Heritage tourism: Messenia

The fortress, Pylos © David Gill

Messenia in the south-west Peloponnese has been developing as a tourist destination. One of the main archaeological attractions is the classical city of Messene, and the Late Bronze palace near Pylos (‘Nestor’s Palace’). The fortresses at Pylos and Methoni are now tourist attractions in their own right with 46,000 and 71,000 visitors respectively.

Methoni © David Gill

The six archaeological sites in Messene now attract over 221,000 visitors a year (2019).

Data: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage tourism: Messene

Messene from Mount Ithome © David Gill

The ancient city of Messene in the Peloponnese, below Mount Ithome, is becoming an important tourist attraction for this part of Messenia. Since 2014 it has been on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage. Numbers to the central part of the site have been monitored since 2012, and in 2019 were over 65,000. A small proportion of visitors visit the site museum: in 2014 there were over 9,000.

Messene © David Gill

The extensive site includes some of the best preserved ancient fortifications in Greece.

Data source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill

Heritage Tourism in Greece: Nestor’s Palace

Nestor’s Palace © David Gill

The bronze age palace near Pylos was the findspot of a major archive of Linear B tablets that shed light on the economy of this part of Messenia. The location is popularly known as Nestor’s Palace.

The finds from the site are displayed in the nearby Chora Museum. Notice how the forecourt makes the visual allusion to the hearth in the palace.

Chora Museum © David Gill
Chora Museum © David Gill

Both locations attract significant numbers of tourists to this part of the Peloponnese. I have added data from the nearby museum at Pylos that also contains some regional finds.

Data Source: Hellenic Statistical Service. Chart © David Gill.

Isthmia: starting-gate

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Isthmia © David Gill

Excavations at the Panhellenic sanctuary of Isthmia in the Peloponnese uncovered remains of the balbides starting-gate from the stadion. There were a sixteen starting-gates (on the right of the picture) that were controlled by strings that passed along grooves leading to the pit where the ‘starter’ was positions. The gate ‘system’ appears to date to the 5th century BC, although its use may have been limited.

The Ptolemaic Base of Arsinoe in the Peloponnese

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Ptolemaic base, Methana © David Gill

The Ptolemaic fortified base of Arsinoe in the Peloponnese is located on the eastern side of the Methana peninsula, facing the island of Poros. The base was located on the Nissaki, joined to the peninsula by a narrow spit. Beyond it, and to the south, was an inlet that contained (according to an inscription relating to a boundary dispute) Ptolemaic naval installations, a drag way, as well as tunny traps. This was adjacent to the narrow isthmus that joins the peninsula to the Troezenia.

For further details about the base see here (“Arsinoe in the Peloponnese: the Ptolemaic base on the Methana peninsula”).

The walls of Messene

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The walls of Messene © David Gill

The fourth century BC city of Messene is surrounded by some of the most impressive surviving examples of Greek walls. The walls were protected by a series of towers that were used for artillery.

The foundation was in 369 BC, and brought together Messenian communities that had been dispersed at the end of the fifth century BC.

Lykosoura

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Temple of Despoina, Lykosoura © David Gill

The temple of Despoina at the site of Lykosoura lies high in the mountains of Arkadia. It appears to have been constructed in the late 3rd century BC. There is a Doric facade at the east end. The base for the cult statues lies at the west end. The sculptor was Damophon of Messenia.

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Head of Demeter from Lykosoura; National Museum, Athens inv. 1734 © David Gill

Excavations recovered some of the sculptures that are now in the National Museum in Athens.

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Temple of Despoina, Lykosoura © David Gill

A door lies on the south side. This faces a series of steps placed on the steep bank. It is possible that this was an area for those observing the rituals.

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Steps to the south of the temple of Despoina, Lykosoura © David Gill

 

The Palace of Nestor

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Archive Room, the Palace of Nestor © David Gill

One of my favourite archaeological sites is the ‘Palace of Nestor’ in the western Peloponnese overlooking Pylos. The Bronze Age palace contained a major archive of clay tablets written in Linear B that provide significant insights into the arrangements of Messenia in the Late Bronze Age.

Much of the site is protected by a specially constructed covering.