Langada means "ravine" or "steep sided valley" in English. and as the road turns inland from its generally parallel course with the sea this village is revealed mainly hugging a spur between two ravines running down from the Taygetus to the sea some hundred metres below. There are a number of tower buildings remaining and there is an excellent description of the development of the village (it's made up of three distinct family areas or 'mahales' which is more usual in the Mesa Mani than in the Exo Mani) in Saitas' book on Mani architecture.

For a map of the whole area from Platsa to Langada click here.

Langada - view from Ag. Sofia and church of the Soter

The road swings round a bend into a small platea. You can't miss the church of the Soter (The "Saviour") which is straight in front of you on the east side of the road. The church is 11th century but until 20 years ago no-one realised this as it was covered with stucco on the outside and thick plaster on the inside - even Rogan had it listed as Post-Byzantine. The cloisonné work on the exterior is very fine and due to the recent cleaning the stone is as if it had just been laid. The door is locked but if you can find the local Papas (often to be found in the bar some 50 metres down the road) he will willingly open the door and show you round (he speaks absolutely no foreign languages). The inside has been enthusiastically overplastered and only in a few parts has this thick layer been taken away to reveal what appear to be a full set of frescoes - of what date I can't tell nor remember as…

… When I attempted to photograph I was quite sternly told not to (and the Papas is a formidable patriarch). He did however insist on waving the alms basket under my nose and extracting a donation. I have since noted that some coach tours are now pulling into Langada where the irascible Papas ushers the contents of the charabanc into Ag. Soter, extracts his toll and whisks them back onto the coach - presumably without being able to take a photograph. If anyone can report a relaxation of this strict photographic embargo please let me know! To be fair I have heard that the monies go towards further restoration.

Another church in Langada is worth your attention and is mentioned by Traquair in his pioneering study of Mani churches from before the First World War. Ag. Sofia is to the north of and above the beginning of the village. Walk back out of the village to the north (there is an official brown sign pointing the way) and take a steep track up to the right. After a while the houses fade away and you can see the church above you. It is now a cemetery church and is in a parlous state of repair. When I last visited in September 2003 the church was undergoing some repairs to stop it completely collapsing and there was some attempt to roof the edifice in plastic sheeting

Christ entering Jerusalem and view from south of Ag. Sofia

According to Traquair the western end of the church with its integral twin bell tower is medieval whereas the eastern part is modern - by which one must surmise he means 19th century as he was writing in the early 1900s. The architecture is unique, the church is rather long and narrow the medieval section consisting of two connected internal domes.

Konstantinidi's plan and section diagram's of Ag. Sofia, Langada (see C. Konstantinidi 'O Naos tis Agias Sofias sti Langada tis Exo Manis'. Lakonikai Spoudai 6. 1982. pp.80-124.)

A photograph taken by Traquair from the early 1900s shows it in a remarkably similar condition to that of today - in other words covered with valerian plants and falling down. The cloisonné brickwork gives the clue that the church building is from the second half of the 13th century.

Ag. Sofia, Langada. Time ravaged Byzantine faces appearing through the damp

There was no door (as of 2003 - the repairs may have advanced apace since) and the frescoes, which are medieval and dated by Konstantinidi to the first thirty years of the 14th century. They are faded and ravaged by damp and the faces of many of the saints have disappeared through decay and vandalism over the centuries. There are however the remains of a particularly fine Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey in the west dome and interestingly His face has not been defaced. Konstantinidi also speculates that the paintings on the walls are of a different hand to those on the ceilings of the domes. The view from the church over Langada is very fine.

The attempts to hold up the church roof (or rather lack of it) and detail of the crucifixion. Ag. Sofia

It is obvious also that the path you have taken to reach the church is part of the old Kalderimi - if one walks up the track the cobble stones are quite obvious - and difficult to walk on. This was the old route before the modern road was pushed through lower down in the 60s. There are many other churches in Langada, Kasses lists 17 in the vicinity.

Below the main road out of Langada just before the Taverna with the myriad crudely painting adverts for its wares (I've heard it is very good, especially the rabbit stifado, but have never sampled) there is the path of the old kalderimi - or cobbled donkey track. The 20th century road often deviates from the old tracks and here the kalderimi strikes a much more direct route southwards towards Ag. Nikon. Outside of the main mahales or quarters of Langada at the side of this kalderimi is the now roofless house of Yanakos Kiskiras.

The Kiskiras house - Langada

The house, built in 1859 by the owner, is both much more sophisticated in its construction than 18th century tower dwellings just above it in Langada and incorporates few if any defensive appurtenances. By 1859 it was therefore safe to build a house, outside of the village proper and to emulate the much more modern neo-classical styles prevalent in metropolitan Greece. Many houses in Mani are decorated with naïve folkloric carvings. Kiskiras, a mason himself, decorated his house with remarkably sophisticated variations on these themes. There is the dedicatory stone and the charming heads of Kiskiras and his wife stick out smiling from the eastern facade overlooking the kalderimi.

Kiskiras sports a slightly chipped but obvious top hat and spectacles though his wife appears in the usual female head wrap. Above them on the wall is a relief figure of a large breasted woman in the local Maniate costume of the time. She is Aphrodite, goddess of love.

If you take the kalderimi leading to the south past the Kiskiras house it descends into a ravine then rises up the other side eventually reaching the modern road south to Ag. Nikon and Itilo. There are tiny chapels at the top of the rise on either side of the ravine, presumably to give thanks for the chance to rest. The kalderimi is a very fine example of 18th-19th century engineering and is in a relatively good state of repair. Down the ravine, in a seaward direction you can spot the medieval cave church of Ag. Marina. In a huge cave on the north side of the ravine sits a ruin. On our first trot down the kalderimi we couldn't spot an obvious path leading to the cave and left it as something to be ticked off on a later foray.

I returned in May 2008 with my friend Jon van Leuven and we enquired in the main square how to approach the cave. We were informed by a helpful local that there was no alternative but to find the watercourse of the ravine and walk down it. In fact there is now a signpost at the lowest point of the kalderimi informing you where you can hop down into the stream bed. Probably May wasn't the best time of year to do this, as the vegetation was still quite green and reluctant to give way, and some of the deeper rock pools of the gorge were still full of deep muddy water necessitating small but precarious detours. However we scrambled down through various groves and down dried up waterfalls and what seemed to be rather a lot of twists and turns.

The kalderimi south of Langada and the cave church of Ag. Marina

Out of breath, sweaty and somewhat disheveled we even speculated that we had unwittingly walked past the cave, but in fact the walk was probably no more than 20 minutes and no, we hadn't missed the cave. One can hardly do so as it is massive, looming up ahead of one on the northern side of the gorge. It reminds me of the Navajo (and other tribes') cave dwellings in SW USA. There is an outer lowish dry-stone wall of local stone and then an enclosure with surprisingly bouncy earth, until one realises that it mostly consists of centuries worth of sheep and goat dung.

To the right and facing seawards are the remains of wall paintings. They are on the surface of the cave where many years ago somebody bothered to plaster the cave walls. The remaining paintings are fragmentary, but one can only be amazed that they have lasted as long as they have in this exposed location.

Ahead is the wall of the cave dwelling with its single door. There are slits in the wall but these are not windows but, probably, holes for scaffolding to be inserted. The outside of the wall has been plastered. Inside is a large space, the only modern sign of habitation is a basket hanging by a rope from an outcrop which contains the usual paraphernalia necessary to light a lamp. Fires have obviously been lit in the recesses of the cavern. How long had the cave been used is a question I can't answer, though I suspect for a fair few millennia.

The cave church of Ag. Marina. View from the bed of the ravine and looking east with wall paintings. in the cave

Drandrakis wrote that the wall paintings. date from the 14th century, there are similarities with paintings of that date in nearby villages. Little remains of most of them and it's hard to work out how the whole scheme would have worked lacking the normal template of walls and ceilings. A female saint's face is clearly obvious, but according to Drandakis depicts Anna, not Marina. If Marina was there, she's now disappeared, though there is a tatty and faded modern mass produced icon of her propped up near where any altar would be, with Agia Marina clutching the horn of a devil. Other pieces are identifiable. For example one can make out the feet of Christ in the river Jordan being baptised by John the Baptist. Though from the knees upward this has also fallen off the wall. One or two of the figures look rather wooden and I think its possible that some over painting may have taken place at some later date

All in all this is one of the most pleasantly odd locations I've visited in Mani and well worth the scramble down the water course. Some poor sod obviously walked down with a large green metal sign. This is posted just outside the cave this object makes sure you know you've reached Agia Marina. On our return to the village we stopped to buy something to drink and an old lady bustled over to us asking if we had reached the church. Clearly news had travelled fast that two mad Frangoi had set off to find it. It turned out that she remembered first going there when she was ten years old, which she claimed was before the Second World War. But she confirmed what Jon and I suspected, that not many people go there nowadays

Above Langada there are three monasteries. The highest, Profitis Ilias, I haven't reached, as to get to it you really need to walk up onto the main ridge of the Taygetus or have nerves of steel and a 4 wheel drive. However two others are easy enough to get to in a normal car and a small amount of walking. Take the road south out of Langada and just before the first hair pin bend descending into the ravine there's a concrete track leading off to the left - there's an abandoned Nissan car just by the turning. The track snakes up the hill eventually turning into a dirt track.You pass a solitary ruined tower house on the right and then the track swings around the edge of this large valley and you can see the Monastery of the Panagia of Kavallari on the slopes of the mountain to your south. The monastery is well placed, invisible from the sea and tucked around the corner of the mountains which rise to about 1300 metres in this part of the Taygetus. The name Kavallari means 'the rider' or perhaps 'cavalryman'.

The valley of the monasteries to the south of Langada- looking north from the Moni Panagia - and view of church at that Monastery

The track gets pretty steep in places and I noticed some visitors walking all the way up - but with care a normal car can get up to just below the monastery buildings. There is a small platea with a spring/well under a large rock outcrop and you can park here, where you can meet up with some locals watering their herd of cows. Park here then take the very steep track up to the south - some steps soon appear climbing up behind the rock and after some huffing and puffing you'll arrive at the monastery. The addition of lighting and the good condition of the steps and enclosure show that a pretty large congregation is expected for the annual panegyria in early September. Indeed the outbuildings have huge cooking pots and gas burners waiting for this occasion.

Moni Panagia - The Last Supper and the road to Calvary - plus a fascinating detail from The Flight to Egypt. The figures on the top of the column are 'idols' falling from the walls of the fortified town according to 'The Painter's Manual of Dionysius of Fourna'.

The church was unlocked though the door is extremely stiff to open and needs a good shove - and if you are tall you might like to note that the door lintel is rather low. I made the mistake of checking my camera as I walked towards it and was rather stunned and not a little pained to find myself lying prone with stars twittering around my head. The church is a lowish long barrel vault and has a complete set of frescoes. Most are in good condition and concentrate on the lives of the Panagia and Christ are probably of the 18th or nineteenth century and are pretty standard depictions with few Mani specific variations and are, in my opinion, rather inanimate interpretations. I missed completely (or else it has gone) that the altar is supported by an ancient Greek grave stele. Guy Dickins of the British School at Athens recorded this during his excavations and investigations at Thalames in 1905. He noted that it was impossible to tell the full size of the stele as it was buried deep into the foundations of the church. He also described the monastery as 'ruined'. Fortunately this description has been revised in the intervening century.

Ag. Dimitrios from the naos and St. Mary of Egypt in the Bema of Moni Panagia - Kavellari, Langada

As I came out of the church I turned to look at the bell arches above the door and was surprised and delighted to see a young tawny owl observing me balefully. The owl seemed unimpressed if not completely indifferent to my presence and allowed me to take a number of photographs. Climbing up some steps above the church I came across another baby owl standing on the uppermost step. It again was either tired, sleepy or bored and allowed me to get within a metre or so. Even though it semed docile enough I noted its remarkably well developed talons and beak - for one so young - and kept a discrete distance.

Juvenile Tawny Owl on the bell tower of Moni Panagia Kavellari - View north to Moni Philiatrou at the top of its terraced fields and frescoes of Saints in the katholikon of that monastery

On my first visit I returned to base and mentioned my trip to Bob Barrow who asked if I'd seen the 'other monastery'. 'What other monastery?' I enquired. It was clear that I hadn't been dreadfully observant; neither when researching the monastery in books or on maps nor while viewing the surrounding mountain slopes through my binoculars - even though I had spotted the terracing below this 'other monastery'.

Katholikon of Moni Philiatrou and Saints Spiridon, Epiphanius of Cyprus and Gregory Palamas in the naos

This foundation, the monastery of the Philiatrou is in a valley leading off to the north east of the main valley towards the massif of Zizali. You could, if adventurous, climb up this and over the col into a valley which leads to Milia. To reach Moni Philiatrou you have to leave one's car under a large tree just as the track swings southward. There is a pretty obvious path which leads up the left hand edge of the valley through scrubby bushes (and spiders webs) before it crosses the stream bed and follws the eastern side for some few hundred metres. The monastery is a small walled compound with a small tower outbuilding in the south western corner and the katholikon is on the eastern side. Again it is fully frescoed and on my visit in June 2002 the door (of stable door construction) was unlocked - in fact the top half of the door was open. The frescos, which are quite skilled, if a little faded from damp, look to me like late 17th century. The schemes are mainly conscerned with the life of Christ and the walls surround one with standing Saints and Theologians.

The Pantocrator in the centre of the barrel vault Moni Philiatrou and view from the north

 

For a map of the whole area from Platsa to Langada - including Nomitsis click here.

On to Itilo