Ancient Messene – One of the Most Impressive Sites in Greece

You will find the tremendous ancient site of Messene in a serene valley, set in the most stunning natural environment between the Arcadian Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.

Aerial view of unique and well preserved archaeological site and citadel of Ancient Messene featuring massive stadium and theatre, Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Aerial view of unique and well preserved archaeological site and citadel of Ancient Messene featuring massive stadium and theatre, Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece

Where is Ancient Messene Greece?

Messenia is a regional unit in the southwestern part of Peloponnese. The capital and the biggest city of Messenia is Kalamata. You will find the ancient site of Messene about 25 km north of Kalamata.

Messene is a town in Messenia in southern Peloponnese. In antiquity, it was a Doric Greek city-state founded by Epaminondas in 369 BC, after the battle of Leuctra and the first Theban invasion of the Peloponnese. Today, an archaeological site of the ancient city remains, and 15 km further south the modern town has some 10,000 inhabitants.

Map of Messinia in southern Peloponnese

Map of Messinia, Peloponnese Greece
Map of Messinia in southern Peloponnese

Visiting hours and tickets

Today, the ruins of Ancient Messene are a major historical attraction. Much of the site has been archaeologically excavated and partly restored or preserved for study and public viewing, as well as for various events. Throughout history the site was never totally abandoned. The small village of Mavromati occupies what was the upper city around the fountain called klepsydra.

Ancient Messene (Messini), Peloponnese, Greece
Ancient Messene (Messini)

During summer, the site of Ancient Messene is open from 08:00 to 20:00. The adult ticket costs about 12 €. To walk this site, you will need 2-3 hours. It is a 3-hours drive from Athens, but if you stay in Kalamata or Kyparissia it is only a short drive away.

History of Messene

The town was built by the combined Theban and Argive armies and the exiled Messenians (Messenians trace themselves to the Mycenia) who had been invited to return and found a state which should be independent of Spartan rule. The site was chosen by Epaminondas and lay on the western slope of the mountain which dominates the Messenian plain and culminates in the two peaks of Ithome and Eua. The former of these (740 m or 2,630 ft) served as the acropolis, and was included within the same system of fortifications as the lower city.

Ancient Messene, according to Pausanias

Pausanias has left us a description of the city, its chief temples and statues, its springs, its market-place and gymnasium, its place of sacrifice, the tomb of the hero Aristomenes and the temple of Zeus Ithomatas on the summit of the acropolis with a statue by the famous Argive sculptor Ageladas, originally made for the Messenian helots who had settled at Naupactus at the close of the third Messenian War.

Ancient Messene – What is there to see?

But what chiefly excited his wonder was the strength of its fortifications, which excelled all those of the Greek world. Of the wall, some 5 miles (8 km) in extent, considerable portions yet remain, especially on the north and north-west, and almost the entire circuit can still be traced, affording the finest extant example of Greek fortification. The wall is flanked by towers about 31 ft (9.45 m) (9 m) high set at irregular intervals: these have two stories with loopholes in the lower and windows in the upper, and are entered by doors on a level with the top of the wall which is reached by flights of steps. Of the gates only two can be located, the eastern or Laconian, situated on the eastern side of the saddle uniting Ithome and Eua, and the northern or Arcadian gate. Of the former but little remains: the latter, however, is excellently preserved and consists of a circular court about 20 yd (18 m) in diameter with inner and outer gates, the latter flanked by square towers some 11 yd (10 m) apart. The lintel of the inner gate was formed by a single stone 18 ft (5.49 m) 8 in (5.7 m) in length, and the masonry of the circular court is of astonishing beauty and accuracy. The other buildings which can be identified are the theatre, the stadium, the council chamber or Bouleuterion, and the propylaeum of the market, while on the shoulder of the mountain are the foundations of a small temple, probably that of Artemis Laphria.

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Ancient Messene – wars and invasions

Most of the area of Ancient Messene contains the ruins of the large classical city-state of Messene refounded by Epaminondas in 369 BC, after the battle of Leuctra and the first Theban invasion of the Peloponnese. Epaminondas invited the return to their native land of all the families that had gone into exile from Messenia during its long struggle with and servitude under the military state of Sparta, now finished as a conquering state. This new Messene, today’s Ancient Messene, was constructed over the ruins of Ithome, an ancient city originally of Achaean Greeks, destroyed previously by the Spartans and abandoned for some time.