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Messene, ancient city, central Messenia (now Messinías prov.), Greece. It was founded (c.369 B.C.) under Theban auspices to be a capital and fort for the Messenians, whom the battle of Leuctra had just freed from the Spartans. The ruins, notably of the city walls dating from the 4th cent. B.C., are well preserved. Modern Messíni is at some distance.
Messene was also the name of a Greek colony in Sicily, initially founded as Zancle and nowadays known as Messina. There is also a Messene in Angola and Bab Messene in Tunisia.

Messene (Greek: Μεσσήνη Messínî or Messénê ) is a town in the prefecture of Messinia in southern Greece. 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 the modern town has some 10 000 inhabitants.

Ancient city

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.

Pausanias has left us a description of the city (iv. 3 1?33), 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and the temple of Zeus Ithomatas on the summit of the acropolis with a statue by the famous Argive sculptor Ageladas, originally made for the Messenian helots who had settled at Naupactus at the close of the third Messenian War.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 ft (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 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.

Modern town

Messene remained a place of some importance under the Romans, but we hear nothing of it in medieval times and then the hamlet of Mavromati occupies a small part of the site. The city has been revived, and is home to over 10,000 people. The location of modern Messene is about 15 to 20 km S of the archaeological site. Modern Messene is a suburb of Kalamata nowadays. It is no longer the capital of Messenia.

Messene has schools, lyceums, gymnasia, banks, a post office, and squares (plateia) named Kentriki Plateia or Central Square. The square is surrounded with a few pine trees with a building to the southwest, grass with two walkways to the north along with a few palm trees; a famous white clock tower without windows is in the middle of the square. The town is accessed by Greece Interstate 82 (Pylos - Kalamata - Sparta) which has been bypassed to the south and a road to Efa (Eua) to the north. The nearest beach is in the southwest. The farmlands which used to resemble a wetland are to the southeast. Messene had a railway station from the 1900s with a connection of the SPAP line from Kalamata (Asprochoma) about 5 km east. It was the westernmost terminus of this line until its abandonment in the late 20th century. This line was reopened in 2007 and now operates with additional halts at the military and civilian airports.

Landmarks near Messene today include Kalamata airport to the east, and the beaches south of the town.

Nearest places

  • Velika Beach, SW
  • Velika, W
  • Mavrommati, NW

Communities and subdivisions

Historical population

Year Communal population Change Municipal population Density
1981 6,854 - - -
1991 6,453 -401/-5.85% 10,493 124.03/km²

Notable people

  • Damophon (2nd century BC) Greek sculptor

External links

North: Voufradon
West: Petalidi
Messini East: Kalamata
Southwest: Petalidi South: Messenian Gulf

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