“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Today was entirely dedicated to the Mani Peninsula, the stark and rocky protrusion of Mount Taigetos that forms the middle one of the Peloponnese’s three southern ‘fingers’. It is a place of great character, distinguished by rocks, rocks in the landscape, rocks as the building material of the area’s characteristic stone tower houses, and rocks as the material that defines caves.
We saw some mysterious places today: the ancient temple of Poseidon and the shrine to Hades, believed in antiquity to be an entrance to the Underworld, located close to one another near the southern Cape of the peninsula, are certainly strange and evocative, although we know little about them. We speculated about them over a lovely seafood lunch.
The day’s most striking visit was to the cave at Diros, one of Europe’s finest caves. As it is located just above and below the current sea level, much of the cave is flooded, leaving only two metres or less of above-water clearance in places, but opening up into great halls here and there. The cave was discovered in the late 19th century and has been visitable for non-specialised travellers for four decades now. It is simply spectacular. The boat trip inside the cave, the only way to visit it, takes quite a while and covers 1,200 metres (4,000 ft), followed by a walk in the part of the cave that is above the water table. The whole cave system is much larger, currently 15km (9.3 mi) are known, and exploration is continuing.
The visit is a magical experience. It is a long and slow boat ride, propelled by the hands of a local, leading from one cavernous chamber to another, all of them sporting stalagmites, stalactites and ‘draperies’ of various ages and colours. The cave system is between two and three million years in the making, so we should consider the visit a deep insight into the slowest processes that add remarkable beauty to our world.
From an archaeologist’s point of view, Diros Cave is a sample only. Mani has many caves, and some have been found to contain evidence of human activity from very long ago. At Diros itself, there is Alepotrypa, literally the fox-hole, a cave with important evidence of Neolithic burials, accompanied by wonderful pottery and other artefacts, including some of the earliest use of metal (gold, actually!) in the region. Elsewhere nearby, there are caves containing material from much earlier times, including the presence of Neanderthal humans up to 100,00 years ago!
Tomorrow, we are going to continue on our itinerary, entering Messenia and settling down at Kalamata.