Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stoupa Mani : The Gem of Messinia Greece

Stoupa is a little village located in the southern tip of the Peloponnese about 45 km from Kalamata or 250 km from the city of Patras.

Once a natural supply port for the town of Neohorion (located in the Southern tip of the Taygetos mountain range; a mountainous extension of the Alps), Stoupa partly to British Spy Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese” has become a popular European tourist family destination because of its beautiful natural scenery, tranquility, lovely beaches, good services and reasonable prices. Stoupa is also a popular destination for Greek mainland inhabitants.

Stoupa belongs to the municipality of Leftktro, the prefecture of Messinia and is part of a region known as Mani. The Mani was a leisure haven in ancient times for the Spartans and other Dorian Greeks while in Medieval times because of its natural isolation (shielded by the Taygetos mountain range and the sea) a “safehouse” for out of favor Templars, Frankish and Teutonic knights. It is one of the few regions of Greece that, due to the ferocious fighting skills of the local inhabitants known as The Maniates, timelessly evaded Ottoman and other foreign occupation.

The Maniates were the amongst the few Greeks during Ottoman occupation that bore arms. The Mani acted as the springboard of the Hellenic revolution against the Ottoman occupation when on March 23 1821, 3000 armed Maniates under Petros Mavromihalis invaded and liberated Kalamata after issuing a declaration of war. In commemoration of this event Kalamata has erected a statue of Mavromihalis, General Kolokotronis and Papaflessas (the Devil Priest or Satan Papas as he was known amongst the Ottomans) along with the issued war declaration in the central square (plateia) of the city.
The Mani also played a key role in the Greek resistence against the Nazis. Saidona, a village about 13 km from Stoupa buried deep in the Taygetos mountain was the origin of one of the very first resistance movements against the Nazi occupying forces, and the home town of the legendary Elas resistence fighter, Captain Xideas.

There has been much debate as to the origin of The Maniates. Recent research documented the 2001 edition of Ioannis Kiskiras book “Atouri” traces the elusive Maniati origins to five medieval families : The Alexiani who were supporters of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios, The Bouzanariani who were descendents of Byzantine Admiral Bouzanaras, The Nikliani who were descendents of the Knight Niklus, The Megalogenites who were mercenary knights, The Mihaliani, descendents of the Knight Niklus Michael, The Agamnomeri who were workers, and The Famegioi who were slaves, pages and vassals supporting the Lord Knights Nikliani and Megalogenites.

The Maniates were amongst the last Europeans to be christened since the first Christian mercenaries, at around 1400 AD were executed as sacrilegious heretics. Frankish influence can be seen in the local architectures, notably in the churches. The churches in Mani bear more resemblance to the European Cathedrals than the Byzantine churches especially in the bell tower which has a pyramid top rather than a dome.

Stoupa (and nearby Kalogria) is also the place where Nikos Kazantzakis wrote his famous book “The Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas”. Although Kazantzakis’ setting is a village in the island of Crete, certain scenes and characters come directly from Stoupa. For example, the mine that Kazantzakis refers to is visible from the village and the daughter of the murdered widow was a schoolteacher who lived, taught, retired, and passed away in Stoupa a couple of years ago.

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