It was. Once in Sphacteria island, during the Peloponnesian War, and once here, in Messinia, many years later by a Thibean general called Epaminondas. It was in 370 B.C. that Epaminondas freed the Messinians, who were slaves to the Spartans for 230 years, and built a city to symbolize the everlasting freedom.
Driving through the gigantic Arcadian Gate that looks like it is built by Cyclops, makes you realize that this is not an ordinary ancient city. Which other city’s gate could fit an entire car under it? However, how can a city built to symbolize freedom not be magnificent?
<<Messengers sent by the Thebans arrived in Italy, Sicily, the Libyan city of Evesperides and wherever Messinians fugitives lived and summoned them back to their country >> as Pausanias narrates about the foundation of the city. A symbol of power and a specimen of fortified architecture, the Arcadian Gate was, and still is, the emblematic entrance of a city that was the center of the (Messinian) world for approximately six centuries, until it was deserted by a big earthquake at first, and then by a raid of the Goths.
Ancient Messini is built close to Mavromati village, in the “arms” of green slopes that gently end up in the Messinian Gulf. Its size is of a regular city. This technically means that to see all of it you will need at least two hours, to walk the rural paths that wind among olive trees and ancient columns, under the merciless Messinian sun, and climb stone steps that it is hard to believe that people used to climb them up and down two and a half thousand years ago, just as you’re doing now.
The quite smaller but still impressive Ekklisiastirio also looks like a theatre, with the colorful mosaics of its stage that you might have seen starring in photographs of Messini. Beautifully imposing are also the Asklipieion with the green grass surrounding it, the sanctuary of Artemis with its transparent roof playing games with the light, and the ornate Arsinoi Fountain that once supplied the entire city with water.
At the end of all routes that run the city, on the tip of a downhill slope that enjoys the fantastic view to the landscape’s vastness, is the Stadium of Ancient Messini. Its size when you first see it is breathtaking. On its edge there is a small, restored, Doric temple, the god-owner of which Pausanias failed to inform us. The columns that surround the stadium are also Doric, and impressive too, and form the arched tunnels of the ancient Gymnasium. The Stadium and the Gymnasium are being restored under the supervision of the classic archaeology professor, Petros Themelis, and the work done there, in the eyes of a simple observer, is impressive.
Outside the archaeological site, in the modern village called Mavromati, there is the Museum of Ancient Messini that hosts the majestic statues of Hermes and Artemis, and many more important findings that were brought to light by the excavations in the ancient city.