The Maniots regard themselves as direct descendants of the Spartans. The legend goes that after the decline of Sparta, citizens loyal to the principles of Lycurgus (founder of Sparta’s constitution) chose to withdraw to the mountains rather than serve under foreign masters. Certainly, over later centuries, many refugees from occupying powers filtered into this remote area. For centuries the Maniots were a law unto themselves, renowned for their fierce independence, resentment of attempts to govern them and for their bitter, spectacularly murderous internal feuds.
The Ottoman Turks failed to subdue the Maniots and largely left them alone, yet Mani became the cradle of rebellion that grew into the War of Independence. After the Greek victory, though there had been a fatal falling out with the first president of independent Greece over the spoils of victory bypassing the Maniots, they nevertheless reluctantly became part of the new kingdom in 1834.
Patrick Leigh Fermor's charming book Mani is an ideal introduction to this unique region.