Ancient Messene, also known as Ithomi, lies in the fertile foothills of Mount Ithomi, just below the stone houses of the charming traditional village of Mavromati. It is in the southwest Peloponnese prefecture of Messenia, 32 kilometres northwest of Kalamata.
The classical city-state was founded in 369 BC on the foundation of ruins that go back as far as the Bronze Age. It became the capital of the greater region of Messene after being librated by Theban general Epaminondas, who defeated the Spartans two years earlier (371 BC) at the battle at Leuktra.
The Archaeological Society of Athens has largely excavated and restored the vast archaeological site. It is one and is one of most impressive sites in Greece; however it’s not very well known to most travellers in the region.
One of the many highlights is the 3rd century BC ancient theatre which has the cavea (seating) carved into the hillside. During the Roman period, the theatre was enlarged, and the façade of the scene building had three storeys. The theatre held the meeting between King Philip V of Macedon and Aratos the Sikyonian in 214 BC; the day following the revolt of the Messenian people.
Further highlights include the Stadium and Gymnasium architectural complex, the 2nd century BC Hellenistic Sanctuary of Asclepius, the political and religious heart of the city and the 9 kilometres long circuit wall, made of enormous limestone blocks and with battlement towers built during the 4th century BC to protect the city.
The archaeological site of ancient Messene is on the UNSECO Tentative List, which comprises properties considered of being cultural and/or natural heritage of outstanding universal value and therefore suitable for inscription on the World Heritage List.
All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.