Life in the “Mandra”, past, present and future

By Irini Lyratzaki, Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (MedINA)

On Lemnos Island, a Greek island in the northern part of the Aegean Sea, life in rural areas was centred for centuries around “mandras”, a system of buildings constructed around pens, which served agricultural, stock-breeding and everyday needs. The majority of people on the island lived off their land as both farmers and stock breeders. Mandras served their unique way of life Mandras were built either in close proximity to the villages or, in many cases, in more remote areas, depending on the location of the land. If a mandra was close to the village, farmers visited it on a daily basis and took care of their animals, which were stationed there.

However, in more remote mandras, people used to stay longer, due to the lack of road networks and vehicles. They also moved there, frequently accompanied by all members of their family, from late May to early September each year, as work in the fields demanded their constant presence and labour during that time of the year. The mandra was hence considered their second home, the centre of all their activities. Its structure depicted the way of life of the farmers and stock breeders. It was a place where they kept their herds, milked them and made cheese, cooked for their families, slept and stored their tools. It was also where they maintained their vegetable gardens and built their threshing floors. These days, mandras are either owned or rented, and their size and structure depended on the size of the farming and grazing property. They are managed by “kehaghiades” (carers of the land) who are very proud of their heritage—depicted through their songs and dances—and the labour they invest on a daily basis.

In early April 2019, Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (MedINA) visited a number of mandras looking for primary data to support a report on the socio-cultural role of mandras in the farming system of Lemnos. The team talked with kehaghiades, inquiring about their way of life in the past, what has changed in recent years, the challenges they face and how they see their future. MedINA also had the chance to explore the mandra buildings and experience their unique hospitality. We thank them heartily and are looking forward to our next visit!

Photos: © MedINA

MedINA is a leading partner of the Terra Lemnia – Restoration of the Traditional Agro-pastoral Mandra System of Lemnos Island pilot site project that aims to restore landscapes rich with local crop varieties, rangelands sown with seeds to create rich pastures and support sustainable grazing.