Spend the night in an old war-tower in Mani

Studying the forces that in passed times built structures and forms, we awake in our modern self its most real world. Aris Konstantinidis: a prominent Greek architect of modernism

Architectural Heritage preserves the rich diversity of cultural changes through space and time. Through its monuments history is transformed into powerful, living images. Traditional settlements are not just residential complexes; they are “vessels of life”, according to the Greek architect Aris Konstantinidis. Featuring high quality architecture, these centuries-old residencies are also very important local tourism resources closely tied to the natural environment. In this way, Protection coexists with Development striking a sustainable balance between the two, teaching us that the relationship with tradition should be the one of Rebirth.

 Traditional settlements in Greece form an integral part of the Greek culture and heritage. As dynamic creations of real life –and not as ruined monuments– they are beautifully restored and carefully arranged to shelter tourist accommodations (guest houses, museums, restaurants), or other public uses (community offices, handweaving workshops, etc.). Having assumed their former glory, these old residencies are part of Greece’s natural scenery: interventions in the static structure are limited to the minimum necessary; new equipments are harmonically adapted to the original architectural structure; modern interventions are “absorbed” by the strong traditional character of the buildings; heating systems are adjusted to local climatic conditions; fireplaces are used in mountain areas instead of electrical heating units; floors are paved by local stone or ceramic slates; and pin wood is selectively used in wooden interior fittings.

Váthia is located in the southern part of Laconian Máni; it belongs to the group of settlements called “Inner Villages” (Mésa Horiá). On the top of a 200m high hill, Váthia is a dense, stone-built settlement consisting of 144 buildings grouped into four distinct neighbourhoods. The architectural style of the buildings and the village’s spatial organisation reflect the struggle between Máni families competing to settle on the hilltop, Váthia’s dominant strategic point during the medieval times.
The main buildings architecture reflects different time periods: (1) one and two-storey old Máni houses, constructed before 1840; (2) two, three and four-storey “tower-houses” built during the 1840-1870 period; and (3) one and two-storey “modern houses” built during the 1890-1915 period.

As you walk through the village’s cobbled paths, you realize that each neighbourhood is organised as a self-governing unit, encompassing a war tower, a church, fortified dwellings, private streets, and “dark” meeting points, called “roúyes”.

With the mind’s eye, visualise the armed clashes fighting to defend their territory and rise to power. Decipher the code: The densely structured neighbourhoods and the characteristically high, stonework buildings express this fierce desire for control.

As history meets architecture, the starkness of the rugged landscape pampers our senses: ancient olive trees and wild, endemic, flowers grow on the slopes of the hill; imposing rocky mountains dominate the area; rough midnight blue sea reaches the shores; unexplored bays and sharp curves form Máni’s spectacular coastal scenery.

Short sightseeing excursions will take you to Areópolis, the capital of Máni, where stone buildings are also renovated; to the Diros caves, a spectacular –and still unexplored– natural site, one of the earliest inhabited places in Greece; or to Yeroliménas, the tourist port of Máni. Further to the southernmost point of mainland Greece, Cape Taínaron is located; your spiritual quest will lead you here, to the cave of Hades, the god of the dead, and the ancient temple of sea god Poseidon. This memorable trip concludes with a visit to Gýtheion, and the isle of Kranái: here, the Tzanetákis-Grigorákis restored tower, symbol of the Greek War of Independence, hosts the Historical and Ethnological Museum of Mani.

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