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Laconia, Greece

Vatheia

The historic tower houses of this nearly abandoned Greek town have been compared to the spikes on an iguana's back. 

This mostly-abandoned town sits at the top of a rise in the mountainous landscape of the Mani peninsula, in the southern Pelopponese. Its tower houses are typical to the Mani region, where long and bloody feuds often occurred between family and clan groups. Vatheia was built roughly around the 18th-19th centuries, and today it is one of the most striking clusters of these towers in the region.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, a travel writer who made his home in the Mani Peninsula, wrote in the late 1950s, in his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Pelopponese:

“The wide ridge was jagged with broken towers like the spikes along an iguana’s back and as it swept upwards to the bluff they spread and climbed with it, growing in number and height. An angular stook of towers was rooted in a cloud of cactus and olive, ending on the brink of the steep fall of the ledges…”

This description still holds true today. He also wrote of the hospitality he received there, concluding, “I felt like staying there forever.” This, however, is no longer true, as apart from exploration, Vatheia has little to offer its visitors in terms of human interaction.

After an unsuccessful attempt in the 1980s to convert it into a fully functioning tourist stop, with hotels and amenities, it remains mostly uninhabited and un-renovated. Several of the towers have holes in their walls or have lost large chunks to the overgrowth. The town square, shaded by the towers around it, is cool and quiet, home to a small church. In the back room of an abandoned taverna, crates of soda sit slowly moldering into dust. You can explore freely through these abandoned structures and through the town itself, whose streets quickly narrow into overgrown stone stairs and slopes as you climb the rise of the hill.

As of 2011, there were only 33 people still living in the village, so calling it a ghost town might not be quite correct, but it is still a lonely and haunting place to explore. 

Know Before You Go

Vatheia is quite easily reached by car if you are already in the Mani, and it makes for a good stop on a day trip or hike. Sturdy shoes, water, and a snack or lunch are good ideas, since the slope is a bit steep, and there are few grocery stores or restaurants around.