Messinia, in the south-western tip of mainland Greece, embodies the most symbolic chapters of Greek history. The monuments, α unique mosaic of the areas long history and witnesses of its long history, stand proud and charismatic over a story of 4,500 years.
The many prehistoric sites discovered by archaeological excavations, mainly in the west of the county, show a land that has been inhabited throughout the prehistoric period (7000-1000 BC) particularly the areas of Pilia and Trifylia ( Hora, Englianos, Malthi, Handrinos, Korifasion). The first Messinian inhabitants were Leleges and Kafkones, who were not of Greek origin, and Aeolians who came from Thessaly and settled in Ancient Andania, near Diavolitsi. The area of Ancient Pylos (near present day Hora) was settled and Nileas, father of Nestor, founded the state of Pylos. The descent of the Greeks is placed at around 1900 BC and the heyday of the state of Pylos was established between 1600 – 1100 BC, therefore in Mycenaean times. The Mycenaean finds discovered all over the Peloponnese show how this culture flourished in the region.
The Mycenaean Bronze Age 1600-1100 BC
During this period, Messinia is the most populous region of the Peloponnese evidenced by rich archaeological finds at fifty sites: vaulted and carved tombs, remains of buildings and settlements and pottery. The most important of these sites have been found in Volimidia Hora, Koukounara, Harakopio, Vigla Korifasion, Rizomylos, Papoulias, Tragana, Myrsinohori, Upper Englianos, Thouria, Mouriatada, Miro, and Malthi. Easily distinguished by its importance from the other sites, Upper Eglianos is one of the most significant Mycenaean centres in Messinia and all of Greece. The seat of the Mycenaean kings of Pylos and the palace of Nestor, the wise king of the Iliad. King Nestor was a model of wisdom, gentleness and understanding of human affairs famed throughout Greece and the wider Greek world.
Pre – Geometric (1100 – 900 BC) & Geometric period (900 – 700BC)
With the so-called Dorian invasion, which destroyed the Mycenaean centres, the state of Pylos was attacked by the leaders of the Dorians; Temenus, Kresphontes, Aristodemos. According to tradition, the fertile country of Nestor was given in a lottery to Kresphontes, who settled in the area of Stenyklaros. Most of the locals preferred to take refuge elsewhere, especially in Attica, rather than capitulate to the Dorians. The Dorians in the Peloponnese created a new Messinian state and those who remained in the area were deprived of their property.
Archaic – Classical – Hellenistic Age / Roman times 7th century BC – 4th century AD
In the 8th century BC a dramatic adventure began for the Messinian people when the military state of neighbouring Sparta decided to increase its territories by conquering the fertile lands of Messinia. Between the mid-eighth century until the middle of the fifth BC (743 to 454 BC) the Spartans and Messinians took part in three major wars that led to the subjugation of Messinia by Sparta. Despite the bleak ending, the Messinian War gave rise to a strong national consciousness in the inhabitants of Messinia as the defenders of the homeland. Messinia remained under Spartan rule until the time of the domination of Sparta by the Thebans. The Theban Epaminondas liberated the country (369 BC) and built the capital, of the once more independent Messinia, at the foot of Mount Ithomi and Messene evolved into an important cultural centre. In the following years until the Roman occupation Messene was destroyed twice: by General Philip V Demetrius Faro in 214 B.C. and the tyrant of Sparta Navi in 202 B.C. The subsequent wars and conflicts between the Greek cities eventually led to the victory of the Romans and Greece was entirely subordinate to them by 146 BC. Messinia then followed the fate of the rest of the country during both the Roman period and later during the Byzantine period.
Medieval – Byzantine period 4th-15th AD
From the 4th century AD until the early 9th century, the Peloponnese was attacked by the Goths, Avars and Slavs; Messinia also suffering from their aggression. Being in fear of such raids the inhabitants fled towards the sea and from this time the cities of Kalamata, Koroni and Methoni were founded. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Latins, Messinia was included in the principality of Achaia (1205) under the leadership of the Frank Geoffrey Villehardouin. Centred in Kalamata and its Castle, the fortresses of Methoni and Koroni were exceptions to his rule as they were Venetian possessions. Frankish rule in the Peloponnese lasted for over 200 years and until the late 14th century when the gradual conquest of cities and regions of Messinia was began by the Turks. Frankish rule finally ended in 1498.
Modern times: Ottoman Empire Revolution
From 1769 to 1770 Messinians and Maniates participated in the failed Orlofika movement; there followed a terrible raid by a Turkish-Albanian collaboration which destroyed Messinia and much of the population was slaughtered. On March 23rd 1821 Petrobeis Mavromichalis, Kolokotronis and Papaflessas with other Messinian rebels closed in on Kalamata and thus begun the revolution with a declaration to the European royal courts that the Greeks were now an independent nation. Soon all of Messinia was liberated except for the fortresses of Methoni and Koroni. From then, Messinia remained free until 1825 when Ibrahim made his first foray. Despite the heroic resistance of Papaflessa at Maniaki and the devastation caused to the Turkish army by the Maniates at Verga Almyros, Ibrahim destroyed the whole of the Peloponnese by burning and felling 150,000 fruit and olive trees and carried out the systematic massacre of the population. On October 20th 1827, the Turkish-Egyptian alliance was defeated by the allied fleet in the Bay of Navarino: so on Messinian soil the beginning of the end of the Greek revolution is written. After the liberation of Greece and the restoration of rule, Messinia followed the fortunes of the other provinces of the Peloponnese.