MESSINIA | MAINLAND GREECE | PELOPONNESE
A prime Mediterranean destination with over 4.500 years of history.
Messinia is a ravishingly remote corner of the southwest of Peloponnese, a four – hour drive from Athens. The trip to Messinia will be a pleasant surprise for those who have already seen the more famous attractions of Greece and are seeking something new. One will discover peaceful residents, be they farmers or fishermen, a variety of things to see, and clean, unspoiled beaches. The climate is mild and the scenery is dominated by vineyards and olive groves. The medieval castles provide an easy introduction to the region’s rich history and even at the height of summer you are sure to find a beach to your liking since there are so many to choose from.
Messinia was a relatively unknown corner of the Peloponnese until one of the world’s most exclusive resorts “Costa Navarino” opened its doors. You will be fascinated by the region’s well preserved fortresses, charming fishing villages with an island atmosphere, archaeological sites, picturesque monasteries and unspoiled beaches.
MESSINIA HISTORICAL INFO
Ancient Ithomi was the acropolis of Messinia and was fortified as early as the 8th c. BC. The residents of the area used to take refuge within its walls to escape the belligerent Spartans. In 740 BC, the Spartans, wishing to gain control of its fertile lands, began the first of the Messenian Wars, which were to continue, off and on, for some three hundred years until the Messenians had either surrendered or fled the district (460 BC). In 371 BC, the battle of Leuktra took place here. The Thebans led by Epaminondas, along with the Argives and the Arcadians, crushed the Spartans. Immediately afterwards (369 BC), Epaminondas built a new well-fortified city in the strategic position held by the original town of Ithomi, in order to withstand the Spartans’ retaliation. It was settled by those Messenians who had joined forces with the Thebans, freed helots and many former residents of the region who had been living in exile in Sicily. The new city became the most prominent in the area and continued to prosper until 146 BC, when it succumbed to the Romans. Its stout fortifications protected its citizens until a catastrophic raid by the Goths in 395 AD. The survivors abandoned the city and it was never re-inhabited.
The Battle of Navarino
In October 1827, the united fleets of Great Britain, France and Russia, headed by admirals Codrington, Derigny and Heyden, virtually annihilated the Turko-Egyptian fleet commanded by Ibrahim Pasha. The 26 allied ships with a force of 1,270 cannons demolished the 82 enemy ships possessing 2,400 cannons. In all, 6,000 Ottoman troops were lost, 174 allies. This victory contributed decisively to the Greeks’ eventual independence.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN MESSINIA
Kalamata is the second most populous city of the Peloponnese and the capital and chief port of the Messinia regional unit. It is renowned as the land of the Kalamatianos dance and of the Kalamata olives. Thera are numerous historical and cultural sights in Kalamata, such as the Villehardouin Castle, the Ypapandi Byzantine Church, the Kalograion Monastery with its silk-weaving workshop where the Kalamata scarves are made, and the Municipal railway park. The Church of the Holy Apostles is where Mavromichalis declared the revolt against Ottoman rule in 1821. Art collections are housed at the Municipal Gallery, the Archaeological Museum of Messinia and the Folk Art Museum.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF ANCIENT MESSINIA | ITHOME
Tel. 0030 2724051201, the site is open continuously.
Major finds are constantly being discovered; they have been preserved until now under debris brought down by the nearby river. The architecture of the magnificent monuments leads many archaeologists to believe that they may have rivalled those of Ancient Olympia.
Arcadian Gate: One of the city’s four extant gates. It has two entrances, an outer and an inner one.
The walls: Particularly impressive fortifications of the 4th c. BC, 9 km long and 3 m thick, punctuated with solid twostorey four-sided towers.
Temple of Heracles (Hercules): This temple was discovered in 1997, during excavation of the west stoa of the Gymnasium. Exceptional statues by the sculptor Damophon were found here. This famous artist (2nd c. BC) was responsible for many statues in various Greek cities and it was he who repaired the gold and ivory statue of Zeus in ancient Olympia.
Theatre: With tiers, landings and orchestra, similar in form to the large theatre at Epidaurus. The theatre served the needs of the 40,000 people who lived in Messinia at its peak.
Agora: Sacred edifices with cult statues of gods, such as Poseidon, Aphrodite and the “Mother of the Gods”, a work by Damophon.
Stadium: Today all that remains is the “horseshoe” of the track. Midway along the east side and in front of the spectators’ seats stood a stone throne belonging to the city’s high priest. Games were performed here in the nude in honour of Asklepios and Zeus Ithomata.
Odeon (Small Theatre): Next to the Asklepeion complex. Designed for displays of rhetoric and political, artistic and cultural performances, dedicated to the god Asklepios. Next to the Asklepeion complex. Designed for
displays of rhetoric and political, artistic and cultural performances, dedicated to the god Asklepios.
Asklepeion: Imposing sanctuary dedicated to the god Asklepios and to Messinia. The layout of the buildings resembles that of the large Christian monasteries. A temple of Messinia Hegemone stood in the centre of the inner court.
Arsinoe’s Fountain: The large fountain dedicated to Arsinoe, the mother of Asklepios, stands in the northeast part of the monumental complex.
Klepsydra (Kallirhoe Fountain Mavro Mati): This spring supplied the city and buildings within the walls with water and was particularly useful in time of siege. According to ancient local tradition, the nymphs Ithome and Neda took care of the infant Zeus here.
Sanctuary of Artemis: Thought to have been dedicated to Artemis Limnatida (“of the lake”).
Sanctuary of Zeus Ithomata: According to a Messenian legend, Zeus was born in Ithome and thus acquired the attribute “Ithomata”. Initially, before the arrival of the Achaeans, the sanctuary was dedicated to the Pelasgiangod Ithomata.
Old Voulkano Monastery: The monastery was built in the 8th c. with material from the ruins of Ancient Messinia. It was in operation until 1626 and on the south-east side one can see an enormous stone block, which originally formed the base of a statue of Zeus. A very rough dirt road leads to the monastery, but it is well worth the effort.
The monastery was once a place of refuge for escaped slaves. It is situated at an altitude of 926 m on Mt Ithomi and has a stupendous view. On descending, you will pass the Laconian Gate of Ancient Messinia before arriving, on the other side of a thick wood, at the New Voulkano Monastery, built in 1712. The new monastery has monks and also takes in guests. Laconian Gate: It owes its name to the fact that it faces Laconia. It was fortified with two strong towers of which only traces remain.
A ruined monastery surrounded by plane-trees by the bed of a small river. Wonderful architecture and scenery, but the monastery has been abandoned and you cannot view the interior. It was built during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos Palaiologos and under its sanctuary there is a spring. It consists of three churches conjoined, with three sanctuaries and three altars. The monastery’s feast day is August 6. It is an ideal place for a picnic.
A seaside market town, which has become the tourist and business centre of the Trifylia region. It is separated into the Upper City (Ano Polis), with traditional buildings, and the more modern Lower City (Kato Polis).
Worth visiting is the eastern hill which was the site of the prehistoric acropolis, the Theban general Epaminondas, and later the Byzantines, fortified. The Franks built a strong medieval castle here, too. One can see traces of Venetian and Ottoman additions. The houses in the vicinity of the castle have retained their old, interesting architectural features.
Nestor, King of Pylos, was one of the richest, strongest and most respected leaders of the Greeks during the Trojan War. Homer describes him as the wisest of them all and his account of Nestor’s reception of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, at this palace is one of the high points of the Odyssey.
Mycenaean Palace of Epano Englianos | Tel. 00302763031437 | 8 am-2:30 pm
Built in 2000 BC on a plan similar to the architecture of the palaces of Crete and the Argolid (Mycenae and Tiryns), it appears to have been destroyed in a fire around 1200 BC, no doubt by the invading Dorians. It was a two-storeyed building, lavishly decorated with frescoes. Clay tablets inscribed in Linear B, the earliest form of Greek writing, were found in the ruins. Not far from the hill, lies an imposing vaulted tomb. Make sure to see the throne room, the queen’s chambers with her bath and hearth and the workshop where scented oils for anointing the body were prepared.
Hora Trifylias | Tel. 00302763031358 | 8:30 am-2:30 pm
Exhibits from the palace and excavations in the area. Pottery, fresco fragments, and objects of everyday use, as well as gold jewellery and wine cups.
Built on a steep slope that descends to the harbour, it was planned by French engineers under General Maison in 1829 when it adopted the ancient name of Pylos. Previously, the Venetians had called it Navarino, the historic bay, whose entrance is almost blocked by the island of Sphaktiria, leaving only the south channel navigable. In 425 BC the Athenian general Demosthenes took 292 Spartans prisoner after a long siege, breaking the myth that they always fought to the death.
Museum of Niokastro (or Neo Kastro Pylou)
Tel. 0030 2723022010 | 8:30 am-3 pm
Interesting, well-preserved fortress overlooking the town. It was erected by the Turks in the 16th c. and rebuilt in 1829 by General Maison. Today it houses the Institute of Underwater Archaeology. A mosque converted into a gothic style church of the Metamorphossi tou Sotira stands within its walls. Paliokastro is at the opposite edge of Navarino Bay. It is worth visiting the wonderful nearby beach of Voidokilia and Nestor’s Grotto, where traces of neolithic life have been found.
Trion Navarchon Square
Pretty square with cannons and plane-trees. Most of the town’s nightlife and tavernas are concentrated here.
A small town behind the Venetian castle, which sits upon the ruins of the ancient city of Mothoni, a wellknown harbour in antiquity. Mentioned in Homer, it took its name from the “Mothonas lithos”, a stretch of rock beginning at the coast and sinking into the sea like a reef. The imposing castle is a Venetian construction and has been a prime factor in the town’s development, past and present. Today, the former fishing village has accommodation and shops and one can swim at the nearby beaches, or at the long town beach with its fine sand.
The Fortress or Kastro
Built by the Venetians in the 13th c., it was a primary port of call on the trade route to the eastern Mediterranean. The flourishing harbour town was captured by the Ottomans in 1500, retaken by the Venetians in 1615 and finally reverted to the Turks (17151828). Even under the Ottomans it continued to thrive, thanks to agricultural commerce with France.
A small fort occupying an islet linked by a causeway to the larger castle. It was built by the Turks in 1500, who used it as a prison and execution site.
Fishing hamlet on the cape opposite the islet of Schiza with a fine beach and some small tavernas. A quiet place for a peaceful holiday.
A medieval town surrounding an impressive fortress which incorporates a monastery. Tourism has been slow to catch on here and it has managed to retain its local colour which is remininscent of a Cycladic island. Its nightlife thrives in the pleasant tavernas and little bars on the waterfront.
Open every day and still inhabited. Also built by the Venetians, who considered it and Methoni their two eyes on the Eastern Mediterranean trade routes. Take a walk around the gardens and homes in the castle precinct and don’t miss the Monastery of the Timios Prodromos which follows the Julian Calendar. The best time to visit is early morning or sunset.
SPECIAL INTERESTS | GOLF
Costa Navarino Golf
Navarino Bay for golfers of all levels. With spectacular sea and river views, both courses have been designed to create a unique rhythm and flow, balancing excitement, challenge and aesthetics with breathtaking vistas.
For more information: Tel: 0030 2723090200 | www.costanavarinogolf.com
BEACHES IN MESSINIA
One of Greece’s most splendid beaches, near Paliokastro on a closed bay in the shape of a crescent moon whose two ends are dominated by steep rocks. The beach is full of sand dunes, while the sand becomes very fine as you approach the sea. Ideal in May, June and September but best avoided in July and August, when it is swarming with people, caravans and all forms of vehicle, that clog the narrow road.
A wide beach with coarse sand and clear water, a favourite of windsurfers, where you can hire surfboards.
Sandy beach at the back side of the island. Accessible by caique from Pylos.
East of Methoni on the road to Finikounda. Pleasant beach with a taverna in a lovely natural setting.
A large beach bordered by greenery. With its sand and clear waters.
MESSINIA TIPS & INFORMATION
HOW TO GET TO MESSINIA
By car from Athens
By air from Athens airport El. Venizelos to Kalamata with Aegean Airlines.
HOW TO GET AROUND
If you don’t have your own transport, the region is adequately served by local buses and the distances are relatively small.
Olive oil, olives, wine and pastelli (sesame candy).
BEST SEASON TO VISIT MESSINIA
Early summer when it’s peaceful and green and the beaches are all yours.
But even in August it is not as crowded as much of the rest of Greece.
SAFE WATER SPORTS IN MESSINIA
For useful safety information and licensed watersports centers please visit Safe Water Sports
MESSINIA USEFUL TELEPHONES NUMBERS
Airport 0030 2722045252
Police 0030 27210 22662
Hospital 0030 2721094500-7
Town Hall 0030 2761022280
Police 0030 2761022500
Hospital 0030 2761022222
Taxis 0030 2761022666
Town Hall 0030 723022221
Police 0030 723022316
Hospital 0030 7230 22315
Taxis 0030 723022555
Community Office 0030 723031255
Police 0030 723031203
Rural clinic 0030 723031456
Taxis 0030 723031333
Community Office 0030 725022221
Police 0030 725022422
Rural clinic 0030 725022208
Taxis 0030 725022195