Tag: Messenia

Samarina: The beautiful Byzantine church in Messenia

Church of the Virgin Zoodochos Pigi Samarina

The Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina cuts a striking figure set amidst a valley of rolling hills lush with olive trees

 

Lady of the valley:  There were lovely landscapes everywhere we looked while we drove through Messenia in late May. One of the most memorable and marvellous sights along the way was the Byzantine Church of Zoodochos Pigi Samarina, located between the villages of Ellinoekklisia and Kalogerorrachi. 

We first glimpsed the church from afar — from the top of an access road which winds down a wooded hillside to the clearing in which the 800-year-old shrine sits. From this vantage point, Samarina looks simply sublime: a beautiful Byzantine-style building surrounded by rolling hills and lush green groves of olive trees that extend for miles in all directions.  Although the distance offered a breathtaking panoramic perspective of the impressive monument and its pretty surroundings, we of course had to drive down to take a closer look.

Not surprisingly, the church was locked up as tight as a drum, and nobody else was around, so there was no chance of taking a peek inside. 

 

 

According to an information plaque on the grounds near the church, Samarina is considered to be one of the most beautiful Byzantine monuments in the Peloponnese. It was built in the 12th Century on what some sources claim was the site of an ancient temple that had been dedicated to the goddess Rhea. Originally, Samarina was a church operated by the nunnery of Osia Mary of Egypt. It later was renamed church of Zoodochos Pigi (Virgin Mary), but hundreds of years have passed since any nuns last occupied the building.

Amazingly, “Nothing is known about the monument’s history, while the silence of textual evidence in regard with such a monument is remarkable,” the plaque says.

 

Samarina church

A Messenian mystery: Historians say the church dates from the 12th Century, but they don’t know anything about its history.

 

The plaque describes Samarina as “a two-column, domed cross-in-square building whose careful cloisonné masonry next to the variety of decorative brickwork compose a highly artistic complex.”

Between late 2011 and the end of 2013, a rehabilitation and restoration project was carried out to recover the tiled roof, restore the decorative brickwork, and install new wooden doors. Inside, “the wall paintings were entirely restored and the marble templon screen was cleaned to retrieve its white colour and to preserve the traces of inlaid wax and mastic gum.” 

Nearby are ruins of other buildings, believed to have been monastic cells, along with a vaulted Byzantine cistern.

It would have been interesting to see the interior, with its freshly restored frescoes, but we had to make do with  viewing photos in a brochure I had picked up at Messana Hotel at Ancient Messini the day before.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed examining the building exterior, and exploring its serene surroundings. (I have tried to find the brochure and its images online, so I could post a link here, but so far haven’t had any success.)

If you’re passing through the area on your way to or from Ancient Messini, be sure to stop and take a look at Samarina. She’s a beauty.

Below are several more pictures of Samarina. You can view additional photos in my Samarina  church album on Flickr.

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Samarina church

 

Where to eat and sleep well in Mavromati

Messana Hotel in Ancient Messini

Street view of Messana Hotel in Mavromati. The boutique-style hotel has seven rooms, and serves a wonderful breakfast featuring dishes made with products grown locally and in the Messenia region.

 

Ithomi restaurant in Mavromati

Ithomi Restaurant in Mavromati has an inside dining room and a large open-air terrace, both offering views of the countryside and the archaeological site of Ancient Messini.

 

Good eats, good sleep: As I related in my previous posts Moments in Mavromati and Admiring the Arcadian Gate, Day 1 of our 2017 spring holiday got off to a great start with visits to historic sites in Ancient Messini and some scenic walkabouts in Mavromati village.

Our busy afternoon of sightseeing and exploring wound down with a fabulous dinner at Ithomi Restaurant, followed by a very restful night of sleep in our comfy, quiet room at Messana Hotel.  

Thanks to a delicious breakfast at the hotel, our Day 2 got off to an excellent start as well.

Please turn to page 2 to read and see more of the hotel and restaurant.

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Moments in Mavromati

Mavromati village in Messenia

Houses in Mavromati, on the lower slopes of Mount Ithomi.

 

View from Mavromati village

The view from the main road in Mavromati

 

Verdant vistas: First stop on our spring holiday was Mavromati, a small mountain village that overlooks the historic archaeological site at Ancient Messini.

Although we spent less than 24 hours in the village and nearby area at the beginning of a road trip through the western Peloponnese, we were impressed with what we got to see and experience — as I described in my previous post, Admiring the Arcadian Gate.

Just as enjoyable and memorable were the beautiful views and landscape scenery at Mavromati.

 

 

From a variety of vantage points in the village as well as from our balcony at Messana Hotel, we loved looking at the verdant vistas that spread out below us. There was much to see: the sweeping views included tree-covered mountains and rolling hills, the historic ruins of Ancient Messini, and a valley extending all the way to the coastal city of Kalamata,  30 kilometers to the south. We could even glimpse the Messenian Sea.

 

Mavromati location on Google Maps

This Google map pinpoints the location of Mavromati and Ancient Messini in the western Peloponnese region of Greece

 

Please turn to page 2,  where I’ll show and tell you more about Mavromati.

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Admiring the Arcadian Gate and walking atop the 2,300-year-old wall at Ancient Messini

Circuit wall at Ancient Messini Greece

A segment of the 9.5-kilometer-long stone wall that was built in 369 BC to protect the ancient city of Messini. We walked sections of the circuit wall between three of its lookout towers. 

 

Arcadian Gate at Ancient Messini

The circuit wall was built with two gates — one on the east side of Ancient Messini and one on the west. This toppled stone lintel is a striking sight at the western portal known as the Arcadian Gate.

 

Arcadian Gate at Ancient Messini

The Arcadian Gate has two entrances, each at opposite ends of a large circular courtyard. This is a view of one of the curved walls inside the courtyard.

 

Ancient Messini archaeological site

Part of the extensive archaeological grounds at Ancient Messini, which is described as “one of the most important cities of antiquity” in a listing on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites webpage.

 

buildings at Mavromati village

Mavromati is a small village that overlooks Ancient Messini from the lower slopes of Mount Ithomi. We stayed here for one night during our brief visit to the area in May.

 

Wall walking:  Suffering from jet lag and lack of sleep after a 9.5-hour overnight flight to Athens, we didn’t expect to see or do much during the first day of our vacation in the western Peloponnese region of Greece in late May.  We definitely didn’t anticipate walking around a village and historic sites for a few hours in hot temperatures and blazing sunshine. But since we had less than 24 hours to see Ancient Messini, we resisted the urge to take a nap in our hotel room, choosing instead to explore as much of the area as we could while our energy and enthusiasm lasted.

Our early afternoon arrival gave us an opportunity to wander the quiet streets of Mavromati village, admire the unique design of the Arcadian Gate, walk along sections of a two thousand year old fortification wall, view parts of the Ancient Messini archaeological site, see an historic monastery, and enjoy the fresh air and countryside before tucking into a delicious Greek dinner at a taverna near our hotel. We didn’t have enough time or stamina to visit all of the area’s fascinating attractions, but we enjoyed everything that we did get to see — and loved every minute of being back in Greece. 

Please continue reading on page 2, where you’ll see more photos of the impressive Arcadian Gate, circuit wall, and Ancient Messini.

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Trifilia’s enticing attractions

This film by Achillefs Jorjini spotlights more than 30 stunning destinations in the western Peloponnese area of Trifilia

 

Treasure trove: Plans for our next Greek holiday are gradually coming together, and a visit to part of the Peloponnese is on the itinerary for the second year in a row.

Last year’s vacation took us through the regions of Laconia and Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese, where we spent time in Nafplio, Monemvasia, Sparta, and Tolo, and saw numerous other places along the way.

This time, a road trip will take us through Messenia in the western Peloponnese, where we will get to see parts of the municipal region of Trifilia. I am familiar with Messenia, since I know people who live in the area and many others who have travelled there. But I had never heard of Trifiliam by that name at least, until I discovered the video I posted above. And what good timing it was to find the film, since it spotlights a virtual treasure trove of enticing destinations, many of which I knew nothing about. 

Entitled Explore Trifilia 2017, the 10.5-minute video  by Achillefs Jorjini takes you on an alluring aerial tour above nearly three dozen different places in the area, including scenic towns and villages, breathtaking coastlines and beaches, impressive natural scenery and important historic sites and monuments.

 

 

Among the gorgeous beaches and coastal areas shown in the video are:

♦ Voidokilia

♦ Golden Beach Mati

♦ Vromoneri

♦ Barlas

♦ Lagouvardos

♦ Agia Kiriaki

♦ Stomio

♦ Agrilis

♦ Kyparissia

♦ Kalo Nero

♦ Elea, and

♦ the Vourlia peninsula on Proti island 

 

Kalo Nero beach in Messenia

Screen capture of the video’s pass above Kalo Nero beach

 

Villages and towns seen in the film include:

♦ Koroni

♦ Pylos

♦ Kyparissia and the Kyparissia Old Town

♦ Agia Sotira

♦ Tragana

♦ Gargaliani

♦ Marathopoli

♦ Filiatra

♦ Kalo Nero

♦ Kopanaki

♦ Sidirokastro, and

♦ Aetos

 

Marathopoli in Messenia

Screen capture from the video’s view of the coastal village of Marathopoli

 

Views of significant landmarks and attractions include:

♦ Ancient Messene

♦ the monastery on Proti island

♦ the fortress at Methoni

♦ the Neokastro and Palaiokastro fortresses at Pylos

♦ the Palace of Nestor

♦ the waterfalls at Polilimnio and Valtas

♦ Analipsi church at Filiastra

♦ Byzantine monuments at Agia Sotira

♦ the Mycenean tomb at Peristeria

♦ the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, and

♦ the  Neda River

 

the fortress at Methoni

Screen capture of the video’s flight around the Methoni fortress

 

The only drawback to watching the video was that it revealed far more sites and attractions than we will have time to visit, which I found a little disappointing. I wanted to see everything, since it all looked so picturesque and appealing! The upside, of course, is that there will be plenty of places to see on another trip to Messenia. And I have a strong hunch there will indeed be a return visit.