It is not historically proven when and by whom the ancient Gythion was built. There is only a myth that it was built both by Apollo and Hercules after they came in terms with each other (Pausanias II21,8). This is the reason why it was called “Gaia of Gods” (Land of Gods). This tradition that Gythion is one of the most ancient cities in Laconia, since it was built in mythical times, is only theoretical. Homer does not speak of it apart from island Kranai, whereas he mentions the cities Avgia on our side and Lax to the south.
It is possible that Gythion was overshadowed by the city Las, until it was destroyed and declined. Pausanias, Oratios, Ovidios and Markalios praised the scarlet clothing in Laconia. It is proven from inscriptions that in Gythion there was the acme of a Roman commercial colony, since Roman bankers, due to the acme of commerce and industries of scarlet clothing and marbles, rendered it to an important commercial and exporting center.
Xenofon refers to Gythion as the military port of Sparte. The Athenian Talmidis conquered Gythion in 456BC. In 410BC, Alkiviades was spying, if they were recruiting new navy after his victory in Kyziko. In 370BC, it is conquered by Thivei, whereas Isidas and Gythii take it back in 388BC using the trick of the nudist contests and the hidden swords with which they massacred Thivei. In 222BC, Philippe invades Gythion. The social changes by the king of Sparte Navi (207 BC) were very important for the whole area of Mani. Many wealthy people from Sparte came to Mani choosing mostly places near the sea, like Gythio, Las, etc. Mani becomes more independent politically and financially from Sparte with the creation of the autonomous confederation of the cities in southern Laconia. Since that era and up to the first centuries AC, Gythion was equal to the flourishing cities of Greece, such as Corinth, Thessalonica, Nikopoli, Mantinia, since it had become an important center of commerce. It had richness of natural products, such as marbles and fabrics, which served the luxurious tastes of the Romans at that time. During that time, most of the temples, the theatre, and the baths as well as the aqueduct of Gythion were erected.
The period of development of the Roman times is followed by the first Byzantine years, during which Mani becomes part of Macedonia (337 AC). In 375 AC, a powerful earthquake destroys parts of the city. The Goths in 395 AC destroy Sparte, which is in decline, finishing off the results of the earthquake.
During the 4th Cent, the Confederation is also torn apart.
After the 6th Cent, it falls to invisibility.
In 1836AC, the new city is founded in the place of the old and keeps the same name.
Monuments and sightseeing: It is worth mentioning the theatre in the NW of Gythion constructed during the Roman times with stones. On the SE there was the ancient market, which was extended up to the coast. The statues of Apollo and Hercules decorated the market. There were also the statues of Dimitra, Dionysus and Asclepiads. 50m above the theatre, there are the remains of a wall from the citadel of the city. On the citadel, there used to be the temple of Athena. Near the temple of Agia Triada there was the graveyard that belongs to the Hellenistic times and on the west of the city a semicircular space, where the conferences were taking place.
The museum of Gythion has important collections of inscriptions, coins, pottery, etc.
The island Kranai is the jewelry of Gythion. Since 1898 it is connected to the city by a breakwater, which made the port safer and rendered the communication of the villagers easier. According to mythology Kranai was the bridal place of the godlike Alexander and the kidnapped Belle Helene. Kranai was inhabited in the Neolithic era and was of great importance during the Mycenaean period. During the medieval times it was called Marathonisi, because the island was covered by fennels (marathos). This was also the name of Gythion during the pre revolutionary years and in 1821. During the last years of the Turkish Rule, the tower of Tzanet-Bey was built, which is now renovated and operates as a Historical and National museum with rich exhibits.
The lighthouse of Kranai was constructed in 1873 with marble from Tainaro. The building has eight corners and is 23m tall. It is one of the best lighthouses in Greece for the harmonious lines and the luxurious construction. The surface is decorated with natural green floor, olive trees and wooden bends for the visitors.
That’s all for Gythion of the past. We shall refer to Gythion of the present in the following issue.