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The archeological area of Messini

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 17 May 2014

Saturday 17 May, the archeological area of Messini

The coast at KalamataWe have left our apartment early and drive through the mountainous area of the Peloponnese, first to the north and then to the west. Some peaks are more than 2,000 meters high and the road network has only been renewed a little bit in the last century, although you can not get drive quickly because of the many hairpin bends. We drive past Kalamata, a city completely surrounded by olive groves but do not enter the city itself. Instead we drive directly to the old Messene. It is cool this morning and we have to wear a sweater, that takes some getting used to but is nice for a sightseeing trip.
Agora in Messene Remains of a temple, MesseneMessene is perhaps a name that does not appeal to the imagination like Athens or Sparta, but here a lot has been preserved: the city has never been destroyed by enemies or natural violence and no newer city has ever been built on top of it. The city is also a little younger, namely only founded in 369 BC. when the older city states already fell into degeneration. And it was quite a big city, it is a vast area, partly walled and excavations are still being done. The walls were originally more than 9 kilometers long.
Roman bathhouse, Messene Tomb in MesseneAt the Roman bath house we can see how the floor was heated (photo on the left): the hot air from a boiler house was led through pipes to hollow spaces under the raised floors under the bathhouse. The many pillars seem to improve the circulation of the warm air.
The photo on the right shows 8 tombs of an aristocratic family where people were buried for 3 centuries. A tomb monument hsd been erected above it and although there were traces of looting, all sorts of valuables have been found here that can now be seen in the nearby museum.
Amphitheater in MesseneThis looks like an amphitheater but is the ekklesiasterion, the place where political meetings were held. All free men were allowed to talk about administrative matters and they did that here, a sort of open parliament. A form of democracy that was invented in Athens and taken over by many city states in ancient Greece. Everyone (who had the right to vote and that was at most 1/4th of the population because women, slaves and children were not allowed to participate) was allowed to say something here, whether you were poor or rich, learned or not.
Asklepieion in Messene Mosaic floor, MesseneNext to the parliament is the Asclepieion, the temple of medicine, dedicated to Asclepios. But here it was less a hospital than a real temple to honor Asclepios, who was seen as a deity from the past. A lot of artworks have been found and on the floors you can still see whole pieces of mosaic. These are also the only parts that you can not walk over, otherwise you can go almost anywhere in the old city. In the winter it can rain a lot here, but apparently the mosaics do not suffer because they are open and exposed in the open air. Maybe they are covered in some protective layer.
Column with inscription, Messene Temple in MesseneIt is a vast area and there are also very few tourists, we only see a few. And that while this is one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Greece. Everywhere there are temples or buildings and there are clear information signs. Now they have to spend some money on advertising to attract more people. We think there is still a lot to do for the ministry of tourism. Teije has a lot of ideas about it but I doubt if they ever will ask him for his opinion.
Stadium in ancient Messene View over the stadium and the Heroon, MesseneRight on the south side of Messene is the impressive stadium, one of the best preserved in Greece. Here, not only competitions were held but also the youth were trained who had to be fit to defend the city if needed. The ancient Greeks were health freaks anyway in terms of sports: fitness, flexibility and strength were greatly admired. No wonder they invented the olympic games. The stadium is 190 meters long and is surrounded by colonnades. At the end is a mausoleum that looks like a Doric temple.
Columns at the stadium, Messene Heroon Doric temple, MesseneAccording to archaeologists and historians, many things are slightly different in Messene than in other Greek city states, and that is probably because the city was built relatively late and soon came under Roman influence. For example, remains of all kinds of mausoleums and grave monuments were found around the stadium as if the important families that were buried here preferred to see the stadium. It seems that athletic competitions were dedicated to certain influential families.
Amphitheater in Messene Amphitheater in MesseneOf course there is also a real amphitheater for music and drama performances. In Messene we can very well see the different centers: the theater for culture, the ekklesiasterion for politics, the asklepieion as a religious center, the stadium for the sport and there is still a large agora (market) for the trade. In not all ancient Greek cities the distinction was so clear and functions of buildings often merged into each other, for example, the theater was often also used for political meetings.
Overview on the excavation at Messene Arcadian gate of MesseneWe climb a hill from where we have a nice overview of the ruins. The city lies in a fertile valley, and it seems that the city was never completely deserted, but that does not explain why no later buildings were found and there is so much left from the Greek-Roman period. There are 2 entrance gates to the city and the Arcadian gate in the north shows what kind of large pieces of stone were used and how thick the walls were. I have seen some archaeological places over the past few years and do not always find them interesting, but Messene really is impressive.
Sculpture in the museum of MesseneA little outside the Arcadian gate is a museum where the finds from ancient Messene are exhibited, at least a part of it, and compiled by Professor Themelis who, from 1987, leads the excavations in Messene. There are 3 rooms with beautiful marble statues, jewelery and of course lots of pots. This is still nicely decorated pottery but often you see all sorts of 'boring' pots but it seems that that pottery is of the greatest importance for archaeologists to determine the age of layers, something they can not do with gold jewelry. And therefore (according to Teije, who claims to have knowledge of it) you often see so many pottery in museums when it comes to older periods.
Coast at Kalo NeroWe spent a large part of the day walking through Messene and although it is not really hot we are quite thirsty after our visit, our own water bottles have been empty for a long time. So for the third time we are looking for the terrace on the excavation grounds to rest and after that we drive to Kalo Nero on the west coast of the Peloponnese where we have booked an apartment for 1 night. From the beach you can see how steep the mountains rise up here.
Sardines as dinner Lunch in Kalo NeroKalo Nero is a small tourist village and it is not difficult to find a restaurant for something to eat. Teije orders sardines and gets a plate full of .... yes, only sardines and a lemon, there are about 30 sardines on his plate in a big pile. Which the cats of the village find very interesting! At a certain moment I count 17 cats who sit around us, all waiting for something to fall from the table. I myself order souvlaki, a meat skewer with some chips and bread.
Our bed in Kalo Nero View at Kalo NeroWe have a studio in the Oasis hotel with a spacious room and a balcony with sea view. It is only a minute walk to the beach and we make a long beach walk but it is too cold to go into the water, too bad. The sandy beach (with some pebbles through it) seems to be 20 kilometers long so no wonder that many tourists come here. In many places on the Peloponnese we have seen beaches with rough pebbles and that is really less pleasant than a sandy beach.
Sunset in Kalo Nero Sunset in Kalo NeroWe look out from our balcony on the west and thus see a beautiful sunset. It is that we still want to visit so many things the coming week (the last, alas!) Otherwise we would like to stay here a bit longer. Who knows, maybe next time because this is a nice place and when we come before the summer season starts also nice and quiet.
Tomorrow we will end in Nafpaktos on the northern side of the Gulf of Corinth where we have booked for the last 7 nights.


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