Made of Stone

About the work ...

I met Emvis for the first time in 2006. He had come to Greece from Albania at the age of 16, in the early ‘90s. Alone, without parents or friends, he crossed the country almost on foot to reach Marmari, perhaps the least inhabited village of Mesa Mani. There he met papa - Mitsos, an elderly builder and stone craftsman, who, having no children himself, took the boy under his protection.

Mani’s terrain is rough and largely barren, a fact that has given it the nickname "land of stone". Stones were, and still are, the basic material for house construction. According to tradition, the house had to be harmonized with the surroundings, becoming almost invisible. One reason was, that Mani was a frequent target of the Mediterranean pirates and, as a precaution against raids, settlements should be indistinguishable when viewed from the sea, the color of the houses should be the same as that of the surrounding stone, so that they could not become a target, and the windows made small like loopholes. A second reason, based on the same reasoning, was the famous Mani vendettas. This need led the builders, the "stoners" as they are known locally, to choose the building stones exclusively from the area around or near the under-construction house, to shape them by carving them much like a sculptor does, and to match them in such a way as to form a harmonious whole. Next to papa-Mitso, Emvis learned the traditional art of stone building. Today, he still lives in Mani having created his own family, and is a traditional stone building contractor himself with his own crew, undertaking both renovations and new constructions.

I followed him and his crew during spring and summer of 2011, photographing them at work. These may be a few of the last remaining traditional stone craftsmen in Mesa Mani.