At the centre of the region of Messenia stands Ancient Messene, more specifically on Mount Ithomi. The city celebrates its heroine Messene at the temple of Zeus, is named after her and worships her. As goddess Athena in ancient Athens, apart from the name, she offers identity to the city and its citizens.
During her reign, the maiden Messene introduced the worship of the Great Gods: Artemis, Zeus, Aphrodite and Poseidon. Today we see their mythic images and sanctuaries everywhere in the area. They praise and honour the heroine, the "kore" as if the city is under her command and awaits her first instructions.
Today, archaeologists discover Roman coins which depict Zeus at one side and Messene on the other, wearing a veil and a crown that resembles a wall. On another coin, Messene is accompanied by Asclepius. At this point, literature and archaeological research raise questions: is the town dedicated to Messene or Asclepius? According to Pausanias, there was a special temple dedicated to Messene with a statue made of gold and marble, from the island of Paros. At the back side of this temple the later kings of Messene were portrayed. Apart from the maiden Messene, the city honours all its rulers.
Thus, a city was built from scratch, to become a "city countryside". In other words, a planned, void space inside the city. In contemporary terms, we could say it's an environmentally friendly city that embraces its natural surroundings and is open to them.
Taygetus and light
Messenia is abounding in legends and traditions. Euripides praises it as the "land rich in fruit" due to the exquisite olive groves and its wonderful climate.
Starting point of all its myths is Mount Taygetus: a reference point of ancient and modern inhabitants of Messenia. A natural border and one of the few Greek mountains that have a masculine name, imposing and massive, he separates Laconia from Messenia for centuries now and offers the travellers a wealth of mythical stories. An attraction for trekkers, he teaches them at the same time history, archaeology and folklore. A difficult border to pass, its passages are in an exceptional natural environment with unique flora and constitute a frontier to and from the land of Messenia. Taygetus was worshipped by painters and poets from the time of the first philhellenes up to today, while there are many societies and associations relevant to him.
The name Taygetus originates from Taygete, one of the seven Pleiades, daughter of Titan Atlas and the Oceanid nymph Pleione (Pausanias' Laconia, C 1-9).
Taygetus' alluring powers are permanent until the present day. Thousands of people hike up the mountain every year to visit the chapels on it and stay overnight, to watch a sunset that offers something unique: from its summit, Profitis Elias, a pyramid made of light fades in the Messenian bay – the mountainous volumes form its outline. Greek folklore associates the celebrations on Profitis Elias with celebrations of Sun and Light. Climbing the mountain is the most significant annual event of the region. Each year, on July 19, the faithful from wherever they may come from celebrate their saint at the mountain tops, at the quaint chapels of St. Elias but also Taygetus' power that opens an illuminated gate to culture.