Geographically, the Mani occupies the middle finger of the three peninsulas of the Peloponnese. It begins just south of Kalamata and follows the southern peaks of Taygetos, ending at Cape Tainaron.
The Mani is 75 km in length and covers an area of 1,800 square km. The western part of the Mani facing the gulf of Laconia is called Prosiliaki (Sunny) or Eastern Mani.
The Eastern part of the Mani facing the gulf of Messinia is called Aposkiaderi (Shady) or Western Mani.
The Mani is also divided into three areas, Outer Mani (the northwestern part, Inner Mani (the southwestern part) and Lower Mani, (the eastern part).
We find use of the name Mani for the first time in a book of the Byzantine Emperor Leon 6th the Wiseman, (9th century), who refers to Mani’s Diocene. Later, the name appears in a text of Konstantinos 8th the Porphyrogenitus (10th century), who reported on the “Castle of Mani”. There are many explanations of how the name “Mani” was created, but the most prevalent one was given by Professor Pezopoulos in reference to the female adjective of “Manos” (meaning dry, treeless, and waterless).
According to Homer, the area belonged to the Kingdom of Menelaus and the towns of Oitilo, Messi, Las, Kardamili, Enopi, and Iri were towns that fought during the Trojan War.
According to Pausanias, during the Classical Era of Greece, Mani was part of the Spartan Kingdom named Lakoni (the neighboring state). After the Spartans were defeated in the Battle of Selasia (222 B.C.E.) by the Macedonians and Achaean Confederation, Sparta’s influence began to wane. During the time of King Navi’s era, the Romans started to intervene in Greece’s internal affairs. All Mani’s cities – with the support of Rome – succeeded in becoming autonomous from Sparta in 195 B.C.E. and established, with other cities of the Southern Peloponnese, the “Lacedemonean Council”. In 21 BC the “Council of the Free Laconeans” flourished until the end of 3rd century and was abolished by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Later Mani was also part of the Byzantine Empire.
During the Frankish Occupation (1204-1262), the Franks, in order to keep the people of Mani under submission, either restored or constructed the castles of Lefktrou, Passavas, and Great Maini. However, they eventually left the area. After the fall of Mystras in 1460, the people of Mani managed to maintain their freedom with constant wars, often in alliance with the Venetians, and later with the Russians.
In 1770 the people of Mani envisioned the liberation of Greece from the Turks with the help of a small group of Russians. This revolution, known as “Orlofika”, failed and Morea was drowned in blood. After that, the Turks left Mani a self-governing regime under the management of a Bey. Eight Beys had the management of the area between 1776 and 1881. When the Society of Friends (Filiki Etairia) was established, many “Maniates” joined the Society and started preparing for the National Revolution. The people of Mani, at the outbreak of the Revolution, took Kalamata on 23rd March 1821 and participated in all following battles of the revolution, emerging as the most heroic fighters against the Turks.
After the Liberation, the people of Mani found it hard to join the Greek State, because they were unaccustomed to discipline in an organized central government.
From the late 19th century on, the change in the social, political and economic conditions, as well as the isolation of the region led to the decline of the local community. The reduced population, nature itself and the local traditions helped to keep the geographical and residential environment relatively unchanged.
Mani, from its very early years, piqued the interest of foreign travelers who recorded their memories, and these memories have become valuable information about the area. This spiritual work is recorded from the 15th century until today. Also valuable and rich is the literature of the Greek writers that succeeded in rescuing the historic and cultural heritage of Mani.