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Messinia 1989

Messinian BikeTrek

5/5/89 - After a very long ride from Andritsena, I finally reached the west coast of the Peloponnesus at the scraggly town of Kyparissia. I felt that its only saving value was its proximity to the Ionian Sea but the view was blocked by a lot of unattactive buildings so I continued riding south to Filiatra where I spent an afternoon in the museum and an overnight stay in a very nice bed and breakfast.

Filiatra Tower Filiatra Socrates Plato and Friend Bicycle and World
Domatio in Filiatra Balcony with View Filiatra Castle at Filiatra

5/6/89 - Leaving Filiatra early in the morning, I rode about 15 kilometers south along the coast through the town of Gargaliani before beginning my assent to the site of Nestor's Palace at Pylos. The Palace of Nestor sat on the highest of a series of four knoll-tops along the upper ridge and enjoyed a commanding view over its approaches in all directions, as well as itself dominating much of the territory both inland and toward the coast. It has been clear since Blegen's excavations that the Palace complex itself and its immediately related buildings formed only a fraction of the total settlement on the upper Englianos ridge. By test-trenching, Blegen's team explored parts of this "lower town" as it came to be known since it lay on terraces lower than the citadel of the Palace itself.

I had wanted to spend my entire day exploring the digs and the area around them, but a light sprinkle became a torrential downpour as I rode along the Englianos ridge on the two lane highway which now serves as the major modern route of communication through Triphylia. The road links the towns around the Bay of Navarino with settlements near Kyparissia and in the Soulima valley, areas where, among others, the Mycenaean sites of Mouriatada, Peristeria, and Dorion-Malthi are located. At its westernmost extent the ridge leaves the valley floor just north of the modern town of Koryfasion, formerly Osmanaga. From here it climbs steadily, bordered both on the north and south by steep ravines, finally converging with several minor ridges and the uplands adjacent to Hora on the south. Almost half-way between the coastal plain and modern Hora, the ridge rises more steeply, this ascent defining the border between the Kato and Ano Englianos areas. About a kilometer further to the northeast, the ridge narrows appreciably and is tied to the uplands of Hora only by a narrow neck.

I finally found an abandoned church near the digs where I sat quite forlornly and munched on some string beans that I had purchased at a farm market in Gargalian. When the rain diminished for a few minutes I could see the famous island of Sphacteria lying low and blue in the bay now called Navarino. Sphacteria or Sphagia (modern name Sfaktiria), is famous for the defeat and capture of the Spartans, in the Battle of Pylos during the Peloponnesian War, and still shows the ruins of walls which perhaps formed their last refuge. The island has been divided into three or four separate sections by the violence of the waves, and boats can pass from the open sea into the port, in calm weather, using the channels so formed. One such section contains the tomb of a Turkish saint, or santon, called the Delikli Baba. This same section also contains a monument to the French sailors who died at the Battle of Navarino; the monument to the Russian dead of the same battle is on the island of Sphacteria, while the monument to the English dead is on another very small island near the centre of the port.

At the end of the day, the rain finally stopped but the Pylos digs had closed at 5:00 PM. I pedaled on to Methoni as the sun set and found a very handsome B&B where I had a balcony with a spectacular view of Sphacteria and enough space for me to spread my sodden clothes to dry. My neighbors next door were handsome young frauleins who offered me a ride back to Nestor's Palace in their car the next morning.

Waiting for Godot Lunch Munch Rain Sanctum Sphactera Sunset
Stairs to my Methoni Room Methoni Room Frauleins Sphacteria

5/7/89 - After a nice breakfast with the frauleins we drove back to Pylos to visit some tholos tombs and then Nestor's Palace. To students of classical literature, the name Nestor is a piece of fiction. In Homer's Iliad, a sage old king named Nestor joins Agamemnon in the war on Troy and fires up the troops with tales of his youthful exploits. In Book 3 of the Odyssey, Telemachus begins his quest for his long-lost father, Odysseus, at "sandy Pylos," Nestor's kingdom. When Telemachus runs his ship's keel ashore at dawn, he finds the wise but long-winded king on the beach, his people assembled around him:

Sacrificing sleek black bulls to Poseidon,god of the sea-blue mane who shakes the earth.They sat in nine divisions, each five hundred strong,each division offering up nine bulls, and while the people tasted the innards, burned the thighbones for the god.

More than 3,000 years earlier, these animals fed the inhabitants of a great hilltop palace in the southwest corner of Greece. Nestor's Pylos was one of the glories of Mycenaean civilization. His palace straddled a strategic ridge, commanding a view south across the sandy Bay of Navarino and northward over the shoulder of Mount Aigaleon into the kingdom's rich inland province. When a great fire destroyed the palace around 1200 B.C., it heralded the collapse of Mycenaean culture across Greece. For many archaeologists since Blegen, the details of that collapse and the often-mundane lives of the people who lived through it are of far more interesting than their romantic echoes in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer was a poet, they say, not a historian. Between a living Homer and a burning Pylos yawns an illiterate dark age, bridged at best by oral traditions and well-worn tales. Another 400 years or so stretches between Homer and the Athenian invention of history as a record of facts. By then the location of Pylos was hopelessly confused. The Roman writer Strabo reported that eager locals in the first century A.D. were promoting three different sites as "authentic." He turned away, muttering: "There is a Pylos before Pylos, and yet another." When the Greeks won their modern independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832 and started re-Hellenizing place names, they changed the Turkish city of Navarino to Pylos. It was a rough guess.

The remains of the Mycenaean Palace had been excavated on April 4, 1939, in what may have been the luckiest first day in archaeological history. That day, Carl Blegen was digging an exploratory trench through an olive grove when one of his workmen lifted a clay tablet from the soil. Lightly brushing away the dirt, Blegen saw at once that the tablet was incised in Linear B, an undeciphered script known from Bronze Age Crete and never before seen on the Greek mainland. That spring, before war closed in on Greece, Blegen raced to unearth hundreds more tablets, providing the critical mass for deciphering the script. The tablets revealed that the people of this hilltop palace wrote in an early form of Greek. Although they never named their king, Blegen became convinced that his name was Nestor.

Tholos Tomb Ano Eglianos Megaron Firepit Hearth
Wine Cellar Bathtub Palace Ruins from South Palace Reconstrucion

5/8/89 - The next morning I rode my bike south along the coast to a magnificent fortress that juts into the harbor where waves crash over the rocky walls. The grounds around the fortress contain wonderful walking paths and provide an opportunity to explore ancient underground paths, stone walkways and an actively used church among the ruins. After breakfast in a taverna among the ruins, I set out to explore.

Methoni has been identified as the city Pedasus, that Homer mentions under the name "ampeloessa" (of vine leaves), as the last of the seven "evnaiomena ptoliethra", that Agamemnon offers Achilles in order to subdue his rage. Pausanias called the city Methoni, named after either the daughter of Oineas or a small islet. The Oinoussai complex of islands protected the port of Methoni and at the same time stopped the large sea turbulence. Along with the rest of Messenia, the town gained its independence from the Spartans in 369 BC. During the 4th century BC, Methoni was elaborately fortified and continued to remain autonomous well into the Imperial Roman era, when it enjoyed the favor of some emperors. During the Byzantine years it continued to remain a remarkable harbor and one of the most important cities of the Peloponnese, seat of a bishopric.

Starting in the early 12th century, the Venetians were determined to conquer the area around Methoni for its natural harbor and strategic location to Venice. To protect their interests, they constructed a massive stone fortress used for military purposes. The Venetians stood their ground for about three hundred years until a Turkish invasion overthrew the ruling class. The city was given to the flames, the Catholic bishop was killed while talking to the people, the men were decapitated, the women and children were sold to slavery. The walls were repaired and the period of the first period of Turkish rule began. The Venetians returned under Francesco Morosini in the 1680s during the Great Turkish War, but the second period of Venetian rule did not last for long. In 1715 the Turks launched a siege again, but during this second period of Turkish rule the decline was complete. As is apparent from travelers' descriptions, the population was reduced, the battlements were in bad condition and the harbor became shallow. The most important trade conducted was that of slaves. In February 1825, during the Greek Revolution, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt landed at Methoni and settled in the commander's residence, over the entrance of the castle. In the same building, the French general Maison, who freed the town together with others in the Peloponnese, settled in 1829.

The entrance to the castle is accessed by a stone bridge of 14 arches, that was built over a moat by the technicians of Expedition scientifique de Moree, that accompanied general Maison. The entrance gate ends in an arch framed on the right and left by pilasters with Corinthian capitals. It is considered to be the work of Venetians after 1700. On the right and left of the entrance two large battlements can be seen. One battlement is the one built by general Antonio Loredan, during the second period of Venetian occupation. Right after the central gate, a domed road opens up that leads through a second gate and then a third in the interior of the castle, where the habitable part was and which was separated from the north part with a vertical low wall (approximately 6 meters), fortified with five towers (four square and one octagonal) dated to the period after 1500, when the Turks tried to reinforce the population and the fortification of the caste.

In the interior there are ruins of the houses where the venetian lords lived during the period of rise, the paved street that led to the sea gate, the ruins of a Turkish bath, the Byzantine church of St. Sophia, close to which a slate with Latin lettering was found (dating back to 1714), parts of Doric pillars, a monolithic granite pillar (1493/4), unlined, with a capital on the top of Byzantine style, which is supposed to have supported either the winged lion of Venice or the bust of Morozini. That is why it is called "Morozini's stele". There was an inscription on the capital that has not survived to this day. On the left of the entrance are the ruins of the building which originally Imbrahim used as a residence in 1826 and later general Maison. The French of the liberating corps remained in the area till 1833 and the construction of the church of Santa Sotira, which is still attributed to them. In the interior of the castle there are also a few cisterns and the remains of the British prisoner's cemetery during World War II. On the south part of the walls rises the spectacular sea gate which has recently been restored. A stone-paved stretch leads over a small bridge to the small fortified islet of Bourtzi. This is the place where many soldiers and inhabitants of Methoni were slaughtered, when the Turks occupied the fort in 1500.

The Bourtzi is dated back to the period after 1500 and has been used in various instances as a prison. It has a two-floor octagonal tower. The tower finishes in a round dome. On the lower floor there was a cistern and the whole islet, with small defensive value, is dated during the first period that the Turks occupied the fortress. The west part of the walls is not as well constructed as the others. It was here that during the second World War, after an explosion, parts of well constructed stones from the ancient walls of Methoni were found. In the interior of the walls, ruins of Turkish military establishments are preserved. The east side of the walls also reached initially to the sea. Nowadays, a long strand of beach lies in front of a large part of it. Parallel to the east wall, up to the Bourtzi, there was a pier and this is where the small fortified harbor was formed (mandrachio), while the big one was to the northeast where ships could be pulled. The long east side has suffered many repairs, performed on the initial Venetian battlements of the 13th century, mainly during the second Venetian occupation and the Turkish occupation. In one of the towers, parts of the Byzantine fortification are preserved.

Methoni Taverna Methoni Castle Methoni Castle Walls Bourtzi from Castle Wall
Bourtzi Methoni Caste from Bourtzi Methoni from Castle Trusty Steed

5/9/89 - I had gotten a little lazy from a no riding and a short riding day so my legs were a little stiff as I set out in the morning for what I hoped would be a short, flat ride along the bottom of the peninsula to Koroni. Unfortunately, the road was very little used and had some bone jarring holes and long unpaved sections that slowed my pace. I also had to pause several times while sheep were being herded along the road to their pastures so I didn't arrive in Koroni until after ten o'clock. The town was founded in ancient times. Pausanias reports the original location of Koroni at today's Petalidi, a town a few kilometers north of Koroni. He also reports many temples of Greek gods and a copper statue of Zeus. In the centuries that followed, the town of moved to its current location where the ancient town of Asini once stood.In the 6th and 7th centuries AD. In 1206, the Venetians occupied the town, turning Koroni into an important stage of their sea routes towards the Eastern Mediterranean. The fortress and town were captured by the Ottoman troops of Sultan Bayezid II in 1500. Apart from a short period under the rule of the Hapsburgs as well as a short return to Venetian rule (1686-1715) after the Morean War, the town remained under the control of the Ottoman Empire until becoming part of the modern Greek state in 1828 when it was liberated by the French General Nicolas Joseph Maison. Thr awful road to Koroni that I had earlier cursed, now seemed worthy of great praise for having preserved traffic free streets and an ambiance largely free from 20th century stressfulness.

Share the Road Koroni Street Koroni View Koroni
Old Koroni Church Koroni Castle View from Koroni Castle View from Koroni Castle

I rode quite quickly past Petalidi because I did not want to loose the the serenity induced in me by Koroni, although for someone looking for a relatively isolated and beautiful beach that is well off the usual tourist beaten path, I am sure that Petalidi would be quite a treasure. I was trying to get to Messeni in time to take pictures of the ruins in good afternoon light. The town of Messini or Messene was built by the combined Theban and Argive armies and the exiled Messenians who had been invited to return and found a state which would 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 (2,630 ft) served as the acropolis, and was included within the same system of fortifications as the lower city.

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. 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 feet 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 yards in diameter with inner and outer gates, the latter flanked by square towers some 11 yards apart. The lintel of the inner gate was formed by a single stone 18 feet 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.

The Walls go on Forever Detail of Mssene Walls Asklepeion Tomb of the hero Aristomenes
Latrne at Messene Arcadian Gate. Messene Theater Temple of Zeus Ithomatas

I rode the last few kilometers from Messene to Kalamata in the late afternoon hopng to find a B&B to rest my now weary bones. Kalamata seemed at first undeserving of any pictures but I stayed close to the waterfront and finally found a place to stay before gobbling some bread and olives and surrendering to sleep.

Mountains at Kalamata Kalamata Waterfront Kaamata Church Kalamata Olives

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