“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
For the last few days, I had been worried about what the weather might be like on this Thursday morning. The weather is – of course – always a factor influencing our tours and cruises (especially the latter), but in this case, my concern was of a very specific nature. Our destination for most of today was the site of Ancient Messene. It is located in open country, and it is very extensive. In recent decades, excavations have revealed the shrines, squares, streets, colonnades and various public buildings of this ancient city, founded in 369 BC and set in a verdant upland valley high above the Messenian Gulf.
An overly sunny day can make the visit tiring, but it remains perfectly viable as long as the guides exert some consideration, foresight and care (that’s part of our job). A heavy downpour, however, makes visiting Ancient Messene nearly impossible, not to mention appreciating it. And heavy rain is precisely what the forecasts had been predicting until yesterday.
Well, we were lucky. Mother Nature provided us with the proverbial “best of both worlds”, an alternation of spring sunlight and of clouds being driven across the sky, some of them ominously dark, but not one of them releasing even a drop of water upon us. The changeable conditions added a sense of vibrancy to our visit, with different light conditions every half an hour or so. The experience was enriched by a wealth of greenery and flowers, resulting from recent rains, and by gaggles of schoolchildren from the region of (modern) Messinia gathered in the ancient stadium as we entered it, there to receive awards for athletic contests performed on the ancient site. It was a splendid morning.
I have written about Ancient Messene and what an amazing site it is before on this blog. Ongoing excavations have revealed a great array of monuments in the heart of the ancient city, among them a large theatre, an enormous and elaborate fountain house, an Early Byzantine basilica church, the city’s agora, a shrine to Asklepios (treated here not as the god of healing, but as an ancestral founder hero) and what might just be the finest ancient stadium in Greece.They stand witness to a unique site, reflecting the unique history of ancient Messenia.
The fact that excavations here are continuing means that my 2014 blog post is already a little out of date: various monuments have been added to what was visible then, including a sanctuary to Isis, revealed in 2017. For us, guiding the tour, this constitutes the finest of challenges, to spot and asses what is new in minutes and to present it to our guests as we are discovering it ourselves.
Our visit concluded, after a lovely local and very panoramic lunch, with the site museum and the stupendous city walls of Ancient Messene, worth a blog post for themselves. We then continued northwards, to the ancient region of Elis, modern Ilia, where ancient Olympia is located. That’s where I am writing this.
We can only hope for similar conditions at the vast site of Olympia tomorrow…