Mani from Independence to the Present Day
In the spring of 1821 the Greeks of the Peloponnese rose against their Turkish overlords. The timing was opportune as the Turks were diverted in crushing the power of the Albanian ruler Ali Pasha who had carved out a small and increasingly independent empire based in Albania and Epiros but in fact expanded to cover most of Roumeli or northern Greece. There is some squabbling about where the the Greek War of Independence actually started. The usual favourite is the date of of 25th of March at the Monastery of Agia Lavra in northern Arcadia where the local bishop reputedly ran up the Greek flag - and is now commemorated in many stirring and doubtless inaccurate paintings and prints. The Maniates would have it otherwise and claim that Petrobey Mavromichalis did the same a few days earlier on 17 March in Tsimova/Areopolis. This is true but was probably nothing like as risky as the gesture in Arcadia as Mavromichalis already held sway over Mani. Petrobey wrote declamatory letters to the western powers asking for their help in throwing off the Ottoman yoke. In the reactionary period after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars the governments of the Great Powers were reluctant to upset any balances of power, though public opinion, certainly in France, Britain and Germany, was, generally, sympathetic to the Greek cause. Research has discovered that someone had drafted a letter, probably dictated by Petrobey, to Tsar Alexander I of Russia asking for Russian help with the revolt in the Morea. The letter and its appeal, apparently, was never sent and, on the evidence of Russian indifference to the vainglorious Greek revolts in the Danubian basin under Ypsilantis, would, anyway, have fallen on deaf ears.
The general uprising of the Peloponnesian Greeks meant within a few months over 20,000 Muslims (mostly ethnic Greeks who had converted) were systematically obliterated from the Peloponnese, their villages and mosques raised to the ground, their wells poisoned and blocked and, by and large, they themselves massacred in their thousands. The Moslem Albanian clans of Vardounia on the north eastern flanks of Mani under their leader Zalumis retreated along with many others to the central Arcadian city of Tripolitza (modern day Tripolis). Here, overcrowded, weakened by malnutrition and disease, they held out for a time behind low mud walls until Kolokotronis and his Pallikares, aware that there was no chance of an Ottoman raising of the siege attacked and massacred all they could find. One can use that ghastly, bland, modern phrase "ethnically cleansed" with certitude and mountainous piles of human skulls greeted travellers and fed the local lamergeiers . It goes without saying that wherever possible the Ottomans took their revenge with similar results.
The torturous narrative and complicated course of the Greek War of Independence are beyond the scope of these pages - (for a clear modern account see David Brewer, The Flame of Freedom. The Greek War of Independence. John Murray. London. 2001. ISBN 0719554470) But much of the fighting either involved Maniates (the Mavromichalis family alone lost 49 dead in the conflict) and much had some bearing on Mani. In the first years of the war the Turks were driven out of most of the Morea clinging on to a few forts such as Patras, Koroni and Methoni. Once in firm control of the Peloponnese the Greeks started to squabble over who was to have power in the nascent national government. There were two short periods of civil war and it is noticeable that the Mavromichalis clan from the Areopolis area and the Mourtzinos-Troupakis family from Kardamili were on opposing sides, the latter supporting their old friend and ally Kolokotronis.
After this short period of Greek domination and the unfortunate internal infighting the Turks were aided by the ruler of Egypt Mohammed Ali and his excellent if ruthless troops under the command of his adopted and pockmarked son Ibrahim Pasha. These troops, trained in western methods, invaded the Peloponnese in 1825 causing great suffering to the Greeks, whose tactics were based on the irregular klephtic practices of opportunity, ambush and skirmishing. Firing from the hip and using all available cover the Klephts had perfected an early version of guerilla warfare. It was a system which excelled in raiding passing caravans or in a sheep rustling raid but proved pretty useless against intelligently led and disciplined western trained troops.
Almiros - the northern gateway to Mani - above it Mount Kalathi - by William Gell
Ibrahim's army swept all before them beseiging and taking the port of Navarino before taking Kalamata and making a punitive incursion into north western Mani, raising Kitries and the Bey's palace to the ground and according to The Times correspondent in Zante "…destroyed many villages, and penetrated into passes which were considered inaccessible." Fortuitously Ibrahim moved off to Kalamata and Methoni before making his headquarters at Tripoli and turning north east to attack the defences of the then Greek 'capital' of Napflion or as it was then referred to, 'Napoli di Romania'. He tried to invade Mani again but was held at the Lines of Verga by Mavromichalis and the Mani clans, now allied again in a common cause. These fortified lines still exist between the sea and mountain near Almiros just south of Kalamata. In another sweep through Lakonia Ibrahim and his Egyptian troops got as close as the castle of Passavas and the Vardounia mountains and briefly threatened Marathonisi (Githio) before being defeated by Kolokotronis at the head of 14,000 troops near there in November 1825. Luckily most of Mani avoided immediate warfare, as the devastation of the rest of the Peloponnese was appalling. The Rev. Charles Swan of HMS Cambrian was part of a group of British Officers sent to negotiate with Ibrahim Pasha for the exchange of prisoners, including one of Petrobey Mavromichalis' sons who had been captured at the fall of Navarino. After meeting Petrobey at Kitries in September 1825 he travelled to the Vardounia borders above Githeon and vividly reported on the sickening savagery of the war. Ibrahim Pasha chillingly declaimed to the British party "I will not cease till the Morea be a ruin".
He did however have some diplomacy and as Swan reported, "desired us to communicate to the Bey of Maina: namely, 'that for this time he spared his territory out of compliment to the English; and that he might thank Capt. Hamilton (of HMS Cambrian) for the safety of himself and his people. Another time he could not tell what might happen". When the gist of this was conveyed to Petrobey Mavromichalis, "The grimace he made, on hearing that Ibrahim spared Maina out of compliment to the English, was truly ridiculous and occasioned a universal burst of laughter in which he good humouredly joined ".
The Greeks bought time over the winter of 1825-6 in talks with the Sublime Porte but these came to nothing and the Egyptian Ottoman troops continued to threaten Mani throughout 1826. There were even erroneous reports in despatches that summer that the Maniates had submitted to Ibrahim Pasha. Most famous is a story, echoing the (somewhat exaggerated) exploits of the Welsh women of Fishguard in 1797, concerning an attempted Egyptian landing near Pirgos Dirou which was repulsed not by "the guns" - who were up at Verga but by women from the fields wielding their sickles. Even during the War of Independence the Maniates continued their old ways of expedient piracy, or as they would have it, privateering. One might have thought that the Maniates would have tried to keep the peace with the neutral but supportive British and their allies but the story of the fracas concerning HMS Pelican and the Italian pirate Siutto which is told in the Kardamili page, makes it clear that the Maniates and their kapetani still reckoned they were a law unto themselves and that the chaos of the conflict had given further opportunities for nefarious and often downright illegal activities, even if they could be justified as being for the eventual common good of the nascent Greek nation.
Navarino Bay - scene of the decisive sea battle of 20 October 1827. Depicted by William Gell c.1804.
Eventually the course of the war was decided by the legally dubious intervention of the great powers in the guise of a combined French, Russian and British fleet. Although meant to be neutral this force under the command of the Admirals Codrington, Heyden and de Rigny "inadvertently" destroyed the Turkish navy at Navarino (modern Pylos) in October 1827 which left the Egyptians with no supply lines and the inevitability of withdrawal. After negotiation the Turks gave independence to a large chunk of the Greek peninsula which included the entire Peloponnese. In 1828 a French Expeditionary Force under General Maison landed at Petalidi on the Messenian peninsula opposite Kitries and occupied the Morea; ostensibly to ensure the safe handover of it to the Greeks and see the back of Ibrahim Pasha's troops - though equally, in the unspoken jostling for influence in the area, to prevent the Russians from doing likewise.
The French built roads and repaired the infrastructure - the grid system of Sparta's streets and some of the architecture and fortifications of nearby Pylos and Methoni date from this period. More interestingly the French sent geographers, artists and scientists to the Morea rather as they had on Napoleon's invasion of Egypt 30 years before. The findings were published in Paris in many volumes as the Expedition scientifique de Morée in the 1830s. The studies of the flora and fauna of the area are of great interest to specialists and the maps they produced were the first really accurate cartographical survey of the area using triangulation. Even Leake was impressed by the French map, though he was quick to point out what he deemed inaccuracies in his Pelponnesiaca (1846).
The members of the Expedition Scientifique were fascinated by the Maniates, and in a report to The Times in 1829 the leader of the expedition , Bory de St. Vincent, rather erroneously claimed they were the first foreigners to visit Mani (to be fair, the actual volumes do not repeat this assertion). From this report they appear to have been delighted by the friendliness of the Maniates and reported that wherever they went the locals prefaced their religious observations with fulsome prayers for the wellbeing of the French royal family. Putting apart the suspicion that this was a crafty way to curry favour with their Gallic visitors other evidence points to the continuing obduracy of the Maniates. When the French academics got to Alika in deep Mani the local chieftain attempted a piece of crude extortion of 100 piastres to visit the ancient remains at Kiparrisia or else he would ring the church bells to call out the heavy mob. Eventually the situation was solved though the French, perhaps soured by the experience, declared the site of ancient Kaenopolis to be of only 'faint interest'. At both Stavri and Lagia they found the villagers in a state of open inter-familial warfare and finally at Flomochori they were only saved from being right-royally mugged by the intervention of their long suffering guide.
The dominance and importance of Maniate leaders and their ferocious fighting men in the struggle had unforeseen results in the aftermath of the war. After much wrangling the Greeks appointed Count Iannis Kapodistria, a Corfiot who had served long in the Russian Foreign Ministry, as the new state's first President. Kapodistria was a 'westerner' by upbringing and education and held himself aloof above the petty squabblings of the local leaders whom he doubtless classed as Klephts (in the non-heroic meaning of the word). His attempts to centralise government fell particularly foul of the Maniate kapetani who were, after all, used to decades of virtual self rule. Rufus Anderson, an American missionary who visited Mani in 1829 observed that the area was divided into three units. An eastern area centred on Marathonisi under 'Janitakes', the area around Tsimova/Areopolis and a third based at 'Cardamoula' - the latter undoubtedly dominated by the Mavromichalis and Mourtzinos clans respectively. Anderson commented that these areas 'are independent of each other; but their power has been considerably reduced since the organisation of the present Greek government'. In fact President Kapodistria was accused by the Mavromichalis clan of favouring the Mourtzinos of Kardamili - and complicating things yet further Petrobey's nephew Pierakos not only refused to support his uncle against the government of Kapodistria but invaded Mesa Mani with a band of irregular supporters in !831 and threatened the family strongholds of Limeni and Areopolis.
The French army was by now being used as a 'peace-keeping' force as the Greeks began falling out with one another again. In the summer of 1831 The Maniates lead by the Mavromichalis allied themselves with the islanders of Hydra and had to be persuaded to peaceably pull out of Kalamata by the French. There was then an uneasy stand off with the French placing themselves uneasily between the rebellious Maniates and Kolokotronis' Greek Governmental troops. While the French were conciliatory a Russian naval squadron was more robust as it hemmed in four Hydriot ships off Almyros, one corvette was blown up by it's crew, two run ashore and one brig escaped.
Things came to a head when Kapodistria in the then capital of Greece, Napflion, incarcerated Petrobey Mavromichalis for his constant dissent. Petrobey wanted reparations for the money he had lost during the war of independence and was equally assertive of his sole rights to tax Mani - not Kapodistria's central government. Kapodistria's attitude towards the Mavromichalis clan was both unsympathetic and often supercilious. C.M. Woodhouse's biography of Kapodistria makes clear the cold impatience of the Corfiot with his subjects. He berated Petrobey, 'You and a couple of dozen others are the ruin of Greece' and when Petrobey's son Georgios Mavromichalis called on Kapodistria in his most flamboyant costume he was taken to task for not wearing clothes more suited to the lean times. 'Today' said Georgios, 'the President put me to shame.'
Georgios and his uncle Konstantinos fell upon Kapodistria as he arrived at church on the morning of 9 October 1831. Kapodistria was stabbed by Georgios and shot by Konstantinos - he died instantly. In the ensuing struggle Georgios escaped to the house of the French resident. Konstantinos, wounded in the fracas, hobbled a short distance into the labyrinthine streets of Napflion but was cornered by a baying, revengeful mob. According to one story he cried out "Come my Pallikares (warriors) who will put a bullet into me!" and was accommodated by a certain Photomaras who shot him from a window, other versions state he was lynched. His body was dragged through the streets of Napflion and thrown to the fishes. His nephew was handed over to the authorities and court-marshalled - defended, vainly, by the Scots Philhellene Edward Masson. Georgios protested in his will that he had killed Kapodistrias for national reasons rather than familial revenge; it is, weighing up the evidence and the revengeful propensities of Maniate customs, an unlikely motive. George was condemned to death, there were, after all, over 30 witnesses to the murder, and was executed on the morning of 22 October 1831, kneeling before the window of Petrobey's prison window to be blessed by his incarcerated father before walking calmly to the main square where he was shot by firing squad. Petrobey himself was too much the famous hero of the War of Independence and senior statesman to be punished and was allowed to go into 'quiet' retirement in Areopolis while Greece descended into yet another bitter civil war.
The extent of Greece after the War of Independence
The introduction of a Bavarian King Otto (or Otho) by the western powers in an attempt to stabilise Greece hardly changed matters for the better as the Bavarians who made up his advisors and generals made the time honoured mistake of attempting to coerce the Mani into compliance with government policies. These included the paying of taxes and, from the Maniate point of view, the equally outrageous notion that the tower houses should be pulled down. A battalion of blue clad Bavarian infantry was sent into Mani to lay down the law but failed to take into account the Maniates' fabled abilities as guerilla fighters. The Maniates surrounded the bewildered Bavarians, stripped them of both weapons and uniforms and sent them footsore and doubtless sunburned back to whence they had come. The Earl of Carnarvon visited Mani in this period and reported. " the majority of the soldiers owing their lives to the contempt of their enemies, who sold them, naked and shivering, in the public market at the low price of two pence a-head". After another abortive military attempt to subdue Mani, under a particularly nasty officer called Feder, Bavarian government agents took a much more conciliatory approach to the Maniates and things quietened down…for a while. One of the tactics used by the government was to enrol the Maniates into the Greek Army, thus harnessing their martial inclinations to a national cause and large numbers of them assisted in the abortive attempts to liberate Crete from the Ottomans in 1867-8 :a pattern continued in later decades in northern Greece. A statue on the seafront at Kotronas commemorates a local captain who fought in Macedonia in the latter part of the 19th century.
Over the next decades, partly through the obduracy of the Maniates and partly the high handedness of the Othonian regime, there were regular major eruptions of violence. In 1839 a Mavromichalis was accused of inciting rebellion by bribing starving peasants with corn and when the British traveller, Carnarvon, reached Marathonisi (Githeon) in that year, he had just missed a large raid by the Deep Maniates who had, " descended like a flood from the Highlands sweeping all before them. Little harm, however, beyond the plunder of the government chest, was done." Carnarvon also commented on the sort of things the Deep Maniates took as plunder, " for rude and uncouth as their native mountains, the Maniates turned with disdain from what they considered the effeminate luxuries of a civilised town. The preferred to carry off doors and windows and even the nails and iron work of the houses ". The Maniates had many grievances but it seems that the thing they most resented was the westernisation of the new state and its outward trappings of frock coats. The Maniates were attached to their oriental garb and yatagans (curved swords) and Petrobey Mavromichalis' brother bemoaned the fact that, "everything had become Frank". The term 'Frank' - Frangi, is still a term one occasionally hears used for a foreigner or westerner. Even in 1863 Dimitri Mavromichali (Minister of War in the then Greek government) was famed for still wearing 'picturesque Albanian dress', though 'adapting it to European ideas of dandyism'.
The government reactions were draconian, Hundreds of Maniates were forcibly moved from Mani to Roumeli (northern mainland Greece) where with no sustenance many starved to death and there are dreadful hints of the poisoning of Maniate brigands by Government troops. In another blow in 1842, schools set up in the 1830s and run by American missionaries in Mani, were forcibly closed down by the Minister of Public Instruction amongst a popular clamour, orchestrated by the Orthodox Church that these educational establishments were instilling contempt for Orthodox tenets in the minds of the children. G.A. Perdicaris, who was a consul at the US Embassy in Athens visited Tsimova (Areopolis) in 1842 and was given hospitality in a Maniat pyrgos by a Mr. Leyburn of Virginia and his wife. They and a Mr Houston (who had already left Greece) had been in Areopolis since 1836 under the auspices of the American Board of Commisioners for Foreign Missions. Here they had founded a school which was much appreciated by the locals but the Americans' stern refusal to preach the Orthodox catechism had from small beginnings become a national and international cause célèbre and Mr Leyburn was sadly preparing to leave his adopted land.
The old Kapetani families clearly continued to have influence, especially the Mavromichalis family who despite their assasination of Kapodistria and regular incitement of revolt in Mani remained influential on the national scene. Petrobey became something of an 'elder courtier' dying in Athens at the ripe old age of 82 in 1848, his nephew Elias nicknamed 'Katzakos' died in 1836 in Munich, of cholera, where he was accompanying King Otto on a visit to the King's homeland. Other Mavromichali became MPs and ministers in the constantly changing 'musical chairs' of Greek governments. The aura of respectability hid older instintive proclivities and although the above mentioned Mavromichalis War Minister in the 1860s should have been beyond reproach his wife was, along with a number of her family indicted in the scandal of the murder of a rival politician. The charges, unsurprisingly, were dropped. Even as late as 1910 when Kiriakoulis Mavromichalis was (briefly) Prime Minister he resisted universal calls for his resignation (orchestrated by Eleftherios Venizelos) by garrisoning his Athenian home and garden with 300 armed Maniates - although 'The Times' correspondent noted that these 'Mainote custodians were kept discretely out of sight'.
Throughout the nineteenth century there are many instances which point to the lack of progress of the central Greek government in taming the Maniates. Mentions of revolts, raids and piracy are commonplace…two reports from 1845 are good examples
'In Maina the slaughter has been very great, and in general everything looks gloomy.'
'… the Government partisans acknowledged that 36 houses had been burnt, and that the Government troops had plundered the villages, as if it were regular warfare; the number of men, women and children killed is not yet known'.
Throughout the Bavarian dominated Othonian reign there were therefore plenty of excuses for the Maniates to rise against the government even though the Maniat leaders seem to have changed sides with baffling regularity. Thus there are reports of the Mavromichalis family sending Otto and his wife 30 baskets of Mani honey whilst continually plotting against the Othonian regime.
In July 1847 there were reports of savage massacres in Mani. A serious incident occured in northern Exo Mani which was reported in the London Times of August 10 of that year. The Gendarmerie killed a son of General Antonis Mavromichalis at Varousi (Stavropigio) and, on the approach of more royal troops, these insurgents, lead by Katzako Mavromichalis, barricaded themselves at Doli. Another member of the clan, General Anastasius Mavromichalis tried to get the rebels to surrender but the situation was complicated by the arrival of 120 more rebellious Maniates in three boats in Kitries harbour. Colonel Germanos Mavromichalis ordered them to re-embark and land elsewhere but the arrivals were worried by the offshore presence of a Greek naval corvette, the Amelie and insisted on trying to join their fellow rebels on foot. The first group had by now abandoned Doli but unaware of this the new group moved up the mountain. They were resting on the heights above the village when a far larger force of Royalists under a certain Cleopas caught them unawares and surrounded them. As they hadn't actually joined the other rebels they were persuaded to lay down their arms and depart peacably.
At first this went alright but one of the rebels cried out 'Friends! why should we deliver up our arms when we are no longer pursued? Let us return home, but keep our arms'. The majority agreed and started to break ranks when Cleopas ordered his troops to open fire. Government reports later claimed that the rebels began the firing but whether this suicidal reaction actually happened or not (and governments are habitually assiduous at covering up the truth) the result was not in doubt. 30 of the rebels immediately fell and the rest started to run. At this point Cleopas withheld his regular troops and ordered local Maniates under his command to lead the pursuit. These locals (the report doesn't actually name them or their villages, but they were undoubtledly had long held antagonisms to the Mavromichalis lead rebels), showed no mercy in their actions. As the contemporary report stated, 'These men, filled with local animosity, give themselves up to all the rage of personal vengeance. Every man they could reach was massacred without mercy, and it is said upwards of 70 were killed and wounded.'
Lawnessness also abounded even though Capodistria had, with difficulty, introduced the concept of a national legal code and courts to the previously unruly Mani. In the summer of 1845 most of Greece was in turmoil and the Othonian government were using considerably more force than necessary to keep order. A local judge, a member of the Kapetanakis family, was faced by a complainant from an opposing family. His performance of justice was to reach a pistol out from under his desk and shoot the petitioner dead. Needless to say, being related to the Mavromichalis and brother of a member of Parliament, this justice of the peace's odd interpretation of the second of those words was studiously ignored by the authorities.
In 1850 the Pacifico Affair occurred. An ex Portugese consul, Don Pacifico, a Sephardic Jew born in Gibraltar, and thus deemed a British subject, had retired to trade in Athens. In 1847 during anti-semitic riots during Holy week a mob had attacked his house and, while the police looked on, burned it down. After entreaties by Pacifico to the British Government Lord Palmerston decided that the Greek government needed to be given a lesson in 'gun-boat' diplomacy and sent a naval force to blockade Piraeus and cynically coerce the Greeks into admitting to a long list of complaints. Top of the list was, unsurprisingly, an idemnity for Pacifico but the arrogant British realpolitik had bundled up a whole list of claims against the Greeks. Interestingly number two in the list was 'Idemnity for an English ship thrown by a tempest on the coast of Magne and pillaged by the inhabitants of the place'. Not exactly deliberate wrecking then - but a close thing. The entire indemnity eventually paid was £4000 - of which Pacifico was apportioned a meagre £150.
In the winter of 1851 and into 1852 the monk/priest Papulakis lead a popular revolution in Mani against the central government, in part a reaction to the dissolution of many monasteries, which were deemed a drain on the public purse, it was also fomented by the reactionary 'Russian' party in Athens - who were playing on the unpopularity of the western nations after the Pacifico affair. By whipping up religious fervour and anti-western prejudices (westerners were described as 'heretics') Papulakis, aided and abetted by local priests, managed to raise an army of thousands of Maniates by ringing the church bells on the threat of invasion by the army. Eventually Papulakis was tricked into boarding a Greek naval vessel, by one of his own supporters and arrested.
There were echoes of this a few years later in July 1854 when a minor incident at Kotronas, at the head of the Gulf of Kolokythia on the eastern side of Mani, blew up into a larger affair. It concerned an unprovoked attack on a French naval detachment from the brig Olivier which was looking for pirates in the Lakonian Gulf. A small breakfasting landing party on the beach at Kotronas were attacked by some 60 armed Maniates and were fortunate to escape with only two wounded. The French commander attempted to get the local Eparch in Marathonisi to apprehend the ringleaders but the Eparch's reluctant attempts to do this ended in abject failure. By now most of the villages in the area were under arms and the use of a Greek naval vessel, a Royal Official from Athens and eventually the Governor of Sparta and his gendarmerie all proved ineffectual.
This fracas was orchestrated by another Papas, a certain Mentouris , who had been active in the Papulakis rebellion and was, in the opinion of The Times' correspondent*, working on the instructions of the 'Russian' party at court. This incident was unsurprisingly timed at the height of the Crimean War, when the major western powers of France and England were attacking the Russian Empire - believed by many Greeks to be the power most supportive of basic Orthodox beliefs. There was a Greek volunteer legion which fought for the Russians at the siege of Sevastopol and the allies, in an unprincipled if pragmatic move, occupied Piraeus for over two years in order to keep Greece neutral; an enormous affront to Greek pride. Although a mere sideline to the larger struggles the affair at Kotronas clearly points out both the volatile and reactionary nature of mid 19th century Mani and the impotence, and not to say reluctance, of the Greek goverment to control the area.
*The article was by-lined 'From our own correspondent' a practice of anonymity which was normal until relatively recently. However the measured tone of the report and its piercing analysis leads one to hope it was the work of George Finlay, clear headed philhellene and one of the greatest historians of Greece. He was, however, in England for part of the year looking after his ailing mother.
Even though an army revolt in 1844 had delivered a remarkably liberal constitution Otto's court continued to have a baleful influence on the body politic and in 1862 his increasingly unpopular reign was brought to an end by another coup d'etat. Otto had failed his adopted land in many ways, but most crucially he had been singularly unsuccessful in providing an heir. The crown was offered after a plebiscite to Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria (the British government, sensibly, refused on his behalf and the crown eventually went to the Danish royal family) but the state was extremely destabilised and reports of complaints about the elections to the Chamber of Deputies shows up the endemic corruption in Mani where clan allegiance meant more than political conviction. Some Mani communes were frightened of having their voting urns (the ballot box of the time) hi-jacked on the road and of six deputies put foward in Mani, four were from the Mavromichalis family who used their armed supporters to manipulate the vote. There were plots to re-establish the ex King but The Times reporter commented that the '…only result has been to increase brigandage in the districts of Maina and Racome. Troops have been despatched to these points.'
Further south the inter family feuds and vendettas in the Mesa Mani continued apace and in 1870 reached such ferocity that the then Prime Minister (he held the office no less than ten times between 1865 and 1882 - often for a matter of days or weeks) Alexandros Koumoundourous - himself of northern Mani stock, son of the fourth Bey of Mani - and whose first wife was a Mavromichalis - sent in troops to quell the inter clan fighting in Kitta. This was undoubtedly influenced by the fall-out from the notorious Dilessi Murders - in which some English aristocrats on an ill-advised picnic in the mountains between Athens and Marathon had been seized by brigands. They were held to ransom, some released - and then, after a bungled rescue attempt by the Greek 'security' forces, the remainder were killed in cold blood. The British government's reaction can be imagined and the Greeks were obviously highly embarrassed by the international opprobrium into which their lax attitude to brigandage had thrown them. One rather imagines that the putting down of local squabbling in the deep Mani was a sop to public and international opinion. Interestingly Mani seems to have pointed its violence at its own people rather than strangers and foreigners as G.A. Perdicaris, who travelled round all of Greece, noted in the 1840s that, 'it was the only section of the country where an armed escort was unnecessary'.
There are plenty of stories of vendettas continuing well into the twentieth century and as someone once pointed out to me, " they've just swopped guns for litigiousness." By the close of the 19th century Mani was in a state of decline, economically exhausted some Maniates left in the great Greek diaspora of the late 19th and early 20th century. In fact the decline in Mani population began gently in the early 20th century when it had reached its apogee of some 34,000 inhabitants and then from the 1940s the graph goes steeply downhill reaching a mere 15,000 by the 1960s. The radical nature of this decline is shown by the fact that by 1961 the Mani had the lowest average village population in Greece whereas in 1907 it had been one of the highest.
Another group of foreigners now began to move into Mani, historians and archaeologists. Rennell Rodd, who was a career diplomat, wrote of the Maniates in the late 1880s when he was Second Secretary to the British Embassy in Athens. His book on the folklore of contemporary Greece includes many observations on Mani which Rodd obviously visited. It is amazing that even in the 1880s he could report that…
'The old feudal chiefs are more a real power here than the law or the gendarmerie, and it is still impossible to put down the vendetta between family and family when blood has once been spilt. The slayer flies to the mountains, where he is safe from the gendarmerie…'
The ambitious Laconia survey by the British School at Athens which started in 1905 and continued for the next few years. At first they only had the resources to concentrate on a number of scattered sights across the province. In Mani they looked at Thalamae (now in the nomos of Messenia but then in Lakonia) excavating around the well, and at other locations in eastern Peloponnese at Geronthae (near present day Geraki), Epidaurus Limera (near Monemvasia) and Zarax (a small port to the north of Epidaurus Limera). The main centre of the excavations was at Sparta. A number of small forays were made into Mani - Arthur Woodward and Henry Ormerod, armed with Pausanias and Leake, searching for ancient remains in Taenaron and Vardounia respectively. Ramsay Traquair, a Scottish architect, was specifically appointed to look for Byzantine and Frankish medieval churches and castles and the then Director of the BSA and all round eccentric, Richard MacGillivray Dawkins followed Traquair translating inscriptions and noting oddities of the Maniat dialect (he later even visited Cargèse in Corsica to swot up on the traces of Maniat dialect surviving there).
With the political turmoil of the thirties and forties and the trauma of the Axis occupation and the vicious civil war of 1945 - 49 Mani became a backwater - clinging on to its traditions and subsistence living. It still has a reputation in Greece as one of the most backward, right-wing and foremost royalist areas of the land and the reputation for warlike propensities follows them still. Greek army units still take pride in having a Maniate in the ranks. Although the twentieth century seemed to be leaving Mani further and further behind in its backwater the conflicts of the mid century touched even here. A small, but significant, incident in Maniate history was the retreat of the Allied forces in April 1941. Troops of the British and Dominion forces hounded by the Luftwaffe and the SS Panzer Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division converged on Kalamata to embark for Crete or Egypt. Many were taken away by the Royal Navy (and any other boat they could find) but a fierce rearguard had to be fought along the seafront at Kalamata.
The Royal Navy faced a sky dominated by the Luftwaffe - what few fighters the RAF had - had been withdrawn to Alexandria (by the way the famous children's writer Roald Dahl was one of those fighter pilots). Therefore the British destroyers could only come in at night and had to be away well before daybreak. By the 29th of April it was obvious that further resistance was futile and the remaining commanding officer , Brigadier Parrington, ordered surrender 'or every man for himself'. It would appear that rather too many British Officers put their own skins before those of their troops and pushed their way to the head of the queue. Of the deserted rankers some waited patiently in the olive groves around Kalamata to be 'put in the bag' and become Prisoners of War, others were less sanguine and moved away into the foothills of the Taygetus and down the Mani.
Edwin Horlington, who was then a Corporal in the Royal Army Service Corps had been in Greece since the previous November and spoke some Greek. He decided to make for the hills. After a number of days wandering around the olive groves, and contracting pneumonia in the process, he was extremely lucky and stumbled across a whaler from H.M.S. Hero near Cape Kitries on the night of 1st/2nd of May 1941, when the evacuation was over but a few destroyers were looking for stragglers, and was taken to Alexandria. Some troops optimistically trusting a Greek military map which showed a road running to the tip of Mani drove as far as Kardamili - just south of where this fictitious 'road' ran out - the Luftwaffe then appeared. Some troops disappeared into the foothills of the Taygetus and hid or were secreted away at night from coves on the coast - most were captured. Some hid in the Taygetus for many months despite Italian attempts to smoke them out and some Cypriot soldiers went completely native.
Many Allied troops either beg, stole or borrowed local craft, caiques or even rowing boats from small ports all down the Mani peninsula in often vain attempts to escape across the Kithera passage to Crete. The journey was fraught with danger and the novelist Lawrence Durrell who was a teacher for the British Council in Kalamata told of how the caique he and his family had escaped in from Pylos had to hug the coastline in fear of German planes. At one point there was a shout of "Stukas!" which had the caique scurrying under the cliffs of Matapan. To everyone's relief the putative Luftwaffe wing turned out to be an innocent flock of ducks flying in a vee formation. As someone, who shall remain nameless, commented to me, "Just think if those ducks had been Stukas, how much pretension we'd have been saved from!"
In the early 1990s Edwin Horlington founded The Brotherhood of Veterans of The Greek Campaign 1940-41. This organisation (basically it is run from Edwin's home- 163, Walton Road, Walton on the Naze, Essex CO1 8NE Tel. 01255 677178- and through his enthusiasm) has arranged a number of veterans' trips to revisit Kalamata and to unveil memorials to the Allied troops who died in this often forgotten campaign. There was a delegation of them there again in May 2005 for the 60th anniversary of VE day. Edwin has published two volumes of collections of reminiscences of the campaign called 'Tell Them We Were Here' which are available from the same address.
Greece had been a country wracked by deep social and political divisions before the war and after the traumas of the Italian and the then much more draconian German occupation these tensions exploded in 1944-5 into tragedy. Many tourists to Greece are surprised to hear that there was a very nasty Civil War which raged until 1949 and in which hundreds of thousands died. Visitors often query the dates on Greek War Memorials which have an end date for the conflict as 1949 or in some cases 1950. Even those who do know of the civil war tend to believe it was confined to the northerly mountains in Epirus and Macedonia where the left wing andartes were supplied from over the northern borders. In fact the war affected the whole country and guerrilla fighting in the Peloponnese was on a large scale. The Civil War was particularly fierce in northern Mani with the Taygetus mountains providing good cover for the communist Andartes. Agios Nikolaos, south of Stoupa, was the fortified base for the right wing government troops - the gun positions are still in evidence, from whence they attacked the left wing positions in the hills.
A machine gun post above the village of Ag. Nikolaos - Vardounia. Such lookout posts were constructed by the Nationalist troops during the vicious Civil War 1945 - 49. There is another near Ag. Nikolaos (Selenitsa) on the other side of the Taygetus.
One can still find memorials to entire families wiped out on a single day in the years 1946/7 and just on the entrance to Saidona there is a thought provoking memorial to all those hundreds who died in the district - on one side or the other - during the occupation and civil war. The bitterness of the memories of this period when, as in all civil conflicts, brother fought against brother, still lingers, and few who experienced it will openly talk about it. Often sides were taken out of fear of reprisals rather than any deeply held ideological beliefs. One old man I talked to up in the mountains told me he had been a young Andarte up in the Taygetus in the Civil War but quickly added "Den kommunista" - 'I wasn't a Communist' - unlikely as he'd already proudly showed me a later photograph of himself, in police uniform, shaking the hand of then Prime Minister Karamanlis. The mountain villages suffered disproportionately high casualities from murderous outrages on both sides - and the number and proportion of women dead is both noticeable and shocking. But even the 'soft' seaside villages suffered and I was told of the tree beside the bridge in Kardamili where corpses would be found strung up in the morning, 'pour encourager les autres'.
In the 1950s, when Patrick Leigh Fermor and Robert Liddell visited Mani, conditions were still extremely basic although most outward traces of the endemic violence had disappeared and that road south still hadn't been built. Old attitudes were slow to disappear - I have talked to an educated Greek woman who came to Mani some thirty years ago and was refused service in cafés as she was on her own. There was even more reason for Greeks to leave their homeland due to the deep political and social divides created by the Civil War and these were only exacerbated by the Colonels' dictatorship in the sixties - many moved to the seeming paradises of Australia and America. Some of those who made their (relative) fortunes have returned and are now the movers and shakers of the local economies - more still remain in distant lands and have sold up in Mani or their properties steadily crumble (quite a few have contacted me from their adopted lands). An excellent and provocative study of Greek emigration to Australia is on sale in Kardamili by its author, Dr. Iannis Dimitreas. Ironically the building of a road down the Mani during the time of the Colonels only made the escape route for emigrants easier and incidentally plunged the small steamer ports like Mezapos and Gerolimenas into even faster decline.
The geo-social study by Dr. Peter Hartleb of the Outer Mani in the 1980s showed that whereas the coastal settlements were beginning to show signs of economic bloom with the nascent tourist trade the villages in the hinterland were empty save a few elderly inhabitants and sorely backward in infrastructure. The Greek entry into the EU and a rise in tourists and foreigners buying holiday and retirement homes has in part stopped this decline. The trend is, however, still marginally downwards. The local council of Lefktro (Prosilio to Ag. Nikon in the Outer Mani) has published the census figures for March 2001. From these it is clear that the population is still dropping. Kardamili, an economically bouyant village with a fair amount of wealth from tourism has gone from 574 inhabitants in 1991 to 513 today, though oddly Milia tucked away deep in the mountains has risen from 195 to 363 - though this is probably explained by those Athenian Maniates who return to their 'holiday' homes on the occasion of censuses or elections. In all the Lefktro area has fallen in population by some 326 inhabitants to a total of 5,582 in the last decade and taking into account the last sentence it is likely that the true figure is even lower.
My own experience of nearly thirty five years of visiting Greece has seen a shift from noisy and omnipresent donkeys to noisy and omnipresent four wheel drive cars - a middle class - mainly (and thankfully) absent in Athens unless it is Easter or other Public holy days or high summer - has appeared and roads and plumbing have improved in leaps and bounds. That any modernisation has taken place seems to have passed some people by. As late as 1997 Lord Renton of Mount Harry was reported by the British Parliament's House of Lords' Hansard as saying "I remember visiting the Mani about whom Paddy Leigh Fermor wrote in a brilliant book. How could that part of Greece, which still appears totally medieval, be at the same economic level as Frankfurt, Bonn or Brussels?"
In fact a great deal has changed in the last thirty years. The area is no longer as isolated as it once was - it is possible to drive to Athens in a morning whereas it would have taken that time to have reached either Kalamata or Githeon a quarter of a century ago. Then telecommunications would have been one unreliable phone and a temperamental black and white TV in a taverna or bar, further isolating Mani from the rest of Greece. Now mobile phones trill in olive groves and Athenian soap operas blare from every balcony. Work in the past was concerned with self sufficiency and growing wheat and other staples- nowadays it is easier to pop down to the local supermarket for a bag of flour. Professor Malcolm Wagstaff, who did his original research in Mani in the early nineteen sixties was struck when he returned in the '90s to find fields which he remembered cultivated and nurtured had reverted to scrub. The Olive tree is still tended but the subsistence farming has disappeared.
Many northern Europeans, have made Mani their home - often as a holiday retreat but also as first homes, and middle class Athenians of Maniate descent have their vacation retreats - but this has meant that property prices have often risen beyond the reach of locals - a common occurrence all over Europe in areas of outstanding natural beauty. Pigi, the village under Platsa has been reported as being almost totally colonised by Germans and Austrians. The natural riches of Mani are now being shipped to an ever demanding consumer world. The superb Mani olive oil is now not just used by its growers but small factories have sprouted marketing Mani's green nectar to delicatessens in Germany, England and the USA. These are sometimes run by foreigners - Fritz Blauel, an Austrian who pioneered organic oil production in Mani, has his factory above Pyrgos and Heinz Neth's Morea Oil is located in Thalames. Good examples run by locals are an excellent stone press in Malta producing both organic and non-organic oils and a co-operative in Stavropigio.
As with all progress some things' are being lost and much spoiled - one hopes that such a beautiful and unique region will be given protection from the worst blights of Mammon (although scandalously the Taygetus has still to be given National Park status). Certainly many of the villages have been given protected status by the Greek Government. Yannis Saitas reports in a recent article that in 1978, 71 villages were given this status. But this is only about a third of the total and it is clear that the southern, Lakonian Mani has benefited more from this policy than the north western areas. One obvious factor is the inexorable spread of buildings in the touristic littoral of the Exo Mani where some quite hideous villas and appartment blocks have been infilling the olive groves for the last ten years. In the south planning regulations have insisted that most of the 'new' tower houses look very much like their ancestoral forms or are sympathetic restorations and merge into the landscape as naturally as the large growths of prickly pears (actually 19th century importations from America and sometimes referred to as 'Frankish Figs' - Frankish in the sense of 'foreign'). But in the north west a 'faux' traditional style has grown up which has got as much to do with the real past as stuck on Regency Porticos, decorative half timbering and leaded windows have on the swathes of modern estate housing in present day Britain. It was a Greek who told me the stereotypical joke "Never trust an American with a gun, never trust an Italian with money and never trust a Greek with concrete", the latter part of which sadly has some veracity.
The Maniates are aware of the strains which tourism have placed on their land and traditions. The area is, hopefully, too remote and its shores too rocky to attract mass tourism though the mid-summer influx is already putting a strain on the few sandy beaches and extant accommodation. The Maniates need to think hard about what sort of tourism they want. The growth of villas without central heating or decent cooking facilities may suffice for the languid summer season which is mostly spent outdoors but Mani can offer all year attractions and the rooms which can promise a heater on a chill spring night are few and far between. There are ample natural facilities for winter activities such as walking and trekking and also just the joys of looking out on stunning scenery in a mild winter climate. For this other strategies are needed. The Mani needs to retain its special atmosphere and unique features in the face of the ever increasing tides of tourists (and yes - I do know that I'm part of the problem - nowadays we are all tourists, or soon will be ). I know many who want to preserve and cherish Mani - let us hope