Ancient Messini is one of the most significant ancient cities in terms of its size, structure and state of preservation and still has much to be discovered. Along with the sanctuaries and public buildings it has imposing fortifications, dwellings and burial sites. It has, amongst other things the rare advantage of never having been destroyed or covered by later settlements and sits in an unspoiled inland site in a natural Mediterranean environment. This natural environment combines the mountain grandeur of Delphi and the low riverside serenity of Olympia, the dominating bare limestone mass of Mount Ithome, the ancient acropolis and the low fertile plain spread below the ancient city. One can easily reach the site by road from Athens along the Corinth – Tripoli – Megalopolis – Kalamata highway or via the Corinth – Patra – Pyrgos – Kyparissia Meligalas highway. From Olympia the site is about an hours drive.
The Stadium and Gymnasium of Ancient Messina
The Stadium and Gymnasium are amongst the most impressive and well preserved buildings on the site. The northern part of the horseshoe-shaped stadium contains 18 stands with 18 rows of seats separated by stairways. Surrounded by Doric stoas, whose columns are standing mostly in place. The northern arcade is double in form, whereas the east and the west are simple in form. The colonnades belong to the Gymnasium which together with the Stadium formed one single architectural ensemble. The western stoa terminated at the end of the track at a length of 110 meters from the northern end. At this point a Doric peristyle court is located which is identified as the palaistra.
Pedestals with honorary inscriptions, are located between the columns of the western stoa and used to hold the statues of gymnasiarchs (Gymnasium officials). Other inscriptions have also been found bearing lists of ephebes (youths). Behind the western colonnade was the sanctuary of Heracles and Hermes with their cult statues.
The Ancient Theatre of Messina
The first monument to be seen when descending from the museum to the archaeological site is the theatre. It was used for mass political gatherings. In this theatre the meeting was held between King Philipp V Macedon and Aratos the Sikyonian in 214B.C, the day following the revolt of the Messinian people. According to the testimony of Livius (39.49.6-12), many residents of Messina gathered in the theatre of the city and demanded that the great general of the Achaean League, Philopoimen from Megalopolis captured by the Messenians in 183B.C., be transferred there and exposed in plain view. The auditorium is based on an artificial embankment composed of a strong semi-circular retaining wall.
The fort like impression is emphasized by the arched entrances and ascending stairways. These elements and the fact that the retaining wall of the cavea is visible and accessible from the outside make the Theatre of Messene an exceptional building predictive of the theatres and amphitheatres of the Roman period.
A large part of the western retaining wall of the cavea survives. The wall is interrupted at regular intervals (by about 20 meters), by entrances with pitched arches which led via stairways to the upper corridor; from there, other stairways provided access to the orchestra and also defined the wedge-shaped divisions of seats. The exterior of the retaining wall is built in exactly the same way as the fortification walls and towers of the city.