In this video, Carol McGrath talks about the author Bruce Chatwin's connection with the Mani ... with a backdrop of stunning Mani scenery.
Find out about Jules Verne's Mani connection in this article by Theresa Stoker.
‘Vitylo is built in the form of an amphitheatre on the rugged rocks which defend the old acropolis of Kelapha. Above it rise several ruined towers.’
Thus Jules Verne described the remote Greek town of Oitylo in his novel The Archipelago On Fire. I had no idea that Verne had written about the Mani until my Greek teacher, Sofia, mentioned it. I immediately downloaded the book and started reading. The novel opens with a dramatic scene describing a stormy night when the inhabitants of Oitylo try to lure a ship onto the rocks for plunder, much in the style of Cornish wreckers. They are foiled in their attempt because the captain of the ship is none other than the notorious home-town-boy turned pirate, Starkos. He knows the bay intimately and won’t be drawn onto the rocks. Verne’s description of the little town perched on a cliff and the harbour below, overlooked by Kelefa castle, is instantly recognisable today. I was sure he must have actually visited the Mani.
One of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires series, of novels The Archipelago on Fire was published in French and English in 1888. Better known books in the series include Journey To The Centre of The Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. Incidentally, the word ‘archipelago’ originally referred to the Aegean Sea – ‘pelagos’ being a Greek word referring to the open sea. Somehow ‘Aegean Pelagos’ became ‘arcipelago’ in Italian and came to refer to any sea dotted with islands. Eventually it came to refer to the groups of islands themselves.
In 1867, Verne bought a small ship, the Saint-Michel, which he successively replaced with the Saint-Michel II and the Saint-Michel III as his financial situation improved. On board the Saint-Michel III, he sailed around Europe. He visited the Mani on one of these voyages, and no doubt his impressions from that voyage were matched with meticulous research on the Greek War of Independence which forms the background to his story.
Verne paints an austere picture, stating that ‘Nothing can be more desolate than this coast’ having ‘neither orange, lemon, eglantine, laurel, jasmine, fig, arbutus, mulberry, nor any of the trees and bushes which make certain parts of Greece a green and fruitful country.’ Perhaps he was exaggerating for dramatic effect?
The Maniots have a reputation for being hostile and warlike. Verne calls them ‘semi-savages’, ‘almost impossible to subdue’, ‘quarrelsome, vindictive, handing down . . . an inheritance of hate’. Luckily for us, the Maniots today are a warm, generous and open people, with a strong instinct for hospitality.
Possibly Stoupa's best known literary connection, Nikos Kazantzakis created his most famous character 'Zorba' while living in Stoupa.
This video is from 2017, advertising the festival held in Stoupa to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Kazantzakis' residence in Stoupa. We include it here for the wonderful views of Stoupa.
May we introduce you to the 'Poet of Taïgetos', Nikiforos Vrettakos?
The video features a tribute to Vrettakos from the people of his area, and includes a fragment of a speech by the poet himself, a local choir singing one of his poems 'An Almond Tree' and wonderful views of a snow-capped Taïgetos and other typical landscapes of the Mani.
The 'Poet of Peace and Love' - article by Melanie Wicks
Nikiforos Vrettakos, poet and Maniot, was born in 1912, on the Lakonian side of Mani, in the village of Krokees (between Gytheio and Sparta). He attended secondary school in Gytheio in the company of Yiannis Ritsos (of Monemvasia). The two men were destined to follow quite similar paths through war, resistance and civil war on their way to joining the ranks of Greece's great poets.
In an interview with George Pilichos (Charioteer magazine 1991), Vrettakos, talking about his homeland of the Mani said: 'Nature gave me my first lessons. I had the feeling that the mountain chain of Taïgetos, the trees, the flowers and the stars at night, had taught me the beauty and harmonious co-existence which I did not find in the world later'.
Indeed in the early part of his life, he lived and wrote through the worst of times. Moving to Athens in the late twenties to study Law, he had to abandon the idea of studying due to financial difficulties. In spite of a hard life of struggle, he pursued his art and his first book of poetry 'Under The Shadows and Lights' was published in 1929, followed by 'Into the Silence of the Centuries' in 1933. His early work has a melancholic tone, reflecting life's hardships and the horror of war and social injustice. During the same period his work 'The War' a response to Mussolini's attack on Ethiopia, was censured by the Metaxas dictatorship. Likewise the experience of many other leftist intellectuals, poets and writers, including his old schoolfriend Yiannis Ritsos, 250 copies of whose work 'Epitaphios' (inspired by the bloodshed during the suppression of a strike by tobacco workers) were burned in the Temple of Olympian Zeus at the foot of the Acropolis.
During the Second World War, Vrettakos was sent to the Albanian front as part of the forces that repelled Mussolini's invading army. Later he was a member of the resistance, the National Liberation Front (EAM), during the Axis occupation of Greece and the Civil War (1946-9). His diary notes from this period are the basis for his book 'Wild Beast'. In 1949, Vrettakos published a lyrical essay 'Two People Talk about Peace in the World'. His work at this period, while still reflecting struggle, reflects his humanism and his continuing belief in the 'two poles of the world' nature and man. He wrote 'I still insist that the world is beautiful'. He also, horrified by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the war and the threat to the natural world, became an anti-nuclear and environmental campaigner.
In 1967, following the military coup and the advent once again of dictatorship in Greece, Vrettakos went in to self-imposed exile, spending time in Switzerland, travelling widely in Europe and participating in poetry festivals. He lived for several years on the island of Sicily, where although apparently delighted by the similarity of the landscape to that of the Peloponnese and grateful for the hospitality and refuge, his poetry reflects his feelings of loss, of alienation and exile from his homeland. He finally returned to Greece on the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, returning to the Mani in 1978, where he eventually built a house and lived in his home village until his death in 1991.
Returning to his first lessons, his love of the wild nature of the Mani, which it seems he had always carried with him. The great mountain seems always present somewhere in his work. It is no ordinary love that he had for it. He speaks of it as 'my gracious mountain', as a mother, a friend, a 'kind old man'. He writes of it falling silent, in grief for his own struggles. His later poems are characterised by light, the sun, nature and love. He has been called 'The Poet of Peace and Love', as well as the 'Saint of Greek Poetry' which seem greater accolades even than the many awards, honours and State Poetry prizes he won, and his four nominations for a Nobel Prize.
Here we reproduce his poem 'A Smaller World', with thanks to Manolis Aligizakis for his kind permission to use his translation.
A SMALLER WORLD
I seek a shoreline where using canes
or trees I’ll fence one piece of the horizon
where, gathering infinity, I may get the sense
that machines don’t exist or only a few do
that soldiers don’t exist or only a few do
that weapons don’t exist or only a few do
that lead to the exit of the forest with the wolves
where there aren’t any merchants or only a few
in remote places of the earth where
paved roads haven’t yet been laid
God hopes that at least
paradise will never cease to exist in the poets’ sobs
© English translation: Manolis Aligizakis
Andrew Bostock shares with us his recollections of Patrick Leigh Fermor
When Paddy Leigh Fermor first came to the Mani in the 1950s it was a very different place to now, with mostly dirt roads and an inhospitable reputation. Nonetheless he fell in love with it, particularly the historic village of Kardamyli, and he and his wife Joan built a house in the bay just to the south. They lived in a tent, paced out the walls and used reclaimed tiles and rocks. It remains one of the most beautiful and well-sited buildings on the coast.
I first spotted it from a bus heading north into Kardamyli in the mid-eighties. I was only a teenager, and backpacking without any adult supervision, but I was already a Paddy fan, and was pleased to have seen it, but far too cautious to approach it. Little did I know I would end up living next door for a summer twenty years later.
Paddy’s initial fame was as a war hero, gained from his derring-do kidnap of the Nazi commander of occupied Crete. He fell in love with the country afterwards and wrote twin books on it: Roumeli, on Northern Greece, as well as Mani. His main reputation, however, is based on the long-spaced out trilogy he wrote about his walk across Europe before the war. A Time of Gifts came out in 1977, followed by Between the Woods and the Water nine years later. Paddy was never prolific, he toyed with the final book of his walk for the rest of his life and The Broken Road (still incomplete) was only published after his death in 2013. Visitors to the house in latter years would be able to spot large piles on annotated pages piled up in his writing room. Although this resulted in only a few books, his rather torturous process of editing and re-editing did produce some of the most admired prose of the last century. Many of his contemporary travel writers (such as Bruce Chatwin and Dervla Murphy) looked up to him, and he has inspired a new generation of modern-day writers (including William Dalrymple and Robert Macfarlane).
The old cliché is that you should be cautious meeting your heroes, but it seemed that it would have to happen sometime. By chance I worked at Paddy’s literary agency in London, and not long after we moved to the Mani, which we had travelled to over several years. Our daughter was born up the coast in Kalamata. As his neighbours we were invited over a couple of times and found him and his house a delight (Joan had died by this time). I loved that he shared my taste for vodka tonics (and poured in the same measure I use – half and half), and even more pleased that he seemed just as interested in our tales of travel as we were with his.
Kardamyli has of course changed a lot over the years, and Paddy’s regret was that he feared his writing had a lot to do with the development of the village as a tourist resort. I understand his fear (as a travel guide writer myself I often struggle with this), but I hope he realised he was mostly wrong in his fears. In fact the quality of his writing has probably impacted on the positive development of the area, and brought a prosperity that would have seemed impossible when Paddy first visited (and when I did). Kardamyli remains as beautiful as it ever was, and Paddy and Joan’s remarkable house faces a new and interesting future hosting a new generation of writers and artists. I think he should be pleased with it.