Kalamata has nothing to feel jealous about of Athens. An opulent land with wealthy inhabitants who live from the production of olive oil, cultivating the fields, and tourism.
It is one of the most beautiful coastal cities of Greece with beaches famous for their clean, turquoise waters. Cosmopolitan and crowded, isolated, organized or secluded even over-advertised as Voidokilia that has a "global calibre". The list is long: Mikri Mantineia, where Taygetus spreads his foothills to coincide with the wonderful blue of the sea and form beautiful coves smothered in vegetation. Cosmopolitan Sandova with the many beach bars, the midnight parties and the seaside campfires. Almyros beach: popular and crowded. Kalogria: the most famous, frequented and organized beach in western Mani.
Then there is Stoupa, a sandy beach with a beautiful submarine life, Phonea's beach for the few and the loners, Velika in the reeks, Petalidi, Finikounta, the beauties are never-ending.
Kalamata city is vivid and intense: modern cafés, seaside bars, luxurious hotels, bright lights, vibrant night life, loud music, elegant appearances. At the city's and time's pathways, we discover Kalamata's history, hidden in every street, every building. Sights can be seen all over, museums and churches, with the church of Ipapanti standing out with its silver domes. In every step, history becomes an experience.
Then and today
Modern Kalamata is a jewel in the centre of the Messenian Bay. It is the capital, the centre of commerce and the big port of broader Messenia. A city that combines history, exquisite cuisine, a vibrant nightlife and cultural activity. It is famous for the scarves produced here, for the olive oil, the figs and the famous sesame bars. A town of two modern universities that focus on culture and, above all, of citizens that are actively involved and artistically restless.
Above the city, the castle of the 13th cent. AD built by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, is imposing. Inside it there is a byzantine temple dedicated to Virgin Mary the so-called "Kalomata" (beautiful eyes) from where the name "Kalamata" originates from. Going down from the castle there is the Monastery of Ipapanti, where the nuns weaved the renowned scarves.
A rich city, with excellent spatial planning and an important role in all historical moments of Greece. In the time of Homer it was called "Kalamai" or Fares and situated at lower Taygetus. Traveller and geographer Pausanias mentions in his book on Messenia the city as "Fares" and that it was situated next to a fountain of salty water. Turks – Mehmed the Conqueror‒ and Venetians attempted to conquer it in future centuries. On March 23, 1821 it was liberated from the Turks. The great heroes of the Greek revolution as Nikitaras, Kolokotronis, Petrobey Mavromichalis and Papaflessas participated in its liberation. The ceremony carried out at the beginning of the revolution took place at the altar of Aghioi Apostoli, a small church of the 10th cent. AD that still stands at the city centre as its trademark.
But today the city stands out for its International Dance Festival, the largest in Europe, for the theatrical plays, concerts, and the vivid cultural scene, an element that introduces Kalamata as one of the candidates for the European Capital of Culture, 2021.
OLD TOWN OF KALAMATA: mansions, churches, museums, shops with local products
Every corner a different story
In the pathways of the city and of history, every corner has its own story. To begin, a church that stands out is Ipapanti tou Sotiros (Presentation of Our Lord the Saviour into the Temple), with its bell towers and silver domes. It is the city's Cathedral, imposing and radiant, that protects the city and celebrates on February 2nd with all festivities and formalities.
At the same location there was an older church; the only thing that survived until today from that church is a stone cross at the point of the altar. There, an inscription reads: "This plaque is to remind the sacred and the abaton". Legend has it that the ostler of the Ottoman Pasha saw Virgin Mary in his dream and that she showed him the location where her icon was hidden and this is how the new church was built in 1873. The church of Ipapanti is the best place to begin a tour in the historical centre of Kalamata. Walking around in the narrow streets transfers the visitor to another age in time.
The first building to meet is the Byzantine church of Aghioi Apostoli where in March 23, 1821 the first mass on liberated Greek land after 400 years of Ottoman rule took place. This is why its square was named "Square of Marc 23rd" to commemorate the event. Next on route, mansions and the folklore museum of the city exhibiting farming equipment, the art of woven textiles, pottery, and elements from the first printing house in Greece where the Declaration of the revolted Greeks was printed in 1821. Neo-classical buildings, abandoned mansions among huge apartment buildings, many green sections and coffee shops with gardens and, of course, fountains, many fountains. Shops with traditional products, loukoumi sweets (Turkish delights), figs, sesame bars, olive oil, olives. The land is blessed.
CHRISTIANITY – FOLKLORE UNTIL TODAY
Events and ceremonies
Here in Messenia, many events and re-enactments take place, revered by spectators and researchers since they connect antiquity to Byzantine and the West to the Orient.
An example is the "kalamatianos", a dance from ancient times, popular and well-known all over Greece that was born and is danced here in Messenia. A "syrtos" (to drag) line dance dragged by a leader, stating the down-to-earth stance of the dancers since the soil is life-giving. The steps backwards symbolize the steps of life. Twelve dancers, a number that symbolizes Christ's disciples. The dancers form a circle resembling the cycle of life: birth, decay, rebirth. This is how the cycle is represented and celebrated. Pottery, representations and frescoes confirm that the dance is ancient while today it is danced everywhere in Messenia as a ceremonial one that connects past to present.
ThFestivities related to the olive can be found at the area of Triphylia. On July 20 the church of Prophet Elias celebrates and the people sing and dance for two reasons: "at the day of Elias, the oil gets in the olive" meaning that in the heart of the summer, the olive fruit is now growing and maturing. There is even a phonetic resemblance of the two in the language: Elias and "elia" (olive).
Religious rituals and festivities survive today since antiquity. The apokries (carnival) before Lent, Easter Monday, the burning of Judas, and "Saitopolemos" at Resurrection when they light saites, long cardboard tubes filled with gunpowder. On August 5 at the church of Metamorfosi (transfiguration) of Our Lord the Saviour, in mountainous Tryphilia, religious celebrations take place annually. Friends and co-villagers meet again, bond and celebrate all together the feast of grapes and grape picking.
One more reason to focus in the region is the celebrations in Nedusa. They are related to eugenics – of good harvests and healthy births – and are astonishing for their roots that trace back to antiquity and for their theatricality. All the people of the village participate by lighting fires, dancing, painting somewhat masks on their faces, imitating in purely Dionysian exhilaration the conflicts of animals, mainly goats, in a revival of Nature's ways. Playing roles with their faces covered, they imitate sowing, reaping and harvesting, to prepare themselves for the new season.
Kalamata: the queen of tourism
It's a fact that the investment of the hotel complex Costa Navarino put Messenia on the global touristic map. Despite the Greek, European and global financial crisis, arrivals in the last six years in the region are increasing exponentially, reinforcing both employment and incomes. The figures are overwhelming. Besides, the hotel employs 2,100 locals. Moreover, Kalamatas' airport connects the region with 25 European cities and has presented a 264% increase in international arrivals in relation to 2009, while this year, 110,000 passengers are expected. With direct British Airways flights from London two times a week, the airport is becoming international and this is quite promising. In addition, the national and international media have extensively covered the hotel and the interest both domestically and from abroad has increased.
The completion of the national highway Athens – Kalamata was another important investment that offers easy access to the region. One more road is under construction connecting Kalamata - Rizomylos - Pylos - Methoni, which is also an action towards touristic development. Today Kalamata has nothing to be jealous of. Beaches, excellent cuisine, archaeological sites.
It's left to imagination: what will happen when even more destinations are showcased in the international media all over the world, as for example the article in National Geographic referring to Kalamata and Mount Taygetus as ideal for trekking, with exceptional gastronomy, a region with biodiversity and suitable for scuba diving at Navarino Bay.