The first monument as you enter is the theatre, built in 3-2 BC and regarded as one of the greatest examples of its kind, reaching almost 100m in length and once seating 10,000 spectators. It was used for political gatherings as well as entertainment and has been restored to serve as a summer festival venue.
The Arsinoe Fountain
Next door is the Arsinoe fountain (named after the daughter of the mythical king of Messinia, Lefkippos and mother of Asclepius), which received water from the Klepsydra spring and had a 40m-long cistern.
A huge square marketplace surrounded by stoas (galleries), the Agora was the centre of everyday life. Excavations are in progress but finds include fragments of a representation of a winged thunderbolt of Zeus and the temple of Zeus Soter.
The Stadium and the Gymnasium
Among the most impressive buildings, the well-preserved stadium includes 18 rows of seats, separated by staircases and surrounded by Doric stoas, where the gymnasium was housed.
Along with the Agora, this was the centre of Ancient Messenian life. A 72mx67m area, with four internal stoas opening onto a courtyard, it was described by Pausanias more as a gallery of bronze statues and other artwork rather than the more typical sanatorium of the asclepions found at other sites.
Originally a four-storey Doric building that was part of the stadium, the Heroon served as a funerary monument for distinguished citizens given a hero’s burial.
Ancient Messene’s imposing walls once stretched to 9km, broken only by Mt Ithome, which served as a natural fortification of its own. One of the city’s two monumental entrances, the Arcadian Gate, has survived, along with eight impressive towers. As you look up at Mt Ithome, imagine that it too was once fortified.
More than 12,000 findings from the excavations are kept in the on-site museum, a two-storey building by the entrance.