We set out from Napflio driving 2 hours to the southwest, deep into the Peloponnese and rural Greece.
The condition of the roads here is extraordinary, with wide open highways, pristine tunnels, and smooth, easy pavement. Even the tiny country roads are well maintained, with rare congestion slowing us down.
Our destination was far afield from where most guidebooks would point us. Then again, we are in the Peloponnese, and nothing about this place screams “guidebook,” with most resources give it just a passing mention.
So in preparation for this trip I picked up the rare guide that focuses on this region and I spent time on the internet searching out things to do here and places to visit.
That’s how I found Ancient Messene, far in the southwest corner of the peninsula, and deep in the mountains. My phone knew where we were going, and we were reassured by an occasional sign marking the direction, even though a few of those were quite worn.
The driveway to the site was plain and steep. Dan commented that we should have rented a Jeep. But we made it down and to the entrance, which was unimpressive. By this point I was worried – having come all this distance I was hoping this trip had been worthwhile.
One of the first things we saw on entering was a large stone wall, and the remains of a tiled floor. We decided to check that out later. At this point I was still unimpressed.
Continuing further in I could see a few columns standing in the distance, so that was reassuring that there might be something to see at this somewhat obscure location.
At least this theater was very nice. Not quite as impressive as yesterday, but remarkable just the same. This must have been a great town once.
Then things started to get better. We quickly came upon the Arsinoe Fountain, at the corner of the Arsinoe Fountain House. This was a striking and transformative moment. Something about this intact basin, surrounded by columns, fired off neurons in my brain – bright flashes of electric power across my mind. Suddenly I was transported back 2000 years (well, 1700, maybe) and I was able to imagine it sitting here, filled with water, as ancient men and women hurried past.
Beyond this we were at the edge of the Ancient Agora. The entire area was ringed with broken columns. We hadn’t explored much of this central area, and there was a basilica somewhere, but we continued along the road. Dan asked if there was more to see. Something tickled the back of my brain and I suggested going to the next hill.
And boy was there. We found the Asclepion, which had its own small hall.
And even further back was a magnificent view: the ancient stadium, much of which is still intact, and it’s surrounding collonnade.
Far at the end is a mausoleum – because who doesn’t want a grave in their favorite sports venue?
That was the farthest point, and we worked our way back from there, diverting up the side to see the wrestling gym, and meandering among the columns of the Asclepion. We finally passed by the early basilica to find ourselves back at the original theater.
This site was absolutely spectacular. I was overwhelmed by how well it was preserved and how it felt to be in such a palpable ancient city.
We walked past the Roman tile floor on the way out, almost forgetting to stop.
And then it was time for lunch in the hill town of Ithomi, at a restaurant with delicious pork and a view of Ancient Messene below.
And I still couldn’t stop talking about how underestimated Messene is and how very happy this day had made me.