The Mani Peninsula (Μάνη, Mánē in Greek), also long known by its medieval name Maina or Maïna, is a geographical and cultural region in Greece. The capital city of Mani is Areopoli. Mani is the central peninsula of the three which extend southwards from the Peloponnese in southern Greece. To the east is the Laconian Gulf, to the west the Messenian Gulf. The peninsula forms a continuation of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of the Peloponnese. Mani is home of the Maniots (Mανιάτες, Maniátes in Greek).
The terrain is mountainous and inaccessible. The name Mani is originally thought to have come from the Venetian word Mano meaning hand, but this was due to the Venetians having built a castle called "Castle De Le Maina" by hand. Linguistically the name Mani originates from the Greek word "Manîa" (Μανία), meaning "crazed" or "wild" which it self originates from the Ancient Greek word "Manîsomai" (Μανήσομαι), meaning to "become crazed" or full of "rage". The English word "mania" evolved from this.
Until recent years many Mani villages could be reached only by sea. Today a narrow and winding road extends along the west coast from Kalamata to Areopoli, then south to Akrotainaro (the pointy cape which is the most southward soil of continental Greece) before it turns north toward Gytheio.
Mani has been traditionally divided into three regions:
- Exo Mani (Έξω Μάνη) or Outer Mani to the northwest,
- Kato Mani (Κάτω Μάνη) or Lower Mani to the east,
- Mesa Mani (Μέσα Μάνη) or Inner Mani to the southwest.
A fourth region named Vardounia (Βαρδούνια) to the north is also sometimes included but was never historically part of Mani. Vardounia was a region between Mani and Laconia that was occupied by Turk-Albanians during the Ottoman occupation of most of Greece.
Administratively, Mani is now divided between the prefectures of Laconia (Kato Mani, Mesa Mani) and Messenia (Exo Mani), in the periphery of Peloponnesos, but in ancient times it lay entirely within Laconia, the district dominated by Sparta. The Messenian Mani (also called aposkiaderi, a local expression meaning "shady") receives somewhat more rainfall than the Laconian (called prosiliaki, a local expression meaning "sunny"), and is consequently more productive in agriculture. Maniots from what is now Messenian Mani have surnames that uniformly end in -éas, whereas Maniots from what is now Laconian Mani have surnames that end in -ákos; additionally there is the -óggonas ending, a corruption of éggonos, "grandson".
Neolithic remains have been found in many caves along the Mani coasts. Homer refers to a number of towns in the Mani region, and some artifacts from the Mycenaean period (1900 BC - 1100 BC) have been found. The area was occupied by the Dorians in about 1200 BC, and became a dependency of Sparta. After Spartan power was destroyed in the 3rd century BC, Mani remained self-governing.
As the power of the Byzantine Empire declined, the peninsula drifted out of the Empire's control. The fortress of Maini in the south became the area's centre. Over the subsequent centuries, the peninsula was fought over by the Byzantines, the Franks, and the Saracens.
After the Fourth Crusade in 1204 AD, Italian and French knights (known collectively by the Greeks as Franks) occupied the Peloponnese and created the Principality of Achaea. They built the fortresses of Mystras, Passavas, Gustema (Beaufort), and Great Maina. The area fell under Byzantine rule after 1262, forming part of the Despotate of the Morea.
In 1460, after the fall of Constantinople, the Despotate fell to the Ottomans. Mani was not subdued and retained its internal self-government in exchange for an annual tribute, although this was only paid once. Local chieftains or beys governed Mani on behalf of the Ottomans. As Ottoman power declined, the mountains of the Mani became a stronghold of the klephts, bandits who also fought against the Ottomans. There is evidence of a sizeable Maniot emigration to Corsica sometime during the Ottoman years.
Petros Mavromichalis, the last bey of Mani, was among the leaders of the Greek War of Independence. He proclaimed the revolution at Areopoli on March 17, 1821. The Maniots contributed greatly to the struggle, but once Greek independence was won, they wanted to retain local autonomy. During the reign of Ioannis Kapodistrias, they violently resisted outside interference, to the point of killing Kapodistrias.
In 1878 the national government reduced the local autonomy of the Mani, and the area gradually became a backwater; inhabitants abandoned the land through emigration, with many going to major Greek cities, as well as to western Europe and the United States. It was not until the 1970s, when the construction of new roads supported the growth of the tourist industry, that the Mani began to regain population and become prosperous. Maniots are known for their obstinate character, wild nature, conservative views, sometimes extreme frugality, and their zealous safeguarding of the family property.
Despite the region's aridity, Mani is known for its unique culinary products such as glina or syglino (pork or pork sausage smoked with aromatic herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint, etc. and stored in lard along with orange peel). Mani is also known for the world's best extra-virgin olive oil, soft-pressed from partially ripened olives of the Koroneiki variety, which are organically grown on mountain terraces. The local honey is also of superior quality.
Today the Mani's coastal villages are full of cafés and souvenir shops. The peninsula attracts visitors for its Byzantine churches, Frankish castles, secluded sandy beaches and stunning scenery. Some popular beaches during the summer are Kalogria and the beaches by Stoupa harbor, while Kardamyli and Agios Nikolaos have good pebble and sand beaches, too. The ancient tower houses of Mani (pyrgospita) are significant tourist attractions, and some offer accommodations for visitors. The Diros stalactite and stalagmite caves, near Oitylo, are also popular tourist destination. As they are partly underwater, visitors tour them in gondola-like boats.
Gytheio, Areopoli, Kardamyli, and Stoupa are filled with tourists during the summer months, but the region is generally quiet during the winter. Many inhabitants work as olive farmers, and devote the winter months to the olive harvest and processing. Some of the villages in the mountains are less tourist oriented and often have very few inhabitants. One of the most traditional and conservative regions of Greece, Mani is a stronghold of the right-wing New Democracy party.
Wild fires broke out in Mani in the summer of 2007 due to arid conditions.
The introduction of Christianity came late in The Mani. The first Greek temple conversions to churches began around the 10th century AD. A Byzantine Greek (although said to be of Armenian origin or a Greek originally from Argos) monk born in the region of Pontus, called Nikon "the Metanoite" (Greek: Νίκων ὁ Μετανοείτε). He got a grant from the Christian church to spread Christianity to areas that had stayed true to their own original pagan traditions. The area of the Peloponnese was a land full of demons, of which Nikon was constantly struggling against. Nikon came to Mani in the later half of the 9th century to preach Christianity to the Maniots. The Maniots began to convert to Christianity in the 9th century due to Nikon's preaching, it took about 200 years, until the around the 11th century eliminate the pagan Greek religion and traditions for the Maniots to fully accept Christianity. After his sanctification by the Greek Orthodox Church, Nikon became patron Saint of Mani as well as Sparta.
See also 
Further reading 
- Patrick Leigh Fermor, (1958). Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. London: John Murray. Reissued in paperback 2004, ISBN 0-7195-6691-6.
- Mickey Demos, Life in Mani Today: The Road to Freedom. 2011
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