Laconia (Λακωνία), also known as Lacedaemonia, was in ancient Greece the portion of the Peloponnesus of which the most important city was Sparta. Today Laconia has the legal status of a prefecture, with Sparta as its administrative capital.
Its main towns and cities are Amyclae, Areopolis, Gythio, Molaoi, Monemvasia, Mystras, Neapoli and Sellasia. It encompasses Cape Malea and Cape Tainaron and a large part of the Mani Peninsula.
The mountainous region south of Sparta is named Mani, and it is a rugged place filled with history and legends since prehistoric times.
Mani is one of the most traditionals spots of Greece. It has a lot of old buildings, the high stone towers being the most characteristic among them. On the whole there are about 800 towers and 6 castles in Mani. These monuments of folk architecture reflect the social and historical conditions of the Maniot life.
Some stone towers were many-storeyed, they are 20 meters high and have from 4 to 5 floors. They were used as residences and courtyards that were surrounded by walls. The towers were very carefully planned and were used not only as residential places but as military objects for protection. They were equipped with loopholes, boilers for water and special places at tower corners for throwing stones at enemies.
The height of a tower depended of the importance and significance of the family that lived in it. It was not a single case when a powerful family would not allow another family to build an equally high tower and in case that such tower had already been built they would force them either to low it down or to destroy it completely.
The people of Mani believe themselves to be the descendants of the ancient Spartans and have the honor of living on the land that was never occupied by enemy forces during the 400 year Ottoman occupation of Greece. Once we drove to Mani, it was easy to see why. The land is inhospitable and progress is slow through the meandering passages between towering mountains, where stone houses hang precariously high on the tops. Each stone house was built like a fortress with tall watch towers that would make any opposing force pay a price for attacking it. Today the great majority of these towers have been abandoned and most villages are under populated, with most of the houses left to become prey to the elements as they turn into empty shells. In recent years a great many of these stone shells have been bought by wealthy Europeans in search of an exotic vacation land to sped their summer or their retirement, and they have been revived with all the modern amenities.
There is no way to describe the raw beauty of Mani. It is a place where the pure aesthetic presence of stone becomes exposed and washed by the relentless sun rays day after day. It is a place that lets only the most resilient of life survive, and yet for those who live in its embrace, it becomes a protective stony shelter. The landscape of Mani has a unique character that shapes its inhabitants and marks its visitors for life, as its mountains come from the north, pick up speed or so it seems, and dip majestically into the sea.