Sunday 24 April 2016

From the Mani

Well, the Mani did not disappoint, and the walking terrain was not as dauntingly rugged as I'd feared it might be (we were based in the Exo Mani, not the deep Mani). The worst of it was a punishingly long stretch of kalderimi (paved mule tracks built by the Turks) that had somehow been deconstructed into an endless four-foot-wide rubble-strewn boulder field, offering ample opportunities for missed footing, turned ankles and messy falls - with the obligatory sheer drop to one side. Happily we came through unscathed, if exhausted - and there were ample compensations along the way, throughout four days of unbroken sunshine and 30-degree temperatures...
 Not least the butterflies, which were flying in abundance wherever we went: blues, whites and browns of all kinds, many beyond my powers of identification (the 60-odd British species provide enough challenges for me; Greece has four times as many). Swallowtails were everywhere, gliding from flowerhead to flowerhead and even around the village streets. Brimstones were flying, along with Clouded Yellows and Cleopatras, and I saw my first Red Admirals of the year.
But what gave me most pleasure was finding myself among Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries, beautiful small fritillaries that I haven't seen in England in years.
 As for the wild flowers - the great spring flowering was, our host told us, already past its best, so warm and dry had been the early spring, but there were still wonderful things to be seen, including several species of orchids I had never seen before, glorious scarlet-and-black anemones, intense blue pimpernels, the lovely Venus' Looking Glass, and drifts of wild cyclamens. The air was full of smells of sage and oregano and blossom, and the only sounds were of sheep bells and bees, many of them wild black bees in quest of mud for their nests. Twice we came across wild tortoises lumbering across our path...
 And then there were the churches - an astonishing abundance of tiny Byzantine churches and chapels (one village we visited had a total of 60). Many are in completely out-of-the-way locations, some built into caves or cliff faces, others standing quite alone with nothing but olive groves and pastures for miles around. A pleasing number of churches were open, and most of them in a greater or lesser state of decay, though still in occasional use. Several had colonies of bats hanging from the roof, and one was loud with wild bees coming and going to their sanctified nest.
 All the churches were of the same pattern (cruciform, with an apse and, quite often, a westward extension) and all were, or had been, covered all over - walls, dome, arches, window surrounds - with paintings of Christ and his mother, the apostles, favourite Greek saints, and scenes from the Bible. Most of these paintings are badly decayed, peeling and fading away, the remnants of their golden brightness, once-rich colours and stylised faces glimmering faintly through the gloom of invariably dark interiors. Often a face or detail has survived in good condition (or been restored) and you can feel something of the chastening numinous force it must once have had.
 So, butterflies, flowers, sunshine, churches galore - what more could one ask? Well, there was more, and I'll be writing about that tomorrow.


  1. The little church and your description of the country around it - I didn't think such places still existed. Lovely to read.

  2. Oh they do, they do, Mark - and all this was in the relatively 'developed' part of the Mani. Heaven knows what awaits in the deep Mani...