In terms of footprints, this is one of the most awe-inspiring sites of ancient Greece, thanks to mile-long bulwark walls, famed entry gates, and vast theater arenas. If, vertically, this offers a good deal more than the usual ankle-high array of excavated structures, it is horizontally that Ancient Messene is mightily impressive: one temple alone, the Asklepion, was thought to be an entire town by archaeologists until recently (see www.ancientmessene.gr for an excellent
scholarly take on the site). The ruins of Ancient Messene, about 20 km (12 mi) north of the modern city of the same name, are set amid a lush landscape of olive groves and pine forests on the slopes of majestic Mt. Ithomi (also known as Voulkanos). Epaminondas, the Theban leader, built Ancient Messene, which today incorporates the village of Mavromati, in 370–369 BC as a defense against the Spartans, whom the Messenians had battled during two Messenian Wars, in 743–724 BC and 650–620 BC.
The most striking aspect of the ruins is the city's circuit wall, a feat of defensive architecture that rises and dips across the hillsides for an astonishing 9 km (5½ mi). Four gates remain; the best preserved is the north or Arcadian Gate, a double set of gates separated by a round courtyard. On the ancient paving stone below the arch, grooves worn by chariot wheels are still visible. The heart of the walled city is now occupied by the modern village, but excavations have uncovered the most important public buildings, including a theater, whose seats have now been restored; the Synedrion, a meeting hall for representatives of independent Messene; the Sebasteion, dedicated to worship of a Roman emperor; the sanctuary to the god Asklepios; and a temple to Artemis Orthia. Outside the walls lie a stadium and a cemetery. The site is a bit confusing, as the ruins are spread over the hillside and approached from different paths; follow the signposts indicating the theater, gates, and other major excavations. Some of the finds are in the village's small museum. After exploring the ruins, enjoy a beverage in one of the tavernas that surround the main square of Mavromati.
From modern town of Messene, turn north at intersection of signposted road to Mavromati, Kalamata, 24200, Greece
Aug 16, 2005
We were astonished at the scale of the city walls and the ancient site. And we were the only people looking at it (at around 6pm on a hot July day)!