continue towards Agia Sofia. The road follows the contours inland to negotiate another gorge and then heads back towards the coast until you reach the village of Agia Sofia which sits on a spur overlooking Kardamyli. On the end of the spur stands the post-Byzantine church of Agia Sofia that gave its name to the village that is also known as Gournitsa. Most of the houses in the village are old. Some have been restored while others are derelict. As you drive in, there is an open area with a ruined building with only two walls remaining and you should park here because driving in the village is virtually impossible. As you make your way towards the church, you come to a wide-open area of rock and scrub and some of the rock faces clearly show evidence of earlier quarrying. The church is kept locked but inside is covered in frescos, the most striking being a wonderful painting of an elephant. The local keyholder can no longer be contacted, and so to get in the priest in Kardamyli needs to be found.

The church is taller than most, which might explain why there are so many tie beams between the various internal walls. All of these beams have been plastered and painted with various decorations. There are two very large marble columns supporting the dome. The church sits right next to a cavernous water cistern whose lid is visible amongst the rocks. To get a closer look, go through the gate towards the old priest’s house and scramble right. The opening, set in the cliff face, is obvious.

Proastio

Proastio (“suburb”) can be reached either by continuing up the concrete road from Petrovouni and turning right at the junction, or the quicker route is to head south from Kardamyli, past Kalamitsi beach and then immediately left. It was one of the oldest and most important settlements in N.W. Mani according to a survey conducted in 1479. In 1618 there were 100 families living there and throughout the 17th Century it suffered from periodic attacks by the Turks. After the Turkish-Venetian War in Crete (1645 – 1665), when the Maniats had openly supported the Venetians, the Turks increased their attacks on the Mani and in 1670 they burned Proastio as it had become an important Maniat military base. A record dated 1743 shows that Proastio was the seat of a Bishopric and there are more than 40 religious buildings – monasteries, parish and family churches – in and around the village. The village is interesting to explore on foot (and to play “How many churches can we find?”) and two kafenia and one taverna offer a chance to relax after such activity. These shops have renowned wooden wine barrels full of cheap but very good rose wine, which not only can be tasted on the spot, but if you take some plastic water bottles with you, can be taken away too.

Recommended churches to visit in Proastio:

Church of Agios Nikolaos

From the Kalamitsi entrance, the main road enters the village with the largest kafenion on your right and a mini market on the left. Just around the next bend, the road widens into a small square in the centre of which is the church of Agios Nikolaos. One of the lucky few, this church has enjoyed a recent restoration, revealing its mid-Byzantine cloisonné brickwork on the eastern end of the church (it was once completely covered with external plaster). The addition of an extensive narthex was probably carried out in the 16th century and the Venetian-inspired bell tower is probably early 18th century. An inscription states it was repaired in 1789. As is typical of the Mani, there are numerous folkloric carvings on it. One consequence of the restoration is that it is now kept locked. The keys can be found at the kafenion at the end of the alley opposite, which may involve finding the local priest.

Church of Agioi Vasileios and Spyridon

Continuing along the main road towards Exohori, a short distance after Agios Nikolaos, there is a small road off to your right that is signposted to Neohori and Kastania. Follow this road past the cemetery and the sandstone quarry and you come to a church on your left on the side of the road above a low bank. This is a twin church dedicated to Saint Vasileios on the north side (left hand door) and Saint Spyridon on the south side (right hand door). A small low door connects the two churches inside which were originally two barrel-vaults, but at some time the southern vault collapsed and was replaced by the wooden roof which is there now. The northern external wall has been strengthened by buttresses to prevent the same thing happening to that vault. Unlike many other twin churches where one church was ‘added’ to another, these two were built at the same time in 1754 by the Pourgalis family, and the frescos were painted by Anagnostis Dimangelakis of Koutifari (now Thalames).

Monastery of Agioi Theodoroi

Further on along the same road you pass a tower off to your right and then reach a small concrete road which runs up a slight slope to your left, signed to the monastery. It was dedicated to the Saints Theodoros and was established in the 13th century. Documents claim that at one time is was the home to over 100 monks. The main church is dedicated to the Koimesis Theotokou (Dormition of the Virgin) and is kept locked. The smaller, older church is in very bad condition and visibly worsens each year. A last-gasp attempt to save it from total collapse has required scaffolding and internal joists to support it. It is unclear whether the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities in Kalamata intends to rebuild it.

Church of Agia Triada (the Holy Trinity)

This church is some 250 metres to the east of the large central church of the Eisodia tis Theotokou (refer to the map). You’ll come across a large walled open space with fruit trees. There is a large arched gateway with faded frescos and a long path running to the church. It was built in 1740 by, amongst others, the Troupakis family from Kardamyli and the local bishop, as an inscription inside informs. It is a whitewashed, vaulted building and from outside it has no particularly distinguished features. Inside it is decorated throughout with frescoes from 1745 by Anagnostes Selemperdakis and Nikolaos of Nomitsi. The former is believed to have painted the church of Ag. Nikolaos in the centre of Proastio. One unusual image to look out for is a scene depicting the Archangels Michael and Gabriel who have just rescued a boy from the lake who had been thrown in, with a millstone around his neck, by three monks in a boat…….

Agios Giorgios

As you leave Proastio on the Exohori road, there is a walled enclosure with a church on your left over a small gorge. To get to it on a reasonable dirt road, turn left after you have passed the school on your right and the olive press on your left. The walled enclosure and outbuildings surrounding the church indicate it was once a monastery. The church is always open and the image of its patron is on the left by the templon. Most of the frescos are faded and/or damaged and the original roof has been replaced but you can still see the martyrdoms of various saints, scenes from the life and passion of Christ, and other stories from the bible.

On the main road, opposite the turnoff to Agios Giorgios, you can see the cuts and “shelves” where the rock has been quarried for limestone blocks. About 50 metres from the road (follow the track and bear slightly right) is a small Mycenaean tomb. A short tunnel, the smooth sides of which taper towards the top, was cut into the rock. The entrance to the tomb is closed by a mesh screen but you can see into the tomb chamber, which is circular inside with low walls that taper slightly towards a flat ceiling. It is not a terribly exciting site but it bears witness to an early occupation of the area. The main road continues up to Exohori, passing the tiny hamlet of Lakos en route.

Exohori

Some maps refer to two villages – Exohori and Androuvitsa – while others refer to Nikovo, Kolibetseika, Pripitsa and Hora too. More recent maps refer to the first village as Exohori and the second as Hora. Historically, Androuvitsa and Exohori were part of one ‘hora’, or settlement, as a Venetian document of 1618 records. It was the seat of one of the local governors, the Kapetanios, as early as the 13th century, and in the 14th century a section of this region was given to a Frankish Nobleman, Nicolas Acciaiuoli. In the 15th century it was a fief of the Palaiologos family, who were the ruling Byzantine family. During the 17th century, the area suffered from Turkish raids as did Proastio. Leake records that the Kapetanios of Androuvitsa in 1805 was Panayotis Troupakis, who governed 700 houses in the district. This suggests that the influence of the village extended to Kardamyli where the Troupakis family had their stronghold. The first building you pass in Exohori is the olive press on the left and a little further along is a taverna with a large terrace (on the right). Most of the village lies to the right of the road. Like Proastio, there are numerous churches and chapels to discover throughout the village. After the taverna, and a couple more bends, you reach the old school building on the left. This is now a museum, officially open from June to September. It houses several interesting displays, ranging from artefacts from days gone by (including a range of old carpentry tools as the village was renowned for this skill, supplying the area with furniture, barrels, washboards, troughs – indeed just about everything) and weaving paraphernalia to a cabinet full of guns (including a German machine gun) and a display chronicling the history of the Greek drachma from 1900-2000. There is no admission fee so the museum sustains itself by selling gift packs of olive oil and olive soap, books, calendars and a DVD.

Note: If you are wondering why the school is no longer used it is due to a lack of clients. Severe depopulation has been the norm throughout the Mani as better lives were sought in Kalamata, Athens or overseas. Out of all the hill villages mentioned in this section from Exohori to Platsa, only Proastio still has an operating junior school. All of the other villages did have their own school at one stage but have been closed within the last few decades. Daily buses now ferry students down to the junior school in Stoupa or the high school in Kardamyli.

From the school you can clearly see Hora running along a ridge ahead of you. Just past the school a sign indicates a concrete road to ‘Kato Hora’ down to the left. This can be driven and on the other side of the small gulley there is a convenient area to park. Directly above you is the 18th century Sotiros (Saviour) or Metamorphosis church. Its bell tower, which seems to have lost its top layer, has numerous carved stones in it. Inside, the frescos are faded but there is enough to give the date of 1736. Another church with a story to tell lies at the end of the ridge. Agios Nikolaos is where the English travel writer Bruce Chatwin requested his ashes to be scattered upon his death in 1989. Chatwin had spent some time in Mani and this church was one of his favourite picnic spots. In taking the short walk there it is easy to see why. From the car-parking area walk up into the village and turn left down. After a few houses turn left along a narrow dirt path at a house with two large millstones outside. The slightly overgrown path soon brings you to the tranquil location of Agios Nikolaos. The church is locked but for once this is not frustrating as the setting is so beautiful. The exterior walls hold some ancient marble pieces.

Back on the main road, the road bends away from Hora. To get a good look at the Viros Gorge turn left at a blue sign that says gorge in Greek (‘farangi’). The road leads to the top end of Hora where the Hotel Viros Gorge commands spectacular views. The village visible on the other side of the gorge is Tseria. If you want to walk there and back, follow the road leading downwards into the gorge and climb up a well-preserved kalderimi on the other side.

The main road is now tarmac all the way to Saidona, which saves an enormous amount of time if you are spending the day exploring the villages away from the coast as well as giving an aerial perspective on the coastline.

 
 

One Comment

  1. A note about Agios Giorgos: We did the ‘Walk 3′ from the 2013 12 walk and 5 drive routes guide. The former monastery is no longer open. You have to go to one of the kafenia in Proastio and get someone to call the Papas who has the key. We walked the route Kardamyli-Petrovouni-Proastio-Kalamitsi Beach-Kardamyli on March 5, 2017. One other note: One instruction for finding the path from Petrovouni to Proastio are a little confusing in the booklet. DO NOT take the dirt path up into the olives immediately behind the church. Go further along past the church and some new construction to a recently-paved road that forks off to the right. Here the red and white path indicators are clear, and once you are in the olives the signs are frequent and easy to follow to Agios Giorgos.

     

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