In Greek Ano means "Upper" and Kato "Lower". Of the Doli villages (called irreverently by foreigners as 'The Dollies') Ano Doli is, unsurprisingly, just above Kato Doli (from the direction of Stravropigio - as the road breasts the rise and you drop down towards the coast take the first turning to your right) but is not signposted as such. Evliya Celebi the Turkish traveller of 1670 recorded that the town had 300 houses, furnishing 1,800 warriors and in the early 1800s Pouqueville reports that "Dolous" was very populous with over 500 houses and as the Frenchman noted " inhabited by some charming women". This may well be mere Gallic wishful thinking as it is now felt, by most experts, that Pouqueville based his 'recollections' of Mani on hearsay, as he was imprisoned in Tripolizza when he was supposedly travelling around the Morea, though he certainly quizzed his captors on the state of Greece at that time.(Tripolizza = modern-day Tripolis in central Peloponessus).
Print of Ano and Kato Doli c. 1829 by S. Baccuet from the Expédition Scientifique de Morée of 1835 (the church steeples are presumed inaccurate and added by the engravers/printers in France - though both central village churches have bell-towers they do not have steeples)
The central village church in Ano Doli's main platea, Profitis Ilias, is probably 18th century and like a few other Upper Mani churches has a flat wooden internal ceiling - it was hit by an earthquake in the 1930s. The frescoes that remain un-whitewashed are in two large strips on both side walls of the nave. Unfortunately when the time came to put in side-benching (generally one stands in Greek churches during services, but as services can be inordinately long, little old ladies need somewhere to perch themselves) they decided to partially cover up the paintings. Thus it is that both Ag. Georgios and Ag. Demetrios on either side of the naos have had the lower parts of their horses covered up. The style is similar and seems to be of the same period and style as the frescoes in many other eighteenth century examples in this area.
Tower and iconostasis of the church of Profitis Ilias - Ano Doli
A slightly unusual addition to this church is a gynaikonitis or wooden mezzanine gallery section supported on pillars to the rear of the church in which women would sit. Covering the rear of the nave it reminds one of the gallery in a Synagogue or some 17th - 18th century English churches, though in Greece they are probably of 19th century provenance and were added after the construction of the church. The gynaikonotis and the church are distinctly late 18th century in style. A copper plate print of the 1830s (from the French Scientific Expedition to the Morea 1835 - though the original sketch would be from the late 1820s.) shows the villages of Ano and Kato Doli. This church with its low pitched roof and a high pointed belfry/tower at the east end are clearly shown. However these steeples do not compute with the other bell towers in the area nor with that presently attached to the church. This is a typical 'Venetian' style tower with a small lantern at its zenith. The lower section is painted and has the date 1809 on it - further up there are typical folkloric carvings. The highest upper section is probably later, presumably after the earthquake and has some clearly sophisticated embossed carving stating that it was built by T. G. Demakouleas & Son. There is a war memorial on the south wall of the church remembering the dead of the Macedonian (Balkan) Wars just before the First World War. The church is usually locked - I was lucky to arrive whilst a village celebration was in progress and the priest and his flock were carousing in a nearby house.
There are over 40 churches listed by Kassis in and around the two Doli villages and I've only found a selection of them. Further up the narrow central lane of Ano Doli one comes across a small platea which is dominated by the low church of Ag. Triada (The Holy Trinity) on a raised section to the north of the square. There are some remaining frescos remaining in the church which are 18th century - there is a dedicatory inscription of 1739.
Ag. Triada - Ano Doli - exterior view and Nativity (18th century)
If you take the steps to the north of the platea you reach the larger domed church of the Panayitsa.
Panayitsa - Ano Doli - view from South and detail of the iconostasis
The Panayitsa has a good late and partially restored carved iconostasis and some fragments of 18th century frescoes showing through the whitewash with a crucifixion above the west door of a particularly naive painting style. As with most Exo Mani villages many small family chapels are to be found by the side of the roads and alleyways.
Sketch map of Doli area - not to scale
Ag. Nikitas is a monastery church (katholikon) some 2 kilometres north of Ano Doli. Instead of going up into the main platea of Ano Doli turn to the west or left and follow the track/ dirt road which skirts the bottom of the village. This will meander northwards along the contour line for a few kilometres moving in and out of small valleys and ravines which lead down through the hills to the Messenian Gulf. Kalamata should be visible to the north at turns in the road. There are a number of turnings to the right which go uphill - ignore these and one going to the west near to a modern house whose environs sport a delightfully tasteless garden gnome - until you reach a spur where one track to the right turns sharply right (east)and downwards. Through some pine woods you should be able to discern that you are descending into a deep, steeply sided valley. Ag. Nikitas is on a fairly broad platform well above the actual riverbed.
An inscribed cross design with a few ruined outbuildings to the north side - it too is Post Byzantine. There are signs of the festivals which must take place here. Old abandoned fridges and the remains of a lighting system. Otherwise the place is deserted with just odd flicker of a snake in the grass or the lurid green of a water lizard to keep you company.
Moni Ag. Nikitas near Doli - view from the west and from the rear of the monastery towards the Messenian gulf
The church was reported to me as not locked but was firmly to the contrary when I first visited (6/99) and you are too far from anywhere to hope for a local to pop out with the key. However the door is not solid. The upper section is a particularly ordinary piece of open wrought iron work which does have the advantage that you can see some of the almost complete set of frescoes (It is worth noting that on my subsequent visit a year later the door was gratifyingly unlocked, though in May 2005 it was locked again). The frescoes are eighteenth century and are ascribed to the painters Christodoulo Pentichoraki and Parthenio Chaidemenaki (the latter of Gaitses some few kilometres east of Doli. The first painter's name could mean 'the five villages' and could refer to one of the clusters of villages in Exo Mani). The paintings are dated to 1752. One fine scene is the stunning sequence high on the left wall next to the templon depicting a ladder ascending to heaven from which unworthy monks are falling into the agape mouth of a Great Beast (Hades) which really has a whiff of sulphur and Hieronymous Bosch about it and I haven't seen repeated elsewhere in those Mani churches I have entered, though there is a version of this inside the monastery church of Ag. Theodorii above Proastio. The ladder is that of St. John Climacus, a late 6th century monk, and should, strictly speaking, have 30 rungs to it.
Ag. Nikitas - Frescos - The Ainoi and The Ladder to Heaven
The templon is surmounted by a flat painted crucified Christ which is somewhat unusual in these parts. The scheme of the paintings is typically post Byzantine with the usual portrayal of the Akathistos Hymn and the Ainoi paintings with the Zodiac. In the Prothesis there are a number of inscriptions which defied my halting attempts to translate them but which might list the former inhabitants of the monastery. Ag. Nikitas appears to have survived being dissolved by the nascent Greek state in the 1830s, which viewed the large numbers of monastic communities as a waste of the public purse, but even so is now in ruins and deserted
Returning to the house with the gnome in the garden (the small fellow is now in danger of being hidden by plant growth) take the track leading west towards the coast - there's a sign pointing to 'Paralia' or 'beach'. A mere hundred metres or so and you'll come to a small monochambered barrel vaulted church on your left. This church has a fine variation on Jonah and the Whale in the bema which interestingly has not been coloured in but remains a sketch. The 'whale', as is the case in a number of local churches is more of a sea serpent and represents the Great Beast or Hades as the the character dressed in the vestements and the ear covering cap of an Orthodox monk actually represents the heretical priest Arius (in Greek - 'O Arios') and not Jonah at all.
Sue Shimmin, local estate agent extraordinnaire and long time Mani resident, put me onto this church which she names as Ag. Stratigos. It was unlocked when I visited in June 2002 and inhabited by a family of rats who quickly made their exit via a small southern window on my entrance. On reflection, and a second visit, it's more likely to be called Ag. Nikolaos, from the position of the remaining frescos (early 19thc.?) and a small modern mass produced icon in the bema.
Kato Doli again is a steep main street following an east west ridge with a number of small chapels and a large main church of Ag. Vasileos (Basil). This is kept locked but I was wandering around the village asking various people where the key might be and getting the answer "Dhen xero" ('I don't know') when the key holder happened to be standing in his doorway (it's the house just to the east, above the church on the main street) and offered to show me round.
Ag. Vasileos (St. Basil) Kato Doli. View from west and the iconostasis
The Church was probably built in 1776, according to a dated stone on its south facade. A date on the tower at the west end shows that this structure was added in 1804 and a date of 1845 above the doorway probably points to the construction of this self important portico. Inside the church is at first sight mostly whitewashed but there are wallpaintings in the bema and some rather frayed examples in the west end of the naos above the later gynaikonitis. In the dome there is a Pantocrator but it has been painted onto some planking which has been placed part way up the cupola. The real beauty of this large church is its fine ornate 19th century iconostasis.
There is another church in Kato Doli I'd dearly liked to get into which is called Ag. Nikolaos. This reputedly had wall paintings by what seems to have been a group of the cream of the painters of the so called "School of Koutifari" which flourished in the latter half of the 18th century. No less than four well attested local Maniate painters, Dimangleas, Kalliergaki, Pentachorea and Phillipaki were named as painting it in 1785 in an inscription which has now succumbed to age and vanished. The church was reported as being built into the pyrgos (tower) of the Kamarinea or Ketseas family who were important kapitani family during the 18th and 19th centuries. As there are no towers left in Kato Doli it was difficult to tell where this could be According to directions (my interlocutors didn't know the name of the church but recognised the family moniker) this is the single chambered church just above the school and the junction of the road to Kitries (on the right hand side as you climb out of Kato Doli). It is obviously still part of the family complex - no longer a pyrgos but converted into a modern house - and was, naturally, locked and the family absent.
That is until one day during the Greek Whitsun weekend in June 2002 when it appears that most of Athens descends on its villages of origin, or the coast and the bars and restaurants heave with demanding Greek holiday makers. The shutters were open, the gate unpadlocked. I rang the bell nervously and the lady of the house answered. I asked if she spoke English and to my delight did, rather well in fact, as she had been a translator by profession. I asked for Ag. Nikolaos and was directed to the small Byzantine church of that name on the road to Kitries. "No, no," I explained, "I'm looking for the church of Agios Nikolaos in the pyrgos of Ketseas." She was fascinated to know how I knew of the church, invited me in and called for her husband who was, to both our embarrassments, in the shower. After he'd finished his ablutions K.Manolis Tranoudi who had worked for years for BP and was equally fluent in English as his wife Daphni, enthusiastically showed me round the church which is part of their garden.
He explained that it and the tower of the Ketseas family (his wife was of that family) had been struck by a large earthquake in 1944. The tower had collapsed as had the roof of the church taking with it all the paintings in the barrel vault and most on the walls above 2.5 metres from the floor. The tower had been demolished and the smart new house had eventually taken its place but the church had been patched up with a new roof. It is hoped that the church is soon to be restored by the local heritage people (though Manolis reported in 2003 that the bureaucracy involved was a painfully slow process) but is in a reasonable state of affairs taking into account the cataclysm of the mid forties.
Ag. Nikolaos of the tower of Ketseas - Doli - West door and iconostasis and bema
The paintings which remain, and I was disappointed that any possible version of the Ainoi or Last Psalms had disappeared with the roof, are clearly by the painters listed above and match well with painting in Zarnata and Stavropigi. The wooden carved iconostasis has survived though is in a wobbly state and at one time would have housed the icons which have been removed for safekeeping. There is a vivid depiction on the left of the altar which portrays the figure of Arius being condemned to the flames of hell.This corresponds well with that in the church of the Zoodokos Pigi in Zarnata (by the same painters) and shows the 'whale' as a great sea beast engulfed in flames. In the Zarnata version the Arius/Jonah is a Mussulman in turban but here the figure is an Orthodox priest in his stove pipe hat and is linked to the adjacent painting of St. Peter of Alexandria and depict his arch rival, the heretic Arius, author of the 4th century Arian Heresy which denied the divinity of Christ. It is a relatively common theme in 18th century Maniate church paintings but is often covered by drapery and altar cloths.
The heretical Arios (Arius) being swallowed by the Great Beast and the Righteous Melchidek Ag. Nikolaos - Doli
There are many other old favourites of these painters, the archangel Michael and St. George spearing his dragon on the north wall of the naos have unfortunately lost their upper halves but others are mostly complete such as Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, Saints Konstaninos and Eleni and a scene of the Taxiarches or Archangels sitting down to a good lunch! On the wall Mr. Tranoudi has hung an enlargement of the first scholarly description of the church by the famous local scholar Sokrates Kougeas from the 1930s - luckily Kougeas recorded the painters' names for this inscription must have gone in the earthquake. A final object of interest are a number of tiles or slabs in the centre of the floor of the naos which are decorated by embossed folkloric motifs. After a leisurely and informative look at the church we stood on the patio with its soul satisfying view westwards over Kato Doli to the coast at Kitries. Manolis told me that sadly the number of cypress trees, which so delightfully punctuate the landscape around Doli, have declined drastically in number over the last decades and even now one can still see trees drying up and dying of some dread arborial disease.
Latest news: In 2006 it is evident that the restorers are on site and in September 06 the roof of the church was off and the walls and their paintings covered in plastic sheeting. Let's hope all goes well.
Worth a visit is the Monastery church of Agia Paraskevi which is situated some 2 km west and downhill from Kato Doli. This is signposted from the T junction just before Kato Doli. The road is tarmac'd almost as far as the church, though the walk is a pleasant enough stroll through olive groves. After a number of bends one reaches a fork in the road which is now deteriorating into a driveable dirt track - the one to the left which is signposted to Kitries (this used to be the 'main road' to Kitries) is the one to follow and after another few metres there is another official yellow and brown signpost to Ag. Paraskevi. Follow the contour line round to the south east and you will see the church atop a small bluff overlooking a steep ravine. The view from the front of the church down over the olive groves to the tiny harbour of Kitries is effortlessly beautiful.
Kato Doli - Ag. Paraskevi
The cupola of Ag. Paraskevi is an uncommonly tall pepperpot affair rather like that at Ag. Sofia at Gournitsa above Kardamili - which probably places it in the same time frame of the 15th/16th centuries. The church is an incised square and is quite small in size but lofty in aspect.
It has been, relatively recently, restored by the local Ephorate of Byzantine Archaeology and with usual efficiency and has been firmly locked - you are too far from habitation to ask for assistance. Apply (in person is best) to the Ephorate in Kalamata and they will put you in touch with the keyholder. After a quiet rant on the first occasion I found it locked, for the church is decorated, I discovered that two low windows, on the south side and at the rear of the apse are just about peerable through - if covered in chicken wire, to prevent wild creatures invading the church.
The tiny amount of frescoes (see blurred piccie above) one can ascertain through this slit are dated to 1692, during the Venetian rule in the Peloponnese, and are the work of Panagioti Belizelo. I've since got into the church and photographed the frescos in May 2005. More pictures will follow. Around the church are various ruined monastery buildings including a small mill stone. From my reading of the topography and comparing that to the newTopo Series 1:25,000 local maps the mapmakers appear to have labelled Ag. Paraskevi as Ag. Charalambos and put Ag. Paraskevi somewhat further SW than it really is. If my reading is correct (it is) this is only one of two mistakes I've yet found on these excellent maps.
If you take the road at the top of Kato Doli to the left (it is signposted to Kitries and Kallianeika) you will also be following a sign to Ag. Nikolaos. Ignore the tiny church of Ag. Charalambos (see above) which has a corrugated iron roof and an equally mundane interior and after about two kilometres you reach the aforementioned Ag. Nikolaos, which is a tiny Byzantine affair to the left of the road. In photographs in Kassis' book Anthi tis Petras the church is shown strapped together with planks and wire ropes such was its run down nature .
Ag. Nikolaos nr. Kalianeika
It has now been restored and seems locked but the key is on the ledge above the door under a small stone. Inside are few frescoes and those are neither of import or of a very late date and much of it has been defaced by "Kilroyopoulos Was Here" aficionados. When we first visited a small Pipistrelle Bat was assiduously grooming himself whilst hanging by one toe from the ceiling. The outside is more interesting with a tiny cross barrel vault and some cloisonné work putting it in the 12th - 13th century range of church architecture. It has obvious similarities to Ag. Iannis at Kambos both in size and construction. When I passed it in June 2001 early one morning it was being used as a funerary chapel.
The road winds down a level and then enters Kallieneika. An unprepossessing straggle of a village. At a turn in the road there is a modernish church. Ignore this and take the track that runs just to the east of the entrance to the church square in a southerly direction. You descend into olive groves and the road becomes a dirt track. Completely driveable if care is taken. Follow this for a couple of kilometres - no deviating from the straightest line - and the Monastery of Roussaki will appear below you.
Monastery of Profitis Ilias - or 'Roussaki' . View from within the monastery of the north door and view from the north west of the whole walled complex with a (presumably truncated) pyrgos on the NE corner.
I can't in all honesty counsel people to expect this church to be open. Others have tried to gain entrance in vain and it is usually deserted and firmly locked. I was lucky. When I arrived at 8.30 a.m. on a hot mid June morning the owner and patriach of his family, Ilias Roussakis, and a workman, who fortuitously spoke English - I foolishly forgot to ask his name - but my thanks to him - were clearing the space to the east of the complex in preparation for the annual panagyria (festival) which takes place at the monastery every 20th July (anyone can attend this - I presume there will be a small charge for food and drink but you never know). They had unlocked the doors to the walled compound and to the church and were exceedingly hospitable when I announced myself to them (and not a little puzzled as to why an Englishman wanted to look at out of the way churches in Mani).
According to my hosts the monastery was founded by three brothers back in the past. I was unable to ascertain which century but would guess 17th or early 18th. Two brothers were monks, the other married and started the family, the Roussakis, who still own much of the land hereabouts. There is a small pyrgos (tower) in the northeast corner of the walled complex and presumably in the time of the Kapetani the Roussakis were lords of all they surveyed and from what I could gather independent of the Troupakis to the south in Kardamili and the Koumoundouros in nearby Zarnata. The outbuildings were lived in by the family until ten years ago but the problems of generator driven electricity and lack of running water have meant that the family now reside in Kallieneika and Kalamata.
Monastery of Roussaki - Profitis Ilias in his chariot
The katholikon of the monastery is dedicated to Profitis Ilias and is a domed single chambered affair of good proportions, there are no supporting columns and there is a very fine ornately carved and gilded iconostasis. The wall paintings, dating from 1758 are in a wonderful state of preservation, the colours still remarkably vivid and fresh. They are also very interesting, including versions of the Ainoi (last Psalms), the Crucifixion and The Last Judgement as well as having a lurid frieze around the bottom of the north and west walls of the naos depicted devils inflicting extremely nasty tortures on the damned.
From my observations and the work of scholars in the field it is certain that the artists of this church. including the named Anagnostes of Langada and Nikolaos of Nomitsis who also painted the church of Agii. Theodoroii in nearby Kambos and those of Ag. Georgios, Mirsini and Ag. Iannis Chrisostomos in Skoutari, on the South East coast of Mani.
Roussaki - the Archangel Michail - and the "Judges of the Earth" - the 'Krites" from the Ainoi (Praises) scheme depicting the last psalms which spans the barrel vault and upper north and south walls of the naos. The Judges are depicted as a Turkish 'Cadi' and a Venetian nobleman. For more details of this fascinating scheme click here.
The Crucifixion above the west door of the church. Below this there are scenes from Holy Week, Pontius Pilate, the beating of Christ and the road to Calvary. The preservation and detail is some of the best I have seen in Mani.
The Last Judgement. This is unusually not on the west wall but below the Ainoi on the north wall of the west end of the naos. The only other depiction of the cross below the full length Pantocrator I have seen in Mani is in the katholikon of the monastery of Lykaki in the Viros Gorge below Kalyves.
The Damned. These are specifically mentioned in Miltos Garidis' book on the Last Judgement - Etudes sur le Jugement Dernier Post-Byzantin du XVe a la fin du XIXe siecle: Iconographie-Esthétique. Thessaloniki. 1985. They were put in a frieze at the eye level of the praying congregation and depict everyday people getting their come-uppance for various misdemeanours in quite awfuly graphic terms involving rather a lot of 'tridents in the genitalia scenarios'. Those on the left are of a loose woman and a drunkard, the central is of a miller- what the right hand one is I leave to one's imagination.
To the west, further down the road towards Kitries, there are two other churches which are signified on the modern hiking maps, now available for the Exo Mani - (Verga- Kambos Topo 25). These are Ag. Kiryiaki and Phaneromeni Panagia. These are both off a spur road on a bend on the descent to Kitries. The road is fine, so far, but soon becomes a rather rough track and I spared the underside of my hire car by parking up at the divide in the tracks. Phaneromeni Panagia is the higher of the two and apart from a pleasant walk up a winding track has, in its delapidated and stucco-ed exterior absolutely nothing to recommend it save its location in a grove of cypress trees and is best avoided unless one merely wants a pleasant rural meander. I met a rather fine example of a Hermann's tortoise with it's coal scuttle helmet rear flares of his (or her) shell who peered at me apprehensively before we parted company and two buzzards cried out circling and wheeling overhead. I have read since that there was a monastery on the site which was totally destroyed in a huge earthquake on 20th July 1944.
Ag. Kiriaki is further down on the lip of a ravine. Here there is a largish twentieth church and a barracks like residence of rooms below it and adjacent a large covered al freco dining area - it is presumably the site of some revelry (and sleeping it off) during an annual panygeria or festival. The church - unlocked - has little of interest apart from some rather enthusiastic if inept paintings on the iconostasis which claim to be 'after Leonardo' and are by F.Kotsanis and are dated to 1917.
The churches at Ag. Kiriaki - above Kitries
Below this and built into the edge of a ravine is a smaller and older mono-chambered church which was also unlocked.This had some much faded and fragmentary frescos of an indeterminent age - I'd guess 18th century at the earliest.
Below Kallianeika the road snakes down through precipitous olive groves to Kitries - nowadays a sleepy and pleasant enough little sea side dorp with a couple of tavernas and a coast guard station. In the times of the Kapetani in the 17th and 18th centuries it was the main port for the Zarnata area exporting vallona (a dye made from acorns), vermilion, oil and figs to European vessels and thus in the times when the north western kapetani held the Beydom it was almost a capital of Mani and boasted a large turreted 'palace' - few traces of this once magnificent edifice now remain on the bluff to the north of the main platea and port.
William Gell's rather romanticised view of Kitries in 1804: admittedly a later print
Evliya Celebi who accompanied the Turkish forces which crushed Mani 1670 recorded it as having "springs of tasty water. In the southern vineyards there is a spring with warm water and to the north one with bitter water." He describes these as in the past being used as medicinal sources, " (there) came frigates and galleons from Europe with sick people in order to drink this water for fifteen to twenty days. Their body was cleansed of all its sickness and it is recorded that thousands of barrels of this (water) were sent to Europe. It is very useful water because it calms the intestines and is more useful than the syrup of doctors." I can find no modern evidence of a Spa at Kitries but there are such saline springs reported by other travellers at Almyros (it means lit. 'salty' or 'saline') up the coast towards Kalamata.
Kitries featured in a number of wars. During the Morean War between the Ottomans and Venice following the sack of Koroni by the Venetians in the summer of 1685, Morosini, their commander, and his troops landed at Kitries on the 3rd of September of that year. As this was the port of Zarnata it was an important anchorage from which to threaten both Kalamata and Zarnata. He moved northwards and met a section of Saxon troops at Mandinia (Saxony provided mercenaries to many states in the 17th and 18th centuries) before landing his main army at Kalamata on the 7th September 1685. The Turks Zarnata surrendered on the 11th and Morosini then used Kitries as a base to attack Vitulo (Itilo) and its adjacent fort of Kelefa.
John Morritt of Rokesby who visited Mani in April 1795 described Greek Easter in what he called Kitreés as, "a small hamlet of five or six cottages scattered round another fortress, the residence of Zanetachi Kutuphari former Bey of Maina and his neice Helena, to whom the property belonged". Morritt commented that unlike other areas of Greece the Maniates allowed females to inherit their fathers property if they were the sole remaining heir. Morritt described Helena (presumably Eleni) as the 'Capitanessa' and also observed that the females of the area were as keen as the young men to learn how to shoot and that each village ( he calls Doli - Dokyes) had a field set aside for target practice.
Eventually its low lying position meant that it was sacked by the Turkish fleet and burnt by Albanians most of its inhabitants fled into the hills leaving, according to Pouqueville, only the palace of the Bey and a number of warehouses and magazines. Sir William Gell, an English milord and amateur archaeologist and classicist on his travels was entertained here in the early 1800s by Antoni Grigorakis (all the contemporary travellers call him Gligorakis - but his descendants spell it with an 'r'). Gell only published his reminiscences in 1823, some nineteen years after the event and at the start of the Greek War of Independence. He was scathing about the Greeks in general and the Maniates in particular much preferring the Turks and for this he was, with some good justification, viciously lambasted in a review in the Edinburgh Review of May 1823. He is undoutedly a rather arrogant and reactionary observer, but his sense of humour is quite keen and his memoirs are well worth digging out of a library.
His stay in Kitries was short but not without incident. His travelling companion was both surprised and annoyed to be showered with water by a local priest (it was the Feast of the Holy Cross). Gell narrowly missed the same fate. "I was aware that, half undressed as I was, the compliment might be more unpleasant than salutary, so I had only just time sufficient to save myself from the ladle of holy water with which he was already preparing to inundate me, by assuring the father that I was an Englishman, which, in his estimation was equivalent to Turk". A Turkish fleet was anchored in the harbour. Its task to lend weight to the Turks' demand for the Maniates taxes and to give Zantebey the excuse to hand them over, whether they got them Gell fails to say.
William Gell's rather more realistic sketch of Kitries in 1804. Actually Gell himself commented "The effect of the architecture is so exactly that produced by many of the castles in Scotland, and at the same time so full of picturesque beauty that I paused to sketch it in this point of view, where it assumes an air of importance from the road (i.e. the first view) though its real situation is afterwards better distinguished from the opposite quarter." (i.e. the sketch above).
Gell was fascinated by the locality and wished to go further into Mani but at the time Anton Bey (Grigorakis) was at loggerheads with most of the other Exo Mani kapetani. William Leake travelling the same area the next spring was also unable to traverse the area from Itilo north to Kardamili and had to make do with looking at it from a boat, Kitries being the only safe spot in Exo Mani for him to land. Gell was warned by his hosts not to wander around the countryside and mightily displeased his host Grigorakis when he made an unofficial if ultimately abortive trip in the direction of Kardamili.
During the latter part of the Greek War of Independence, when the Egyptian armies of Ibrahim Pasha threatened the Mani and the Lines of Verga, some ten kilometres north, were the frontier, Kitries took on the role of forward Headquarters for the Maniates and was often used as Petrobey Mavromichalis' 'court'. The Rev. Charles Swan, who was the chaplain aboard H.M.S. Cambrian, a British warship patrolling Greek waters at the time, has left us an interesting description of the castle and Petrobey in 1825. Swan accompanied a group of British naval officers who were to negotiate the exchange of prisoners between Ibrahim Pasha, commander of the Turkish-Egyptian forces in the Morea and the Greeks. Landing at Kitries on 9th September 1825 Swan's party was greeted by , "a number of martial looking faces", including that of Petrobey Mavromichalis' nephew. Kitries was at war and after the deprivations of the Turkish fleet there were only eight to ten cottages left in the village but it was crowded with troops and people. Petrobey Mavromichalis alone had a constant retinue of two hundred.
Swan gives a fine portrait of this charismatic leader of the Mani. Petrobey Mavromichalis was, "a goodly personage, corpulent and short, his features expressed extreme good nature, but not much understanding. His eyes project; his face is broad and chubby, and his mustachios, by undue training, unite with his whiskers, which are clipped above and below, but suffered to run wild in the centre. They are, therefore, drawn out to a prodigious length In short his presence was that of a respectable old gentleman of about fifty years". The British visitors were put up in what appears to have been a communal barracks, for which the Bey apologised. The castle visited and sketched by Gell only 20 years before was reported by Swan to be, " blown down with cannon during a civil war." It was obviously lived in for a few more years yet as G.A. Perdicaris stayed there in 1842 with members of the Mavromichalis family, though he did comment on the dilapidated state of the edifice.
The Bey settled down for the night in the same quarters in a small niche in which a shrine dedicated to the Panagia glowed with candles. Here Petrobey settled down to write letters to Kolokotrones, the former Klepht and leader of Greek forces in the Morea. Swan wrote, " bye and bye he fell asleep:- how the room re-echoed! - Such a stentorian organ I never heard. The effect which it produced was a sort of diminutive mountain thunder - a grand diapason upon the strings of Nature's viol." All in all the picture that Swan took away was of the, " feudal despotism still enjoyed by the Bey of Maina."
On to Tseria