Cape Malea, wild beauty or frightful abode?

The Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery at Cape Malea. Laconia, Peloponnese

Maleas means noise, clamor. It’s a cape that causes fear and terror to sailors and is considered amongst the most dangerous capes across the Mediterranean. Cape Maleas or Cavo Malias greatly inspired writers since the dawn of history and literature. Homer (Odyssey), Euripides (Cyclops, Helen, Orestes), Diodorus Siculus (Library), Titus Livius (The History of Rome), Herodotus, Plutarch, Strabo (Geography), Alphonse de Lamartine. [References at the end of the post]

An eagle would have feared to build his eyrie in such a place, without a single bush or trunk of a tree to shelter him from the wind which roars continually, from the eternal noise of the sea breaking, and of the spray licking incessantly the polished rock, under sky always burning
[Alphonse de Lamartine French writer, poet and politician of the 18th century]

 

The path leading to Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
The path leading to Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

Its numerous caves were used for centuries by Pirates, for hiding and launching surprise attacks to passing ships.

The special energy of the place, has attracted the religious sentiment of people, since antiquity. Pausanias reports, a sanctuary dedicated to Poseidon and a standing image of the god. The presence of byzantine chapels, churches and hermitages, confirms that a significant monastic community had chosen to live in this frightful abode. Saints, Thomas, Georgios of Malea and Theodoros the Kytheran, led their monastic life at Maleas.

The bell of Saint George church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
The bell of Saint George church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

Αn expedition, on exploring Cape Malea, looked very intriguing. We teamed up with Manolis, a local farmer and skipper from Agios Nikolaos, Laconia, for a hike and an overnight stay at Aghia Eirene, the monastery of Maleas. The weather was great, mid-September, no wind but a slight breeze, with medium temperatures for the season.

A lonely beach near Profitis Elias village. Maleas peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese
A lonely beach near Profitis Elias village. Maleas peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese

On our way to Cape (Cavo) Maleas, we passed near some great, isolated beaches. Aspes beach is a dream. Thick, golden sand, that does not stick to the skin. Crystal clear waters, full of fish and sea life. Unique rock and land formations. We spend a refreshing morning at Aspes beach, swimming in the very clear and calm waters. I could spend hours just hanging around, snorkeling, shooting photos and videos! No other people in sight, no tourists. That’s heaven!

Aspes beach near Profitis Elias village, Malea peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese
Aspes beach near Profitis Elias village, Malea peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese

Profitis Ilias, is the last settlement, on the western side of Cape Maleas. All and all, a few houses and a tiny bay, used as a fishing port. It is named after the stark white church by the port. As Manolis informed us, we missed the opportunity to treat ourselves with some exquisitely fresh fish, since the nearby tavern was closed when we arrived.

Visiting the Fossilised (Petrified) Forest at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Visiting the Fossilised (Petrified) Forest at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

The dirt road continues, after Profitis Ilias, to the “Fossilised Forest”. The soil is full of shells and other fossilised sea life. The Petrified Forest is an area with great geological-paleontological interest. Research has revealed palm trees, fruit and roots of palm trees and fauna, typical of shallow waters, such as mollusks, shellfish and sea urchins. The petrified trunks are like large tubes. Some go deep into the sea underneath. The sound created by the water going up and down in the tube is very interesting.

Manolis invited us to visit his organic olive grove which is near his village, Agios Nikolaos. He produces excellent organic olive oil. Then we had a delicious dinner at the local taverna Neraida. Highly recommended! http://www.neraida.com.gr/

Hiking towards Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Hiking towards Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

Next day Manolis drove us by car to the end of the dirt road, where the path towards Agia Eirini monastery begins. The path is about 3km and goes through the rocky, bushy terrain, of Maleas peninsula. High rocks on the left, the sea 50 to 100 m lower on the right. The scenery is a harsh beauty.

But when you double Maleae, forget your home
[Strabo Greek geographer, philosopher and historian, 64/63 BC – c. AD 24]

Hiking near Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Hiking near Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

The path goes very close to some steep cliffs. People with acrophobia could have a problem in some passings. Two small wild goats that runned and jumped right at the edge of the cliff, didn’t seem to care much about the cliff though. It took about an hour and a half of a wonderful hike, to reach the monastery of Aghia Eirini. The bell tower of the church is built at the edge of a rock. The view is amazing! We could see Elafonisos island on the west, the mountains of Mani and Cape Tenaron far behind, Kythera island on the South. High rocks on the north created a shelter for the monaster.

We left our backpacks on the yard and followed down the path, leading to a small opening in the sea between the rocks. It is the only point for boats to approach the monastery. We dived into the sea. The water was refreshing after the hike. It was dark blue, almost black and you could not see the bottom of the sea. As Manolis informed me, the water is really deep in the area.

Hiking towards Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Hiking towards Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

The sun was setting behind the mountains of Mani and Cape Tenaron, when we returned to the monastery. There were empty cells with beds near the main yard, but we decided to sleep on the small cement yard in front of the bell tower.

The bell tower at Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery. Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
The bell tower at Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery. Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

The night was warm and there was a mild south wind. There’s no electricity in the area, so after sunset it got completely dark. We could see the stars and the galaxy clearly, laying down in our sleeping bags! What a terrific night sky! All we could hear was the wind blowing through the pine trees and the waves splashing on the rocks underneath. Night owls accompanied our dreams.

The ruins of the old monastery of Aghios Georgios (Saint George) at Cape Malea, dated between 12th - 13th AD. Laconia, Peloponnese
The ruins of the old monastery of Aghios Georgios (Saint George) at Cape Malea, dated between 12th – 13th AD. Laconia, Peloponnese

There is not well-organized man who would not become, ins such an abode, either a saint or a great poet – perhaps both
[Alphonse de Lamartine French Writer, Poet and Politician of the 18th Century]

 

Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

Next morning we woke up early, before sunrise, hearing partridge chirping. Perfect time for photography.  We headed towards Aghios Georgios (Saint. George) church at the ruins of the old monastery, dated between 12th – 13th AD.

Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

The first rays of the rising sun, created a nice warm color on the walls of the church. Since this area was frequently attacked by pirates, the monastery was protected by walls. Inside the church there are byzantine frescos but sadly all the faces in the paintings are destroyed by heathens.

Vandalized frescos in Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Vandalized frescos in Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Vandalized frescos in Saint George church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Manolis lighting a  fresco with his name written on it, in Aghios Georgios (Saint George) church, 13th AD inside the ruins of the old monastery at Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

Our return to the car, on the same path, was as enjoyable as the day before. The peninsula of Maleas includes many rare flora species. The air was full of aromas. We collected some sage with great, intense scent. It’s the best, most fragrant sage, I’ve ever tasted.

A sailboat sailing close to Cape Maleas during sunrise, Laconia, Peloponnese
A sailboat sailing close to cape Maleas during sunrise, Laconia, Peloponnese

Manolis proposed to swim at the rocks near the petrified forest, where a water spring flows into the sea. His idea, to bathe in the ice cold water of the spring was excellent. It was refreshing, after our hike back and renewed our energy.

Hiking near Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese
Hiking near Aghia Eirini (Saint Irene) monastery, Cape Malea, Laconia, Peloponnese

We reached Agios Nikolaos village, where we parted with Manolis and then headed to Velanidies village, at the north side of Maleas peninsula. The scenery is fantastic as the curvy road goes high up on the mountains and then down again to the north side of Maleas.

Velanidia village, with its white and blue painted buildings, is identical to the greek islands architecture. Probably, due to the fact that it was inhabited by refugees from Spetses island. Here was, probably, the ancient town of Side. The village is quiet and non touristic. It was perfect for a brief stop at the local cafe.

Velanidia village at Malea Peninsula. Laconia, Peloponnese
Velanidia village at Malea Peninsula. Laconia, Peloponnese

Then we headed towards Kastania village. There is a beautiful cave, the Kastania cave. It is the most beautiful cave I have seen. A 500 m route, with stalactites and stalagmites formations, that are so dense and colourful! Unfortunately, the guide informed us that photography is forbidden and I got pissed off. I thought about canceling my ticket! Calliope helped me change my mind…

The road leading to Kastania and Velanidia villages over Neapolis town. Malea Peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese
The road leading to Kastania and Velanidia villages over Neapolis town. Malea Peninsula, Laconia, Peloponnese

Anyway, the cave is wonderful and it really worths the visit. The thing that I really enjoy in visiting caves during summer, is the steady internal 15 °C temperature. Coming from a 30+°C day, under a strong sun, the coolness of the cave, along with the low lights, had a refreshing effect on us. We came out of the cave, feeling like leaving a SPA.

The area of Cape Malea peninsula is truly unique and extremely beautiful.

Bottom line, Cape Malea means wild beauty! When the weather is good…

References

Homer, Odyssey

Nestor tells Telemachus what pulled Menelaus in his attempt to get past Malea:

“But when he in his turn, as he passed over the wine-dark sea in the hollow ships, reached in swift course the steep height of Malea, then verily Zeus, whose voice is borne afar, planned for him a hateful path and poured upon him the blasts of shrill winds, and the waves were swollen to huge size, like unto mountains.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Euripides, Cyclops David Kovacs, Ed

“The mountains of Malea provided no harbor, in the gusts of the storm, when Menelaos sped far away from his country, bearing on his ships a prize of the barbarian expedition, no prize but strife [1135] with the Danaans, Hera’s holy phantom.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Euripides, Helen
E. P. Coleridge, Ed.

“For I learned Agamemnon’s fate and the death he died at his wife’s hands, as I was trying to put in at Malea; when the sailors’ prophet, the truthful god Glaucus, Nereus’ seer, brought the news to me from the waves;”[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 34
Rev. Canon Roberts, Ed.

“In open hostility to us, you infested the sea round Malea with your piratical barques, and have seized and put to death almost more Roman citizens than Philip, so that our transports, which were supplying our armies, found coasting along the Macedonian shores safer than rounding the Cape of Malea.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Diodorus Siculus, Library

“During this time the Cercyraeans, who had fitted out sixty triremes, were waiting off the Peloponnesus, being unable, as they themselves allege, to round the promontory at Malea, but, as certain historians tell us, anxiously awaiting the turn of the war, in order that, if the Persians prevailed, they might then give them water and earth, while if the Greeks were victorious, they would get the credit of having come to their aid.”[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus

“The Etesian winds (cf. ii. 20), which are said to blow very hard off Cape Malea from the north-east (cf. vii. 188; viii. 12), lasted for about forty days in August and September.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

William Smith, Ed.
Anutos
“In B. C. 409, he was sent with 30 ships to relieve Pylos, which the Lacedaemonians were besieging; but he was prevented by bad weather from doubling Malea, and was obliged to return to Athens.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Plutarch, De sollertia animalium
Harold Cherniss and William C. Helmbold, Ed.

“They also relate that Soteles and Dionysius, the men sent by Ptolemy Soter4 to Sinope to bring back Serapis, were driven against their will by a violent wind out of their course beyond Malea, with the Peloponnesus on their right.”
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Strabo, Geography

And just as in early times the Strait of Sicily was not easy to navigate, so also the high seas, and particularly the sea beyond Maleae, were not, on account of the contrary winds; and hence the proverb, “”But when you double Maleae, forget your home.””
[Source: Perseus Digital Library]

Alfonse de Lamartine

“What is this man? He must have a soul trebly steeped in wo, to have chosen this frightful abode; he must have heart and senses eager for strong and eternal emotions, to live in this vulture’s nest, alone, with the boundless horizon, the hurricane, and the roar of the sea. His only spectacle is, from time to time, a passing ship, the creaking of the masts, the tearing of the sails, the cannon of distress, the cries of sailors in their agony.”
[Source: Google Books]

Comments

  1. wonderful landscapes. Thank you!

    April 9, 2014 Reply
    1. Theodoros

      Thank you Rich!
      Great images at your website!

      April 9, 2014 Reply
  2. LOVED reading this … your photos are amazing. Thank you.

    March 14, 2016 Reply
  3. It breaks my heart to inform you that there are plans to destroy this beautiful pristine landscape.
    ADMIE the Greek power transmission operator intends to install 200 pylons on Cape Malea with high voltage power lines going overhead from Molaoi to Cape Malea ( covering a distance of 40 kilometers) and then an underwater cable will connect mainland Greece to Crete. The argument is that this connection for Crete to save energy. While I do understand the logic there is no reason why this place should be destroyed. It is part of the mountain range of Parnonas has 650 endemic plant species and many wild birds and other animals many of which are endangered.
    Please help save Cape Malea

    May 10, 2016 Reply
  4. typo I meant the argument is that this connection with Crete will help save energy .
    When we asked an official in ADMIE why this cable has to pass through an unspoilt area he said it is cheaper and that there is nothing worth protecting on Cape Malea
    The only reason why the pylons have to go through this area is because they want to install 300 or more wind turbines in the area because it is very windy. The pylons will come first and the wind farms will follow some years later. Then proud Cape Maleas dreaded by mariners and mentioned in the Odyssey will be nothing but a wasteland full of broken wind turbines and pylons . All in the name of greed .

    May 10, 2016 Reply

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Swallows on power lines at Yannitsochori, Eleia, Peloponnese
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