Numerous myths and legends have been associated with the broader area of Vatika, particularly with Cape Maleas. These stories have been passed down from one generation to the next, creating a rich tradition of oral history.
According to the researcher Dr. Eleftherios Alexakis “places assume the form of a mythological text linked directly and indirectly with the collective memory and imagination” (2011). A typical example is the tradition surrounding the origins of the monastery of Aghia Irini, as told by a resident of the village of Velanidia:
Once upon a time, as a ship was about to sail from Piraeus for Mani, in the southern Peloponnese, a young blind girl approached the captain and his crew and asked them to take her wherever they were going. At first the captain refused, but eventually gave in to the girl’s entreaties. But when they reached Cape Maleas, they decided to put her ashore. After giving her some bread, olives and water, they wished her good luck and left her by a cave.
When her food was all gone, she found some water in the cave. After drinking the water and making a wish, she slowly began to gain her sight. Looking up at the mountain, on a high rock she saw a strikingly beautiful young woman, who greeted her. When the girl asked her who she was she replied: ” I am Aghia (Saint) Irini. I have made you well and that is my home over there. Don’t be afraid, for I will always come to your aid.
As soon as she had spoken, the woman disappeared. Greatly moved, the girl climbed up quickly to look for the saint’s hermitage. But she found nothing. She realised that somewhere nearby, the saint’s icon would be found. Later, the girl married a local nobleman and told him the story, adding that the only thing she asked of him was to go to Cape Maleas to the place where she had seen the saint, to look for her icon and build a monastery to her there.
Her husband raised no objection and gathered together a number of labourers and headed for the cape. After digging in several places, they found the saint’s icon a few days later, and built the monastery of Aghia Irini that still stands there today.
Source: Stavrianos 1968, 52-55, from Anarygyros P. Kounoupas, Velanidia.
Many of the myths concern the pirates who terrorised the local population and passing ships for many centuries. There are stories associated with nearly every point on the peninsula, such as this one about Sarigalis:
A site on Cape Maleas is named after Sarigalis, a pirate captain who had his lair on the steep slopes of the cape.
When piracy was at its peak, Sarigalis established a base on the rugged rocks of Cape Maleas, carrying out forays with his men to rob any ship that dared pass by. The rocky coastline was dotted with the hoists and pulleys used for launching his boats.
Yet one day Sarigalis fell gravely ill. He sent his deputy and crew out to raid a passing ship while he looked on from his mountain lair. Suddenly, he saw the ship sail off and his own boats sink. Realising it was all over for him, he threw himself off the cape and drowned.
The hoists and pulleys he used for his boats can still be seen on the rocks.
Source: Stavrianos 1968, 51, from Ioannis. A. Karantzis, Velanidia.
More information about the local legends and myths can be found in the following text:
Αlexakis, Eleftherios (2011). Popular traditions and the landscape of Cape Maleas: An anthropological approach. International Symposium on the Cultural Environmental Heritage and Landscape “Cape Maleas: From Homeric to Contemporary Landscape” 30 April – 1 May 2011. Monemvasia, Laconia»
The myth of the stone ‘Frigates’ of Marathias (Elika)
It was a time when kings had no power, when Greek waters were aflame with the terror of piracy – Turks, north Africans from the Barbary Coast – that spread panic among the peoples of the Peloponnese coast.
That was the time in which this myth had is origins.
Late one summer afternoon, ships’ masts appeared on the far horizon flying pirate flags. As the ships approached, slowly but steadily, the alarm was raised by the guards manning Elika’s two towers. They had been watching the vessels approach trying to see if they were in fact pirate frigates. There was no doubt about it.
The guards began sending signals along the coast to warn villagers of the threat looming in the distance. When the people saw the signals, they panicked. Exhausted from repeated pirate raids and disheartened because no one could do anything to help them, they turned to the little chapel of Aghios Georgios and fell on their knees in the faint hope that their prayers to the saint would be answered.
If the approaching frigates turned out to be Greek ships they would be welcomed. But if they were pirates come to loot homes and farms, then let the saint work a miracle and turn the ships to stone on the spot!
And in fact, just then a fire broke out on one of the ships and all of them suddenly turned to stone! The people of Elika had been saved! The ships were transformed into rocky islets that stand just off the shore of Marathia. Ever since then, these stone ships have stood there, battered by the seas to remind the people of the help given to them by the saint.