Ancient Messene. A well hidden gem!!

Ancient Messene, or Ithome, is an impressive archaeological site that must be included in your itinerary.

One day tour

Theatre in Ancient Messene

Start out from your hotel and in about 2.30 hrs you arrive under the hill of Ithomi, where Ancient Messene is located. Enjoy the full of trees stunning scenery and learn about the myths, traditions and secrets that the area will encounter. First, stop is at the source of the Mavromati village. Learn about the legend that reveals the name of the village – a myth that reaches back to the years of Greeks mythology and is related to the upbringing of Zeus. The structures you’ll first see are the city’s fortification wall and the only surviving entrance gate. They are standing there steadfast from 369 BCE. Stand in front of the Arcadian Gate to admire its splendour and allow the stones to take you back centuries ago, wondering how it feels like to be a Messenian warrior fighting to protect your family. Wander through the same paths where Epameinondas once stepped, the famous general who founded the city on the ruins of Ancient Ithomi, which were the direct result of Spartans’ behaviours as conquerors. But that great man decided to stop the wars and continued exercising “democracy.” Just above the ancient city, there’s a coffee shop which will play host to you for about an hour before entering the main sight. There, you’ll learn everything about the foundation of the city, its history and the continuously changing of conquers. Wander around within the ancient city at your leisure within the time allotted. Finally, visit the small Archaeological Museum.

As the most defensible point in the surrounding territory, Ithome (Ancient Messene) was the centre of Messenian resistance to Sparta during the Messenian Wars in the 7th and 6th c. BC. Ithome was the centre of the Helot revolt in 465 BC after an earthquake in Sparta. This revolt is the 3rd Messenian War.

Feedback from a client:
The local guide was very good and very friendly. She made the whole ancient site come alive for us. She told us all about Messene. We stopped at a wonderful viewing point at the village of Mavromati where she showed us the route that we would follow around the site. We spent almost 2 hours to explore this extremely atmospheric site and to visit the small museum afterwards. An excellent trip.

Ancient Messene

Messene, the 2nd largest state of Peloponessus, was the capital and cultural centre of Messinia, a very significant city-state in antiquity. The area is extremely fertile and lush, and many battles were fought for the control of this region.

A 9km stone strong wall, with towers and battlements, built-in 370BC around it, made it one of the most strongly fortified places in ancient Greece. The ruins of the archaeological site, are very impressive, spread out across the peaceful valley of Messinia. With the Arcadian mountains on one side and the valleys down to the sea on the other, the beauty of the scenery is amazing and the view breathtaking. The site is one of the best-preserved in Greece, includes a theatre – one of the biggest in antiquity- the Arsinoe fountain house, an agora surrounded by stoas, which covers an area of about 40 acres with temples of Zeus and Poseidon, the sanctuaries of Demeter and Dioskouroi, an Asclepieion, a beautiful stadium with the gymnasium, a funerary monument, public buildings, houses, the monumental fortifications of the city etc. It also includes an early Byzantine Basilika.

The real jewel is the archaeological site, not only for its undisputed historical value but also for its sheer size. It is a place where you can get a sense of what an ancient Greek-state looked like. Coming to the ancient site, you drive through the massive, well-preserved gateway that enables you to form an impression of the fortified wall that surrounded the city. This Arcadian Gate is a marvel among defensive fortifications. A double set of gates separated by a circular courtyard. Huge blocks of stone! How did they transport them, how did they raise them and how did they position them with such accuracy? The answer: this was a culture with an advanced level of technology. They knew about hoisting machines, they knew how to multiply power by mechanical means, they knew how to cut the stone and of course, they knew all about its properties.

The main ancient source on Messene is the ancient writer Pausanias, who describes the city in details (155-160 AD). He writes that its walls were stronger than the famous walls of Byzantium and of Rhodes, he represents the Asklepieion as a museum of artworks, and he mentions of theatres, temples, sanctuaries, statues, public buildings, springs, tombs, agora, gymnasium…

For a relatively quick visit, you will need more than two hours, since the ancient ruins are widely scattered and you will surely want some time for inner reflection in the theatre-like Ecclesiasterion and the sprawling stadium.

Extensive excavations have been carried out as well as some remarkable restoration work which allows visitors to form a vivid picture of the Asklepeion, the very well preserved Ecclesiasterion and the impressive stadium and gymnasium. Equally impressive are the techniques used for water management, including a stone aqueduct and irrigation system. In 2013, the theatre of ancient Messene, after 2 millennia of silence, opened its doors again to the public. Ancient Messene is included in the Greek list of monuments submitted to UNESCO and is expected to become part of the World Heritage Site Catalogue.

– The Asklepieion: Temple of Asklepios and his daughter Hygeia.
– The small theatre-odeon belonging to the Asklepieion complex.
– The Voulefterion: A room belonging to the Asklepieion complex.
– The city walls which date to the 3rd century B.C.
– The Arcadian gate on the north side of the wall.
– The Temple of Artemis Limniatis or Lafria.
– The Sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatas.
– The Theatre-Stadium.

Peloponnesus is full of important archaeological sites. Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, Nafplio, Mystras, Monemvasia. Combine the visit to ancient Messene in a 2-day tour with another of these amazing archaeological sites and “discover Peloponessus”, or, combine it with something quite different and visit the enchanting gorge of the lakes and waterfalls of polylimnio Messinias.


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