Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Highway to Hades

Over the Langada pass to the parched, thorny, and infertile Mani was where Spartans seeking asylum from the cruelty of the tyrant Nabis fled. Isolated by geography they were left alone for centuries to eek out an existance amongst the rocks and thorns. They also held onto their pagan roots for the longest of anywhere in Greece only being taken in by the Orthodoxy at the end of the 9th century. The pride of the maniots is that they were one of very few regions to resist Turkish domination. With the incursion of Cretans and Epirotes in the 17th cetury the region began to take on quite a different flavour. Arable land was already scarce but the growing population created a good amount of squabbling. This squabbling gave rise to a tribal system and spectacular vendettas between villages, families, and clans. The character of the warring Maniots gave birth to the word mania.

Generations later these maniac vendettas have still left their mark. Tower settlements bristle like porcupine quills at the tops of surrounding hills. Each tower is a family fortress designed to sustain itself when under seige of the neighbours. We wind our way through the Mani's eastern settlements to the end of the road at Kokinoghia where we share a 42 Euro fish (!) and a boat ride to the mouth of Hades which plunges mostly below water and hides under an impossibly rocky cliff to the northwest of treacherous Cape Matapan famous for devouring Greek ships. I still have a very hard time imagining Orpheus making his way to this place to seek out Eurydice. He must have been a very good swimmer.

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