Heading towards southern Peloponnese, the shift from the prefecture of Messenia to that of Laconia is clearly reflected in the landscape. From evergreen hills and picturesque villages built at the shore of a beautiful blue sea to a wild and dominating scenery composed of naked from vegetation mountains, tower-houses built with the local stone and emerald seawaters. There is definitely a sensation of mystery in this unique region of Greece, the region of Mani.
Cape Taenaron (alternative spelling: Taenarum) is situated in the peninsula of Mani in southern Peloponnese, having the Laconian Gulf in its east and the Messenian Gulf in its west. The cape took its name from the mythical hero and son of Zeus, Taenarus, who was believed to have built a town named after himself at the narrow isthmus located near the tip of the peninsula.
In the ancient times, Cape Tainaron was known as Poseidion, as it was the place where Poseidon was worshiped, while much later (after AD 1204), during the period of Francocracy, it was widely known as Cavo Matapas, Cave Matapan, Cabo Mettapan and Cavo Matapa. The origin of this latter name is ambiguous and some support that it comes from the ancient Greek Metapea akra (Greek: Μεταπέα άκρα), meaning either a place surrounded by two seas (as is a peninsula) or a place that is split in two by the passage of water, e.g. of a river.
According to Pausanias and Plutarch, the death oracle of Poseidon lied in a small and remote cave in Cape Taenaron. This place is likely to be located outside the settlement of Kokkinogia, where one can see the remains of Poseidon’s Sanctuary and Death Oracle or, more precisely, the Byzantine chapel of Agioi Asomatoi, which was built on the remains of the death oracle using the ancient materials. It was common practise for the Christians to build their churches on top of ancient Greek temples and sanctuaries, when the Christian religion took over the region. Unfortunately, many ancient Greek places of worship have been destroyed this way.
At the same region, one can find the Cave of Hades, also known as the Gate to Hades, which —according to the ancient Greek Mythology— was the gate to the Underworld and it was guarded by Cerberus, a monstrous three-headed hound with brazen voice, which prevented the Dead from escaping. This is the cave through which Heracles (alternatively known as Hercules) descended to the Underworld to kidnap and bring Cerberus to Earth for his twelfth labour, and Orpheus to bring back to life his beloved wife, Eurydice.
The lighthouse at the very tip of Cape Tainaron is the southernmost geographical point of mainland Greece and of the Balkan Peninsula, as well as the second southernmost point of continental Europe, after La Punta de Tarifa in Andalusia, Spain.
For those planning to visit this wonderful region, there are several places to stay nearby. The largest nearest towns are Areopoli, Vatheia and Pyrgos Dirou, but there are many beautiful villages by the sea that are absolutely stunning, such as Gerolimenas and my favourite tiny fishing village, called Limeni.