Greece is home to more than one abandoned ghost town, and while Vatheia fits more of the 'abandoned' aspect than the 'ghost' aspect, it's still a one-of-a-kind destination. The reason this tiny village is such a popular stop for those visiting the Mani Peninsula is that it's so easily accessible, found just off the main road. The village dates back to the 18th century and features tall stone buildings, some even with balconies, that showcase expansive seaside views unlike any other in the area.
While part of its history includes a failed attempt at a full-blown tourist stop, that has not stopped visitors from seeking out this scenic vista. The streets might be devoid of human life, but its past remains ever-present in its architecture and its frozen-in-time appearance.
The History Of Vatheia, And Abandoned Greek Village On The Mani Peninsula
According to Ktima Karageorgou, the village of Vatheia is a must-visit and it's easy to see why. Those who are keen on a short day hike will be able to see the beauty of this village before they even arrive within its limits, as it's set high on the mountain rise of the Mani Peninsula in Southern Peloponnese. The town has been described in many ways over the years, with the most notable description comparing it to the 'spikes on an iguana's back' by Patrick Leigh Fermor, who lived on the Mani Peninsula in the 1950s as a travel writer, according to Atlas Obscura.
While the village has been romanticized for centuries, it actually exists in a place where there were many brutal battles between the clans who lived in the surrounding area. With that being said, the village itself was somewhat of a peaceful, tranquil place by the 20th century. With small-town charm to the extreme and friendly hospitality, it is quite mystifying why Vatheia never became more of a vacation destination for those wishing to explore the beauty of the Mani Peninsula.
The architecture in Vatheia is a prime example of the Maniot style, and the views from the surrounding hillsides, and the village itself, are incomparable. In fact, many people visit Vatheia for the views over the sea, which can span for miles on a clear day. The village is still home to stone tower homes, a church, and a central square. The purpose of this architecture was intended to serve as a stronghold during the 18th and 19th centuries; in the event that an enemy came up into the mountains, Vatheia would hold strong. Thanks to its high windows, loopholes, and scalding chutes, the town could be ready at a moment's notice for an incoming confrontation.
With that being said, Vatheia didn't become overly popular, surprisingly, until the 19th century. According to Ktima Karageorgou, it was piracy that generated the wealth of the town; however, this lost its charm going into the late 20th century. By the 1980s, the town was abandoned after several attempts and nearly a decade of work to turn it into a bustling tourist destination. Today, it remains abandoned, but still features its original architecture that was renovated during its near-tourist days.
Why Should You Visit Vatheia, And What Will You See There?
Those visiting Vatheia are in for a good hike and some of the Mani Peninsula's best views. The narrow lanes of the town extend from the main road on which it's located, making it very easily accessible to those staying in the surrounding mountain towns. Upon first glance, the village itself does resemble the fortress that it was always intended to be. However, when one is strolling down the lanes in between its iconic tower homes, the appearance of the village softens. It's easy to believe that neighbors would have waved to one another from their houses across the lane and that its residents would have enjoyed coffee or a snack on their second-floor balconies. The town square once would have been a gathering place where locals could simply enjoy their small village, without fear of being invaded or battling for their land.
With that being said, the history of Vatheia is easily felt in its walls - literally. Each household would have had a lookout in the event of invaders, and everyone was prepared to protect both their families and their home. While very different from life in Greece today, the village of Vatheia was once a strong and vibrant community.
Visiting Vatheia: What To Know & How To Get There
Currently, at the time of writing, there's no admission to enter the village of Vatheia. Visitors are free to explore the area and take in the surrounding views of the sea, along with the mountains at their backs.
- Get There: By car is the easiest way, and it's even easier for those who are staying on the Mani Peninsula.
- Explore: The hillside and the village, as it makes for the perfect Mani day trip. Pack a lunch!
- Bring: Water & snacks, as well as sturdy hiking shoes and comfortable clothing.
Note: The area surrounding Vatheia is not entirely remote, and there are several shops nearby so visitors should not be worried about being completely isolated.