The Mani Peninsula, also long known by its medieval name Maina or Maïna, is a geographical and cultural region in Greece that is home to the Maniots (Mανιάτες, Maniátes in Greek). The capital city of Mani is Areopoli. Mani is the central peninsula of the three which extend southwards from the Peloponnese in southern Greece. To the east is the Laconian Gulf, to the west the Messenian Gulf. The peninsula forms a continuation of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of the Peloponnese.
The terrain is mountainous and inaccessible.
Until recent years many Mani villages could be reached only by sea. Today a narrow and winding road extends along the west coast from Kalamata to Areopoli, then south to Akrotainaro (the pointed cape, which is the southernmost point of continental Greece) before it turns north toward Gytheio. Another road, that is used by the public buses of the Piraeus - Mani line, which has existed for several decades, comes from Tripoli through Sparta, Gytheio, Areopoli and ends in the Gerolimenas port near Cape Matapan.
Mani has been traditionally divided into three regions:
Neolithic remains have been found in many caves along the Mani coasts. Homer refers to a number of towns in the Mani region, and some artifacts from the Mycenaean period (1900 BC - 1100 BC) have been found. The area was occupied by the Dorians in about 1200 BC, and became a dependency of Sparta. After Spartan power was destroyed in the 3rd century BC, Mani remained self-governing.
As the power of the Byzantine Empire declined, the peninsula drifted out of the Empire's control. The fortress of Maini in the south became the area's centre. Over the subsequent centuries, the peninsula was fought over by the Byzantines, the Franks, and the Saracens.
After the Fourth Crusade in 1204 AD, Italian and French knights (known collectively by the Greeks as Franks) occupied the Peloponnese and created the Principality of Achaea. They built the fortresses of Mystras, Passavas, Gustema (Beaufort), and Great Maina. The area fell under Byzantine rule after 1262, forming part of the Despotate of the Morea.
In 1460, after the fall of Constantinople, the Despotate fell to the Ottomans. Mani was not subdued and retained its internal self-government in exchange for an annual tribute, although this was only paid once. Local chieftains or beys governed Mani on behalf of the Ottomans.