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Holiday Destinations – Messinia – A Holiday Guide to the Messinia Peninsula
Messinia lays on the southern part of mainland Greece, now divided from the mainland by the Corinth Canal. The peninsula hosts some of the most important and impressive ancient sites in Greece. It has a warm winter, it’s not too hot in summer and boasts some of the best and cleanest beaches in the whole of Greece. Even in the height of the summer holiday season there are no more than a handful of people to be seen on them.
The mountain landscape of the Messinian Mani is simple stunning and is dominated by Taygetos, one of the largest mountain ranges in the Peloponnese. Whereas the Messinian peninsular has rolling hills and fertile valleys considered to be the market garden and wine centre of Greece.
It is an ideal place to relax and go for walks. Wander off the beaten track into the old hill towns and discover the true beauty of the region. A world apart from the islands, the beautiful and sparsely populated the Peloponnese is a bastion of disappearing Greek village life. The rural villages in this area are beautifully authentic, traditional and spread out. The local villagers are friendly and welcoming, often plying new tourists with gifts of wine and oranges.
The city of Kalamata with all its facilities nestles at the head of the Messini Bay in between the two peninsulas, thus making it an ideal location for a dream holiday.
The capital and chief port of Messinia, Kalamata is the land of the Kalamatianos dance and the silk kerchief. Of succulent black olives, honeyed figs and the sesame-covered sweet called pastelli. The town is dominated by the 13th century fortress above it built by Geoffrey de Villehardouin. On the north side of the citadel there is a small Byzantine church, dedicated to the Virgin of Kalomata (of the good eye), from which the town may have acquired its name.
From the fortress you can survey the expanse of sea below with its sandy and pebbly shores or turn your gaze upon the deep green plain, the “happy land” of the ancients.
The old city is reaches out underneath the fortress. This is where the Byzantine church of the Virgin Ypapanti and the convent of the Kalograies, where the nuns weave the famous Kalamata silk, are situated.
There are many churches in town, the oldest being the historic church of Agii Apostoli (13th c.), where the Greek Revolution against the Turks was formally declared on March 23, 1821. Kalamata has an archaeological and folklore museum, a fine arts museum and a library containing 60.000 volumes.
Every summer cultural events like concerts and plays put on by the Kalamata theatre are held in the amphitheatre of the fortress. In the evening, the town comes alive, especially along the waterfront which is lined with tavernas, seafood restaurants and rotisseries serving local dishes and drinks, fresh fish, roast suckling pig and chicken, sausages, cheese, olives, retsina and ralki.
The small town of Methoni is on the south western tip of the Peloponnese. It is dominated by its impressive fortress stretching into the sea separated from the town by a wide (and now dry) moat. Methoni fortress joins those in Crete and Cyprus as a stepping stone on the pilgrim route to the holy land. The pretty town with its pleasant old houses with wrought-iron balconies shelters behind the fortress and has a delightfully lazy Greek air.
Homer called Methoni “rich in vines” and tradition maintains that the town is so called because the donkeys (oni) carrying its wine used to get drunk (metho) from the heavy aroma.
Methoni beach lies below the fortress and is well known for its magnificent, uncrowded, long stretch of sand and shallow sea. It was awarded a blue flag in 2001 and is ideal for families. In season there is a good selection of traditional Greek tavernas, restaurants, bars, banks. and supermarkets.
The Fortress of Methoni
The fortress is the best preserved in the entire Mediterranean. Evidence of past visitors includes the remnants of a Venetian cathedral and a Turkish bath within the fortress walls. In the town are some enormous Venetian wells whose marble rims are furrowed by the pressure of huge ropes over the centuries. Inside the fortress is an entire medieval town and you can literally spend hours wandering around.
The site was fortified as early as the 7th century B.C., and in the period between 395 A.D. and 1204 A.D. was used as a Byzantine fortress. The area was dominated by the Franks for a very short period and in 1206 was captured by the Venetians who strengthened the fortification, incorporating the pre-Christian defensive structures. In 1500 Methoni was captured by the Turk Bayazit Pasha, again came under Venetian occupation from 1685 until 1715, and was for a second time dominated by the Turks who kept it under their control until 1829, when it was liberated by the French general Maison, along with other towns of the Peloponnese.
For many years the buildings of the fortress have been restored by the Archaeological Service. The most important monuments of the site are:
The fortress and remains of a secular, religious buildings inside the fortified area.
The Byzantine church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).
The remains of Turkish Baths.
The ruins of a house which was used as the residence of Ibrahim Pasha in 1826, and of General Maison after the liberation.
The church of the Metamorphosis (Transfiguration). A single-aisled church built in 1833 by the French liberation army.
The remains of structures from the Second World War. The Cisterns and remains of the cemetery of the British prisoners.
“Bourtzi”. A fortified islet at the south end of the fortress, occupied by an octagonal tower with isodomic wall masonry
The town of Pylos is undoubtedly one of the most attractive coastal villages in Greece. It is built on a hill side on the south coast of the bay of Navarino. Snow-white two-storey houses with courtyards drenched in flowers. The arcaded streets make you think you’ve been transported to an island. The main square is situated on the water front. It’s ringed with pastry shops and sheltered by enormous, centuries-old plane trees.
The TurkoVenetian fortress, known as Neokastro, dominates the west side of town. One of the most attractive in the Peloponnese, it is called that to distinguish it from the ancient fortress to the southwest, named Paliokastro or Palionavarino. The bay of Voidokilia with its sandy beach extends from the base of the old castle. A tranquil, carefree sanctuary, the floor of the bay is covered with a thick layer of sand. There are two castles; one on each side of the bay and nearby is the Mycenean Palace of Nestor one of the best preserved of all Mycenean palaces. Many of the frescos and artifacts found here are now in the archeological museum in nearby Chora.
The Battle of Navarino Bay
Pylso was the site of the battle of Navarino which was not even supposed to be a battle but became the turning point in Greece’s War of Independence when the British, French and Russian fleets under Admiral Codrington ‘accidentally’ sank 53 ships of Ibraham Pashas combined Turkish, Egyptian and Tunisian fleets.
Though meant to be a warning for the Turkish ships to leave the bay the end result is that those ships are still there to this day and can be seen in the clear waters. Though an embarrassment for Britain, the end result of this misunderstanding was that the Peloponessos was liberated and the Peleponisos became the nation of modern Greece.
Gargaliani nestles on a lush green hillside. It’s worth going up to the town just to see the view that unfolds beneath it. There a magical carpet of olive trees and vines that stretches to the sea. Marathoupoli and the islet of Proti and the site of a ruined Mycenaean acropolis form the backdrop. Hora is built on a hilltop behind and has preserved its old-fashioned appearance — stone houses with tiled roofs and narrow lanes. Filiatra is not far off. The whole district is dotted with churches, Byzantine and Frankish, of a venerable age.
The town is position as if it were wedged into the base of its fortress. The lower districts reaching as far as the sandy shore lapped by the lonian sea. Beyond the fortress lays a beautiful plain planted with olive trees and grapevines which give way to open seas with an infinite expanse of cobalt blue. It is said that the view of the sunset from the fortress is one of the most superb in the world. Everything here is instil with history and a fascinating light. Everywhere you look you can see ancient, Byzantine and Frankish monuments. Peristera is a place a little past the village of Raches (approx 5 km. from Kiparissia), where three beehive tombs have been excavated.
Finikounda is a picturesque fishing village at the back of a bay.
Caiques and fishing boats are drawn up all along its sandy shore, while its taverns serve their fresh catch to little tables at the water’s edge.
The road coils like a gigantic serpent slowly amidst lush green fields to arrive at Koroni. Its medieval atmosphere is embossed in its old mansions, its churches and its fortress. Its surrounded by still, sheer water, sandy beaches and opposite the little island of Venetiko with its delightful beach. From its hilltop site the Venetian citadel crowns the town. A proper eagle’s nest, with thick walls and colossal gates, it cuts a powerful and glorious figure. Below the fortress in a small palm grove is a little building housing Koroni’s collection of historical and archaeological artefacts. The outstanding beauty of the area is unimpeded and uninterrupted, therefore, provides continuous surprises.
Fortress of Koroni
The fortress occupies the headland to the east of the modern town and is built on the ruins of the ancient Messenian town of Asine. It was constructed in the 6th or 7th century A.D., and was used all through the Byzantine period. Koroni was captured by the Venetians in 1206 and was used as a supplying centre. In 1500 the fortress was occupied by the Turk Bayazit Pasha and remained under Turkish control until 1686 when it was recaptured by the Venetians. In 1715, when the Venetians left the Peloponnese, the fortress was again dominated by the Turks who kept it until 1828, when it was liberated by the French general Maison.
For many years, the Archaeological Service has been carrying out restoration work on many of the fortresses buildings.
The most important monuments of the site are:
The Byzantine Castle.
In the 13th century it was fortified by the Venetians who were responsible for the construction of towers and machicolations.
Byzantine church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).
Three-aisled basilica with colonnades. A second church was built over the prothesis, also dedicated to Aghia Sophia and was reconstructed at the beginning of the century.
Church of St. Charalambos.
A spacious, single-aisled, wooden-roofed church built at the beginning of the second Venetian occupation. It was originally dedicated to St. Rocco.
Church of Panaghia Eleistria.
A spacious, single-aisled, wooden-roofed church, dating back to the end of the 19th or the beginning of the 20th century.
Petalidi protrudes out from the head of a little bay. The sandy or pebbly beaches around the town are shallow and sheltered from the wind and are lined with banana trees. The beautiful main square is surrounded by souvenir shops, café tarvernas, and restaurants.
Driving through central Messinia you come across beautiful authentic, traditional Greek villages. Peloponnese is a bastion of disappearing rural Greek village life. You will discover mini natural paradises harbouring ruins of prehistoric settlements, ancient temples, medieval castles and Byzantine churches. No doubt you will find yourself relaxing in one of the friendly cafes for a cup of coffee and a “kalimera” (good morning).
Mavromati (32 km. from Kalamata) is a small village built like an amphitheatre up the foothills of the sacred mountain of Ithomi. Today it’s called Voulkano and is where the sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatos was located.
One of the legends upheld that Zeus was born not in Crete or on Olympus, but here at Ithomi, where he was brought up by two nymphs, Ithomi and Neda. Water flows from the heart of the mountain to splash out of a black hole in the rock face in the centre of the village. This is where Mavromati gets its name from. Mavromati means black eye.
Aesklepieion complex: The Temple of Asklepios and Hygeia. It’s a peripteros, doric temple. It was destroyed by an unidentified reason and it was rebuilt of a local though stone.
A small theatre-odeion belongs to the Asklepieion complex. An inscription was found which informs us that the building was found and called “Decterion”. It was a room for rhetorical displays and assemblies.
Bouleuterion: A rectangular almost square room which also belongs to the Asklepieion complex. Its dimensions are: 19×18.30m. There are two entrances at the west side of the building.
The wall which dates back to the 3rd century B.C. is one of the most important achievements of the ancient military architecture. Arcadic gate which is at the north side of the wall is still very impressive. It was the main gate of Messene and was the way to Arcadic Megalopolis which started from its external “door”. Temple of Artemis Limniatis or Lafria. It’s a small temple of the Ionic style. It’s dates back to the middle of the 3rd century B.C.
Sanctuary of Zeus Ithomatas. The statue of Zeus, designed by the Argive Sculptor named Ageladas, was here. This type of statue, which represented Zeus as a child, isn’t known to us.
Theatre-Stadium: There are only remains of the walls which supported the concave of the theatre. The lower seats of the stadium and especially those of the section of the sphendone have survived better than others.
Messinia – A Dream holiday destination
Messinia is a brilliant Greek destination that’s high on history, has stunning scenery, a fabulous climate, but is low on tourists, packed restaurants, noisy discos and is family-oriented. Messinia is as popular with Greek tourists as those from further afield and makes a good base for island hopping to Agistri, Poros, Hydra, and Spetses.
Other Useful Information
Tourist office in Southern Peloponnese 9699500
Main language/s Greek
To dial from Southern Peloponnese call 00
To call to Southern Peloponnese dial 30
Emergency phone number/s
British Embassy: (1) 723 6211 Police: 100 Fire: 199 Tourist Police: 171 Auto road assistance – ELPA: 104 Auto road assistance – Express
Lost travellers cheques: Thomas Cook: 00-800-4412-8366
Lost credit cards: Mastercard freephone number: 00-800-11-887-0303 VISA: call collect 24 hours a day 410 581 9994
Electricity supply 220V, 50Hz
Food: There’s a predictably wide choice of seafood and the ouzo is cheap and very good.
Nightlife: The nightlife in Peloponnese resorts tends to be low key and centered around a few bars and clubs, though some tavernas have live music. The emphasis in this area is concentrated on good company and wine.
Shopping: Local arts and crafts, wine and clothes are good buys.
Days out: Hire a boat for a trip around the Messinian Gulf, or rent a car and travel around the Messinia peninsular
Events: Arrange to watch a show at the internationally acclaimed Kalamata Dance Festival, held every summer at the Kalamata Castle, above the town. Check local tourist information. Or for further information call (UK) +44 (020) 7734 5997.
How to get to Messinia
Kalamata airport is served by charter flights from the UK, currently on Sundays, from Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and East Midlands. Alternatively you can fly to Athens and take an air-conditioned coach to Kalamata (four hours).
The drive from the south of England to here takes about four days with ferry from Ancona to Patras being the easiest. A great drive!
There are many different website and discount travel companies who offer cheap charter flights. You can simply type “charter flights to Kalamata” into a search engine on the website or try some of the sites or companies listed below. The charter flights run from beginning of May to mid October and go from Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and East Midlands.
Scheduled flights to Athens go mainly from Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton although there are flights from many regional airports (mainly with British Airways). You can book online at their website ba.com and they often have competitive fares. easyjet.com is also often very competitive with fares from Luton and Gatwick. Olympic airlines are also very good and you can book direct with them at olympicairlines.com
To give you an idea of cost for travel midsummer, a return charter flight from Gatwick to Kalamata averages £230. A return flight on Easyjet to Athens is around £140. A scheduled return flight to Athens on British Airways averages £170. Prices do vary, dependent on how much in advance you book and the time of year you travel. Bargains are often available!
Buses from Athens to Kalamata run every hour in the mornings and every 2 hours in the afternoon, costing approx. EUR15 one way.
It is possible to book car hire in advance which may be collected at either Kalamata airport or Athens airport.
There are always numerous taxis waiting at Kalamata airport and Athens airport to take you to your holiday accommodation. Taxis from Athens cost approx. EUR70 from Athens to Kalamata (although you may have to share with other people).
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