Guard of the secluded and unapproachable region of Mani, the city of Gytheio comprises the last bastion of the evergreen landscapes. The rocky, arid land takes on and the elegant Neoclassical buildings little by little transform to austere stone towers. The city stands in the cove of the Laconian Gulf, opening the way to the mysterious and seductive Mani Peninsula.
Olive groves and orange groves roll down the soft hills on the way to Gytheio. The typical Mani tower-houses start appearing every now and then. The explosive silver-green colors do nothing but prepare you for the naked and dry land that follows as you get deeper into the Mani Peninsula. Savage and alluring, Mani waits just around the corner.
One single look at Gytheio is enough to see the whole of it, since the whole town is spread out on a vertical slope. The first houses rise right at the top of the hill and come all the way down to the seafront. Countless stairs begin from the port and climb the hill to the roughest heights. On their way up, they intersect the tiny alleys that fragment the town horizontally. The seafront is impressive as the beautiful Neoclassical houses make up Gytheio’s pretty “window”. But in the back alleys, time seems to have stayed still since the 1950s; pulling down houses, children running around barefoot, austere looks. Consumerism’s abundance hasn’t settled here yet and the people look as if they are striving to bear the fruits of the land and the sea. However, what seems to be in abundance here, is fresh fish; the fish taverns on the seaport are full of everything the sea has to offer. The countless fishing boats swinging on the docks make up an entire fleet. At dusk, when the city lights turn on, they leave to break the Laconian Bay and dot the night scenery with their lamps.
During the day, the first thing to notice as one gazes away at the sea, is the tiny island that floats right in the middle of the bay; Kranai island, a green dot on the map. The first illegal couple in history, Paris and Helen of Troy, supposedly spent here their first night here together, on their way to Troy. Strolling on the island’s trail, one comes across the impressive tower of the Grigorakis family, now serving as a folk museum. On the other side of the island, the beautiful white lighthouse built in 1837, is a favorite meeting place for couples, illegal or not.
Known since antiquity, Gytheion reached its apex during the roman years. The port was bustling night and day as it became an export center for Mani’s products. The most luxurious of all, the famous purple dye, was extracted from a special shell that was abundant in the Laconian Bay. Later on the city sunk in oblivion, probably due to a catastrophic earthquake or a merciless attack of the Goths. However, Gytheio played a very important role during the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Turks in 1821.
Nowadays, the town has retained its unique temperament and character, its laid back atmosphere and its warmth, despite the development of tourism.
In Gytheio’s microcosmos, beauty and history are ample. In the summer, the plays mounting at the ancient theater during the summer festival, add some entertainment to the picture as well. The mouthwatering delicacies at the local restaurants keep the palates happy. The blue velvet waters of Mavrovouni beach caress the body and soul. Just watch out for the caretta-carettas. The protected sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand, next to the sun beds and the parasols, before they take a long swim in the transparent waters of the Laconian Bay. Make sure you take good care of them!
By: Tina Kontogiannopoulos