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Restoring medieval tower house near Sparta as life project

Over 35 years ago, Kostas Zouvelos and his then-fiancé Kassiani Theodorakakou saw a for sale sign on a crumbling early 19th-century fortified tower on Greece’s Mani Peninsula, they decided to buy it and decide later what to do with it.

Fortified towers are ubiquitous across Mani (Peloponnese) where a history of small (often just several family) settlements, or “xemonia” were built at key locations for self defense. The Maniots were never under Ottoman occupation like the rest of the country and they helped Greece gain independence in 1832. After the war homes and towers were abandoned in large numbers as the inhabitants of the peninsula emigrated to Athens.

Zouvelos and Theodorakakou spent eight years converting their collapsing tower into a three room guest house (Tainaron Blue Retreat). So intent on assuring that the building matched the environment, they changed the mortar color three times. To create the mortar, they used a traditional technique called kourasani, using lime, local soil, river sand, ceramic powder, and a small amount of cement.

Working with the building’s original footprint of 25 square meters per floor, the couple squeezed a kitchen/lobby on one and three bedrooms on the others, using space-saving features like an in-room shower, a carved-in-the-rock bed and a portable kitchen.  Each floor is connected via a trap door so the entire home can be used by one family. They also created extra living spaces outdoors with a sun terrace, an infinity pool and a large patio with replanted 100-year-old olive trees.