I had seen several towers with stacks of extra rooftop stones thrusting upward. “Height meant power,” Androutsakos told me. “The higher you were, the more powerful. If you had a low house, you were not a Niklian.”
Androutsakos recently opened Fagopoteion, a taverna in the ghost town of Vathia where Zouvelos took me for dinner one night. A group of French, Italian, and Greek architecture students sat nearby, finishing sketches of local buildings. Vathia has only two year-round residents— a septuagenarian man and his octogenarian sister—but its towers and stone houses, perched on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, are among the best preserved in the Mani.
Androutsakos’s family arrived in Vathia about five centuries ago and gained property in typical Mani fashion: they fought with other families to obtain good, arable land; they fished; they dabbled in piracy. His relatives tied lanterns around the necks of sheep and led them onto the rocky coast, hoping the lights would confuse sea captains and prompt them to crash on the rocks—whereupon the Maniots would rush the ship and steal everything.
I looked over at one of the architecture students. He wore a T-shirt that read LIVE LOVE SUGAR FREE. Times have changed.
I found the Mani’s history of ceaseless violence and war fascinating, but didn’t fully grasp its origins until I went for a hike along a trail that ran under the hotel. As the path winding down toward the sea became more and more treacherous, I saw old stone fortifications where Maniots had once kept watch for invaders—or ships to plunder.