We left for Pylos, Nestor too the shepherd of the peoples, And He, receiving me the king, within his halls so lofty, Embraced me with all eagerness as father does his youngling His son back from long time abroad.Homer, Odyssey, IX 108-112
Mycenaean & Geometric Period / Navarino Naval Battle
Messinia has a fascinating history that goes back 4500 years, as evidenced by awesome palaces and vaulted tombs from Mycenaean era, magnificent Classical temples, evocative Byzantine churches and well-preserved medieval castles. Pylos being the bigger natural harbour of Mediterranean Sea, ensured growth of culture and in consequence important attendance in the bigger facts of Greek history since the beginning of time.
Mycenaean Period (16th-13th c, BC)
Zenith of the Mycenaean kingdom at Pylos. Large Mycenaean Palace of Neleus and Palace of Nestor, at Epano Englianos. Mycenaean settlements and installations, as well as tholos and chamber tombs scattered throughout Messinia. The bay of Pylos was the harbor of the Neleid kingdom. The so-called Tomb of Thrasymedes at Voidokilia built on the remains of Early Helladic settlement and a Middle Helladic tumulus.
The site of Classical Pylos was probably on the rocky promontory now known as Koryphasion at the northern edge of the bay of Pylos. This site is described by the Greek historian Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War. In 425 BC the Athenian politician Cleon sent an expedition to Pylos, to seize and occupy the bay. The Athenians captured a number of Spartan troops on the adjacent Island of Sfactiria (see Battle of Sphacteria). Spartan anxiety over the return of the prisoners, who were taken to Athens as hostages, contributed to their acceptance of the Peace of Nicias in 421BC.
Greek Revolution & Navarino Naval Battle
On March 23rd 1821 Greek War of Independence begins in Kalamata, the capital of Messinia. The revolutionary wind of 1821 carried into Greek hands the New Castle, Niokastro in the very first year of War . On October 20th 1827 the allied fleet of Britain, France and Russia exterminated the Turkish-Egyptian armada anchored in the Navarino bay. Each year on October 20, a celebration takes place for the anniversary of the naval battle with the participation of a frigate from each of the then allied fleet.
The Ruins of the History
Its earliest history shrouded in the mists of time, Messinia’s cultural past reveals a rich tapestry of kings and queens, honor and tradition, war and friendship. Pylos provides the ideal base from which to explore this checkered past. Neolithic settlements, Mycenaean palace, Classical temples, Byzantine churches and medieval castles are all within easy reach, both in Pylos as well as in the broader area of Messinia.
Castle of Pylos (Niokastro)
The castle is built on the northern slopes of Mount St. Nicholas, surrounded by pines. It has elegant arches and was a masterpiece of its time.
Castle of Pylos (Paleokastron) and Cave of Nestor
Palaiokastro was built in the 13th century A.D. by the Franks, in the area of ancient Korifasio, the ancient county town of Pylos. Later additions to the fortification were also made by the Venetians and Turks.
It sits atop an imposing rock formation above the cave of Nestor, guarding the beach of Voidokilia and the Sykia Pass which separates Palaiokastro from the isle of Sfaktiria. The high spot where the old castle was constructed, offers a unique view of Pylos, but also of the entire beach of Gialova and Navarino Bay. The altitude and position of Palaiocastro gave it great strategic importance. Thus, the naturally defensible site was considered a target of great importance for occupation by several foreign powers during the centuries. It was definitely ruled by the Genoese, the Venetians, the Franks and the Turks.
On the rock where Paliokastro was built, at the southwest end of Voidokilia Bay, one can clearly see a cave. It is the mythical cave of Nestor, son of Neleus. This is where the royal cattle were kept. According to myth, Hermes hid the 50 cattle stolen from Apollo in this very cave. There, Heinrich Schliemann located finds which dated back to Nestor’s times, proving the early existence of life in the area. The cave is full of stalactites.
Peering at the Bay of Navarino today ‒ to the south of modern Pylos ‒ one sees an idyllic landscape covered with a veil of tranquillity. Houses with arches, courtyards with flower pots, it feels like you’re on a Greek island. A stark contrast to the past when this bay whiffed of gunpowder and fire. Thousands of men lost their lives in this bay. Shipwrecks, naval battles, violent conflicts, but also unfortunate circumstances. All these in their passage left traces at the bottom of the sea: ship carcasses, utensils, wooden and iron objects from various periods. Thus, Navarino Bay is now a wet grave, but also a monument of reference on the history of Greece that can be visited.
In this Messenian Bay, there are 89 shipwrecks. The first dates back to 426 BCE when the Athenian fleet destroyed the Spartan. The last one was 35 years ago ‒ February 1980 ‒ the tanker Irene’s Serenade, that was in one of the biggest maritime accidents that ever happened in Greece; there are plans to make it one of the most important and enchanting, maritime archaeological sites!
However, the most important shipwrecks found in the Bay of Navarino with a legendary dimension are those of the Battle of Navarino in 1827. The Russian, French and British ships won the Turks ‒ Ibrahim’s fleet ‒ defining, in essence, the victorious outcome of the Greek War of Independence. This naval battle would also be recorded as the last great conflict of fleets with the use of sailing ships. Their stays can be discerned near the surface today. From Greece’s allies 272 English, 198 Russians and 185 French men were killed and to honour them commemorative services took place on the three islands of Navarino Bay. Every year, Navarino Festival takes place in Pylos with great honours to remember the historical battle that consolidated the liberation of Greece.
Another legendary shipwreck from World War II is found a few meters from the beach. A Greek mercantile ship was sunk by Italian bombs 70 years ago and remained in a very good condition, behind a rocky cape. All these remnants of older civilizations are under the water, together with shoals of colourful fish.
Palace of Nestor
The most well-preserved Mycenaean Palace in Greece is located in the area of Pylia and is Palace of Nestor, the famous king of Pylos. It is located 4 kilometers south of the village of Chora on the hill of Epano Eglianos at a distance of 14 km from Pylos. The palace was built in the 13th century BC by King Nestor, son of Neleus, who holds an important position in the Homeric epics. Nestor led Pylos to the Trojan War with 90 ships and is presented by Homer as a wise old man, whose opinion was always respected by the Achaeans.
Iklaina Archaeological Project
The transition from a world without states to a world where the state is the dominant political institution is one of the most fascinating chapters in human history. The earliest recorded states in western civilization emerged in ancient Greece, during the second millennium BC. The purpose of the Iklaina Archaeological Project (IKAP) is to investigate the processes by which states and governments emerged in Greece and the western world.
Situated at a strategic location overlooking the Ionian Sea, Iklaina appears to have been an important capital city of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600-1100 BC), a period also known as “Mycenaean” and famous for such mythical sagas as the Trojan War. It is the home to the earliest known written record in Europe; Ancient clay tablet of Linear B writing, 3500 years ago, displayed in Pylos Museum.
Castle of Methoni
Built by the Venetians in the early 13th century on a rocky promontory, the castle is among the largest ones in the Mediterranean. You’ll be astonished at the bridge stone of 14 arches which connects the castle to the shore instead of the timber one that used to stand in its place before the Venetians ever got there. The celebrated symbol of Venice, the lion of St Marc, dominates the gate of the castle where immured reliefs, emblems, blazons, inscriptions, the huge gates –especially the main gate, above the moat – and the relics of two Ottoman bathhouses have survived.
Around 1920 local fishermen located archaeological finds, lying on the seabed close to the northern cape of Sapienza (Cape Karsi), opposite the village Methoni. In 1925 the lawyer/ historian Dionisios Potaris (1860-1932), following fishermen indications, located and recorded the ‘marbles’, in a distance of 50-60 m from the northern shore of Sapienza and in a depth of 6-7 m.
The “shipwreck of columns” lies in a depth of 10 m, close to the Cape Spitha. Parts of the columns are aligned and situated at the seabed, while other parts are scattered in a wider area around. 34 parts of fragmented, plain, single stone columns were located. Only one of them is intact, having a height of 8 m and diameter of 0.90 m. 28 parts of the columns are concentrated and the remaining 6 are situated at a distance of 60 m from the rest. The particular shipwreck site will become the first underwater archaeological site that can be visited.
Castle of Koroni
One of the finest examples of the Venetian fortress architecture and amongst the few of each kind to encompass houses and churches, the castle of Koroni dominates Akritas cape, on the southern edge of the Messinian Gulf. It was built by the Venetians in the 13th century and revamped by the Ottomans in the 16th.
Leaving the shore to walk uphill will feel like travelling back in time. Narrow passages will lead you to the gate of the castle. Cross it to find just a few inhabited of the many houses once seeking refuge from the pirates here. Apart from the breathtaking view to the Sea, in the castle you can see immured tombs, underground arched tanks for the rain, the octagon tower –peculiar to ottoman architecture- and the churches of St Sofia (a 12th century Byzantine one) and St Charalambos (an old mosque).
Ancient Messene (Ithome)
At the center of the region of Messenia stands Ancient Messene, more specifically on Mount Ithomi. The city celebrates its heroine Messene at the temple of Zeus, is named after her and worships her. As goddess Athena in ancient Athens, apart from the name, she offers identity to the city and its citizens.
Messene is a significant ancient city in terms of its size, form, and state of preservation, and still has much to offer. It possesses not only sanctuaries and public buildings, but also imposing fortifications, and houses and tombs. It enjoys, amongst other things, the advantage of never having been destroyed or covered by later settlements, and is located on an unspoiled inland site. Its natural setting combines the grandeur of the mountains of Delphi with the low-lying, riverine tranquility of Olympia, the dominating bare limestone mass of Ithome, the site of the ancient acropolis, with the low fertile valley around the ancient city.
Temple of Apollo Epicurius
This famous temple to the god of healing and the sun was built towards the middle of the 5th century B.C. in the lonely heights of the Arcadian mountains. The temple, which has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found, combines the Archaic style and the serenity of the Doric style with some daring architectural features.
The columned temple of Apollo Epicurius rises majestically within the sanctuary of Bassae in the mountains of Arkadia. It is one of the best-preserved monuments of classical antiquity and an evocative and poignant testament to classical Greek architecture. It is highly significant for its architectural features and influence.
The temple was built at the height of the Greek civilization in the second half of the 5th century BC (420-400 BC). It was dedicated to Apollo Epicurius by the Phigaleians, who believed the god of sun and healing had protected them from plague and invasion. In 174 AD the ancient traveller Pausanias admired the beauty and harmony of the temple and attributed it to Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon.
Olympia is an ancient site on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula that hosted the original Olympic Games, founded in the 8th century B.C. The archaeological site of Olympia includes the sanctuary of Zeus and the many buildings erected around it, such as athletic premises used for the preparation and celebration of the Olympic Games, administrative buildings and other lay buildings and monuments. The Altis, the sacred enclosure and core of the sanctuary, with its temples, cult buildings and treasuries, occupies the centre of the site. It is surrounded by a peribolos, or enclosure wall, which in the late fourth century BC had three gates on its west side and two on the south, and is bordered on the east by the Echo Stoa, which separates the sacred precinct from the stadium. The enclosure wall was extended in Roman times and two monumental entrances were created on its west side.
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia exhibits finds from the site, including a statue of Hermes attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles. Today, the temple of Hera is the starting point of the Olympic torch relay: on the altar of Hera, in front of the temple, the Olympic flame is lit by reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror and then transported by a torch to the place where the games are held.