It is a generally accepted fact that the natural and cultural environment of Mani is very attractive. This is proven by the fact that many locals and foreigners choose Mani for their holidays. Tourism significantly improves the income of a large part of the permanent residents of our region, creating an atmosphere of rejuvenation, more so in the coastal areas, but also to a considerable extent in the areas further inland. All this despite the fact that the region’s main road network remains a disincentive for travellers. It it self-understood that its radical improvement should be a top priority in order to maintain and to boost the flow of visitors to the region. Unfortunately, this need has not been translated into systematic and effective interventions by local leaders and no significant measurable results have been produced in the last 30 years. Starting from the need to expand the visitor flow to our region, which is necessary for its revitalisation, we will now attempt to present a brief review of the issues related to road accessibility in Mani.
Until the First World War, transport to and from Mani was mainly done by sea, with boats running on petrol, departing from small coastal ports and moving passengers to the nearby commercial centres of Gytheio and Kalamata. Larger ships offered routes to further destinations, such as Piraeus. In the following decades, after the publication of the 1955 Law on the Definition of the Provincial Roads and the 1956 Royal Decree on their designation by each prefecture (νομός), construction began, as an extension of the Sparta-Gytheio National Road, which had been in operation for many decades before (Gytheio was also the port of Sparta) and the Kalamata-Kambos Avias road which had been opened in the late 1930s. Because the roads were supposed to be built separately by each prefecture, many delays occurred. In Mani, it took until 1990 for the government of prime minister Tzannis Tzannetakis, οur compatriot, to finance the road linking Oitylo – Agios Nikon in order to join the two sections that had remained disconnected for many decades! Due to the rocky terrain for most of the routes, the limited means at that time and the meagre funding, the roads in Mani, even the main road axis, had to follow the winding routes of the pre-existing pedestrian and mule tracks.
Since the 1990s, for the reasons mentioned above, the number of visitors to our region began to increase, hesitantly at the beginning but with higher numbers year after year. Unmistakable proof of the interest in the region is the significant awards given to Mani from internationally recognised foreign tourism organisations. Improvements to the main road network of Mani in recent decades resulted in getting visitors from the airport of Kalamata or from the end of the new Peloponnese motorway in Kalamata and Sparta to Mani in a more reasonable time. These are the main public works that have brought a small improvement in the travelling time on the main road axis of Mani:
a) on the western side, the construction of the new bridge at the Rintomo (Koskaraga) gorge in the 2000s; b) on the eastern side, the bypass of Gytheio with a new straight road to the western end of the Marathea – Mavrovouni plain in the 2000s and c) the reconstruction of two small sections on the road from Gytheio to Areopolis, in the area of Passava and Koutrafos in the following decade, which also slightly shortened the time of the road journey.
However, those projects that have been cancelled or delayed without ever reaching the final stage of funding for their implementation are more important. We list the main ones:
I) On the western side: a) in 2006, the failure to approve the completion, by the Prefectural Council of Messinia (Noμαρχιακό Συμβούλιο Μεσσηνίας), of the funded study that foresaw an almost straight route from the end of the new motorway in Kalamata to the bridge of Koskaraga and b) the 25-year delay in the completion of the study for the bypass Kambos – Stavropigio, which has not been funded yet.
II) On the eastern side: a) the study of remodelling the road route from Pyri (at the junction to Monemvasia and Mani) to Gytheio, which was announced 15 years ago by the Ministry of Public Works, is still in progress! and b) several improvements over the last three years to the main road axis are basically made on the traces of the first opening of the old pedestrian road – mule tracks. They certainly provide somewhat more safety for the travellers, however, they do not improve the travelling distance from the entrance to the Mani territory to specific areas.
The inability to promote the study and financing of radical improvements to the main road axis of Mani comes mainly from the lack of a unified course of action by the local leaders who need to assert the rights of our region. We, from this position and during our personal interventions, assert that the United Mani, which we all support verbally, also means unified action, unified planning and unified assertion. This is the only way to ensure effectiveness in our claims, and to produce economic benefits that are spread throughout the geographical area of Mani, to its inhabitants and its property owners.