Sitting just above the agora (market) of the Old Town is Kalamata’s Kastro. Dating from the start of the 13th century, it was built by the Byzantines and finished by the Franks. It isn’t as intricate as other medieval fortifications of the Peloponnese, but it’s a wonderfully atmospheric place to start your tour, with excellent city views. There are inscriptions dating from the Venetian occupation of Kalamata (1685-1715) and excavations have revealed the site of the 6th century city of Fares, with a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary Kalomata built in its place – so named because its icon of the Virgin (from which the city took its name) had beautiful black eyes. Look out for the Kalamata International Dance Festival, which takes place here each July.
Very close to the castle are two museums that deserve attention. The Folklore Museum of Kalamata, housed in the two-storey 19th century Kyriakou Mansion, has collected memorabilia from the 1821 revolution against the Ottomans, as well as other objects of everyday life (including agricultural, weaving and printing/bookbinding equipment). And immediately afterwards is the Archaeological Museum of Messinia, with exhibits from prehistoric to Byzantine times. Look out for a gold signet ring from the 16th century BC, found in a local tomb, as well as coins, pottery and other ancient artefacts from the region.
March 23rd Square
Taking its name from the day of the city’s liberation from the Turks, in 1821, March 23rd Square captures not just the history but also the vibe of Kalamata. The diminutive Church of the Holy Apostles in the middle of the square is where the revolution is said to have been declared and the first mass of the liberated city was celebrated. Around it are shops, cafes, bars and tavernas – especially along Amfias St, which ends in Paplomatadika (famous for its nightlife) and Ypapandi St (where you’ll also find shops with local products, such as traditional, loom-woven Kalamata headscarves).
Vasileos Georgiou Square
This is another square that’s central to daily life, with a cosmopolitan air of cafes, bars and shops. It leads on to Aristomenous St (the shopping hub), with some lively arcades (Londos and Varvoutsis) where you can also grab a bite to eat. You’ll enjoy the neoclassical structures, amongst them the handsome Bank of Greece building.
Municipal Railway Park
Leaving the historical centre behind you and walking down Aristomenous Street towards the port, you reach the Municipal Railway Park. Located by the old Kalamata-Limin train station, this is a 54-acre treasure trove for rail enthusiasts, with a collection of locomotives and rolling stock taking you back to the days of steam-powered travel.
Continuing south, you reach Navarinou, Kalamata’s famous waterfront. This is where city life gravitates during the summer, but it’s also great for a winter stroll. There’s something endlessly romantic about the generously-sized, palm tree-fringed promenade. Starting at the marina, with its collection of sailing boats, head along the Messinian Bay, with Mt Taygetus beckoning you in the distance. There’s a bicycle lane all the way, as you pass cafes, shops and great ouzo & meze spots and bars serving everything from breakfast to cocktails. If you continue around the coast, you soon reach Kalamata’s beachfront.
Kalamata’s food deserves special mention. The locals have a way of doing things their way. You should try the roast pork (gournopoula), which has even found its way into gyro souvlaki and burgers. More traditional are pastelia (sesame seed bars), diples (folded, fried pastry, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with nuts), lalangia (crunchy fried dough loops) and, of course, the famous Kalamata olives and olive oil. For meze, there’s sfela cheese and synglino (cured pork) to go with your ouzo or tsipouro (firewater). And for something heartier, cockerel stewed in wine with hylopites (little pasta squares).
A great end to your day is to head up to Verga, a short drive out of town, where there are restaurants and bars with amazing views. It’s perfect for a coffee or cocktail, particularly at night, with the lights of the city and the fishing boats in the bay sparkling below you.