Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mani Peninsula: Cape Matapan, The Entrance to Hades

On the second day of Presintine's weekend, Phil woke me up with fresh squeezed orange juice (not a euphemism), then took us on a self-guided driving tour around Mani Peninsula. This is what we saw:

Gorgeous wildflowers with steep sea cliffs shrouded in fog.

Really beautiful pebbly coves accessible by tiny dirt paths.

Pregnant ladies in activewear.
No, I mean, ancient stone fortifications on steep mountainsides. The photo doesn't do it justice. Those things were way up there. 

Cape Matapan:

This area of Mani is a lot more scraggly-looking than the rest of the peninsula. It is still lovely. We drove out to the tip of the peninsula in search of the mythical entrance to Hades. This place has several different names. Cape Matapan is one. Cape Taenaron is another. The ancient Spartans, and then the Byzantines built temples and churches here, including the death oracle of Poseidon.

This is an old Byzantine church supposedly built over the death oracle to Poseidon. I'm still not sure what a death oracle is, but it has something to do with communicating with dead people. And Poseidon. 

With full confidence in the structural integrity of the ancient stone building, I went inside the inner sanctuary. People had left a lot of crap there, including money. I didn't take any. I thought about taking it, but I didn't. 

I took this picture of Phil looking in at the money in case the building collapsed and I never saw him again. 

There's a 2km hike to the very end of the peninsula. Along the way is this extremely well-preserved Roman mosaic. Reliable historical sources (some websites I googled later that evening) said that this is pretty good evidence of an old temple built for Poseidon because of the clear wave pattern of the mosaic. 

This is the lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula. You can hike right up to the base of it and wander around the outside of the building. The hike was fairly easy. There were some loose rocks, and a bit of an incline, but I've got a giant baby in my guts and I was able to do it. Does that sound like fitness shaming? Am I fitness shaming you? I'm sorry. I won't shame you if you can't or won't do this hike. It's probably a lot tougher in the summer, when you're tripping along in full, blazing Mediterranean sunlight. It's exposed the whole way. Bring water.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the southernmost point in mainland Greece. We thought this was the entrance to Hades. We were wrong.

I was going to caption this, "Sitting at the mouth of hell," but it turns out that we weren't sitting at the mouth of hell. So this is "Sitting at the Southernmost Point in Mainland Greece at an Abandoned Lighthouse."
 I have to tell you a little bit about the entrance to Hades, since I've piqued your curiosity so thoroughly by now. Cape Matapan is one of the suggested places where the entrance to Hades is located. According to mythology, this is where Hercules ducked into the underworld to grab Hades' three-headed snake dog. We thought the site was somewhere around the lighthouse, but it turns out it's in the opposite direction, past the Poseidon death oracle church. It's a cave down at water level. We didn't get to see it, but our angered, belated internet research revealed that there's not a lot to see anymore. The cave isn't much of a cave, and it's currently being used by the local fishermen to store their gear. So, we didn't get the chance to go to hell and back, but life goes on, I guess.

More Mani:

This view is insane. Our Lonely Planet guide said there wasn't much to see on this side of the peninsula, but it is a liar. It's definitely worth the drive. I wish you could see the mountainside better. It's completely covered in stone terraces. It must have taken years to construct them all. Those terraces are everywhere. It's mind-blowing.

This is an old church off the road near some ancient quarries. This is one of the things Lonely Planet didn't think was worth seeing. They are such liars.

Here's another view of our olive grove at Elies hotel, just to remind you how great Elies is.

A quick word about food: the first night we stayed in Kardamyli, we had to drive into the next town to get dinner. That town's called Stoupa. It's pronounced the same way I imagine a German person saying the word "super" in heavily accented English. That's probably a complete mischaracterization of German people, and I do apologize. Back to Stoupa. If you go, there's an Italian place that I want to put in a plug for, because they were extremely nice to us. The restaurant is called Rodi. They had a menu in Greek, English, and German (stoupa!). The food was really good. It's right along the main drag by the beach. Go give those people your money.

The second night, we ate at a souvlaki place in Kardamyli. It was fine. It was the only place open that was serving food. The locals were congregated at two other places, both of which were only serving coffee. Maybe people here have learned to survive on coffee and conversation alone. 

We're going to leave Mani in our next post, so scroll back through these photos repeatedly if you haven't had your fill yet.


  1. I want to come back to Greece so badly! The few days we had back in September were just not enough. One of these days I'm going to get a fare alert and jump on a plane. It all just looks so beautiful.

    1. I think Mani is one of the prettiest places in Greece. Our guide book said it makes people think of Scotland, so now I guess I have to go to Scotland and see for myself. Delta's adding more Athens flights this summer, but I think the very best time to come (fare-wise) is Fall and early Spring. So, yes, get a fare alert!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.