Byzantine Hermitage of Saint Onoufrios

The Byzantine Hermitage of Saint Onoufrios.

The Byzantine Hermitage of Saint Onoufrios.

Three kilometers from Methoni, on the road connecting it with Pylos, stands an early christian cemetery (catacombs).  It is the Byzantine Hermitage of Saint Onoufrios, which is carved into the natural rock.  

It is not difficult to reach the catacombs: exit the town and after passing the conjuction with the road to Koroni road on your right and the town football stadium, you will see a small chapel (Saint Athanasios) on your left hand.  

Location of the catacombs and church of St Vassileios, 3km outside Methoni.

Location of the catacombs and church of St Vassileios, 3km outside Methoni.

Inside the Catacombs.

Inside the Catacombs.

Park your car by the chapel (next to a stone tomb) and climb up a dirty road till you reach a water tank made of concrete.  From there starts a narrow path, hidden in the vegetation, going north and parallel to the main road down.  Not far away is located the cemetery, behind an old rusty fence. Enter the area from a narrow opening of the fence on the far-left side.

Ιnside the catacombs there are traces of old frescoes.

Ιnside the catacombs there are traces of old frescoes.

The monument was excavated during 1967-1968. It is a complex of chambers carved into the rock and open-air graves. The area around the monument has served during ancient and medieval times as a poros quarry and this is where construction material for the building of the Methoni Castle was used. 

the Byzantine Temple of St. Bassileios.

The north side of the Byzantine Temple of St. Bassileios.

The north side of the Byzantine Temple of St. Bassileios.

Opposite the hill of St Onoufrios, in the area called Agaki, lies another equally important monument of the area, the Byzantine Temple of St. Bassileios.

In order to find the little church, after having left the Saint Athanasios chapel drive towards Methoni for about 200-300 meters on the main road and turn sharply left into a small road without any signs. 

The dome of church of St. Bassileios.

The dome of church of St. Bassileios.

Continue for about 200m and at the bend of the road do not follow the right turn  but instead continue straight at the narrow dirt road that  appears just in front of you.  You will see the entrance of an old wire fence, which belongs to the church.  

The little church dates back to 1100 AD and is a beautiful Byzantine construction. 

Me standing at the entrance of the little church.

Me standing at the entrance of the little church.

The church is an example of ancient cruciform architecture, which belongs to the so-called transitional type. The latter indicates the combination of the church’s plan shaping a Christian cross with the three-isled domed basilica.

In the interior of the church, the archaeologists have discovered only traces of wall-paintings, mainly in the area of the sanctuary. Unfortunately, intact Byzantine frescoes have not survived in the church to the present day.

Beaches around methoni

Dentrakia Beach.

Dentrakia Beach.

The beaches of the area are unbelievably beautiful.  Most of the big ones are long, sandy and easy to reach, but there are also smaller ones which are more difficult to visit.

The most famous ones are the seven I have marked on the map bellow (red hearts).

The beaches of Methoni (marked with red hearts), from left to right: Asprades, Dentrakia, Kritika, Lampes, Koumpares, Mavrovounio and Finikounda.

The beaches of Methoni (marked with red hearts), from left to right: Asprades, Dentrakia, Kritika, Lampes, Koumpares, Mavrovounio and Finikounda.

In the town itself there are three beaches: a) Asprades, which is a little beach just under the castle walls at the base of the long southern breakwater; b) Dentrakia, which is the main sandy beach of the town located just in front of the Paralia Square; and c) Kritika beach which stands at the other side of the Methoni bay.

Kritika Beach.

Kritika Beach.

These three beaches you can reach on foot from the town. 

Finikounda Beach.

Finikounda Beach.

The other 4 long, sandy beaches, located further to the east, between Methoni and the village of Finikounda you can reach by car: a) Lambes (which is actually two beaches divided by a small stream); b) Koumpares, a well-protected beach; c) Mavrovounio, which is an organized huge beach; and d) the Finikounda beach, which is in front of the fishing village that bears the same name.

Lampes Beach.

Lampes Beach.

Mavrovounio Beach.

Mavrovounio Beach.

Finikounda town.

Finikounda town.

Finikounda town is only 10 km from Methoni. It used to be a small fishing village, but today is a lively and noisy town with lots of restaurants, bars and cafés.  It is not a beautiful village (remember what I told you earlier about “Greek misery”), but has a long, sandy beach and it is a great night out place.  During my visit I drank my morning coffee at “Almiro-Gliko”, a modern and cozy bar-café on the beach. 

Food & Food

Messenia is a very fertile land and the agricultural and stockraising products are in abundance. The excellent quality olive oil and the fresh vegetables are the base of a unique cuisine. 

There are many restaurants and fish taverns in the town and while I was there I tried the food of most of them.  Visitors in Methoni are lucky because the restaurants here do not serve the typical tourist menus we find in most places, but they offer also what we call “home-cooking”.  I would like to propose two restaurants, which I believe are the best, but this does not mean that the rest are not good.

Location of the restaurants I mention in this food section.  Klimataria, Oneiron Gefseis (ΟΝΕΙΡΩΝ ΓΕΥΣΕΙΣ), Palia Istoria (Παλιά Ιστορία) and Alektor.

Location of the restaurants I mention in this food section. Klimataria, Oneiron Gefseis (ΟΝΕΙΡΩΝ ΓΕΥΣΕΙΣ), Palia Istoria (Παλιά Ιστορία) and Alektor.

Most restaurants in Methoni are in Miaouli street.

Most restaurants in Methoni are in Miaouli street.

"Klimataria" shady backyard.

Klimataria” ("κληματαριά") is the restaurant I had dinner most of the times, while in town.  It is located in Miaouli Street, where most of the restaurants are.  The restaurant is housed in a humble, one-storey, old building, but it has a beautiful backyard overlooking the castle walls, where you are served under the shade of a vine arbor. 

Klimataria Restaurant dishes.  Bean salad with onions and peppers (top left), aubergines in the oven covered with melted cheese (bottom left); beef with rosemary and other herbs (bottom right), beef and pork cuts cooked into tomato sauce (top right).

Klimataria Restaurant dishes. Bean salad with onions and peppers (top left), aubergines in the oven covered with melted cheese (bottom left); beef with rosemary and other herbs (bottom right), beef and pork cuts cooked into tomato sauce (top right).

Starters and salads are just marvelous and I got some of my favorite: fried cheese (saganaki), beetroots with garlic, aubergines in the oven covered with melted cheese, bean salad with onions and peppers, anchovies marinated in vinegar and olive oil. 

When it comes to main courses I had mostly beef, and there's a reason for that: I do not cook beef at home, as I have not mastered the way to make it tender and tasty.  Beef cooked into tomato sauce with baby onions; beef with rosemary and other herbs; beef and pork cuts cooked into tomato sauce, wine and green peppers; beef with pasta; aubergines staffed with minced beef; meatballs in rich tomato sauce served with really tasty chips, etc.  Klimataria serves even "Wellington beef"!

"Klimataria" restaurant.

The menu is big.  My advice is not to try to read the menu or to ask the waiter what is available (if you do not speak the language). The best way to choose your dish is to step into the kitchen and see all cooked food displayed behind a show window.  This kind of food display is typical in many restaurants in Greece which serve what we call “magirefta” or "μαγειρευτά" (literary this means “cooked” and refers to food prepared in the pot, as opposed to the food prepared in the pan or grill, which we call “tis oras” or "της ώρας").  Of course, one can go for “tis oras”, like souvlaki or pork chops, if he prefers that kind of food.

Our order at

Our order at "Palia Istoria" restaurant at Miaouli street. Good food and very pleasant owners. Beetroot salad with walnuts and cheese, beef with aubergines (left); artichocks with green peas in tomato sauce (middle); and fried cheese and fried zucchini (right).

Alektor restaurant tables on the pavement of Episkopou Grigoriou street.

Alektor restaurant tables on the pavement of Episkopou Grigoriou street.

The other restaurant I would like to suggest is “Alektor” ("Αλέκτωρ"). 

As I visited Methoni off season, I managed to find Alektor open only once due to its short opening/closing times. Still I believe it is a great place for lunch or dinner.

The place is a simple tavern with a medium size room and open kitchen, which also has some tables on the pavement of Episkopou Grigoriou street.  Even though, it was windy, we sat outside and we served by the wife of the owner. 

Alektor restaurant.  Tomato/cucumber salad and saganaki cheese.

Alektor restaurant. Tomato/cucumber salad and saganaki cheese.

She explained to us that every day she cooks different dishes and the food is always fresh, but as it was off-season, when we visited, she told us that they have only some basic food to serve.  The owner of the tavern is a well-known in the area holder of an organic olive orchard (Andreas Diles) who produces his own olive oil, which you can buy from this tavern too.   His wife, the chef, is from Poland, so she “fuses” traditional Greek dishes of mediterranean ingredients with the rich eastern European cuisine.  The result is sumptuous nouveau-Greek cuisine, or to put it in a better way: you have the old favorites Greek grandma cooks but with an Eastern European twist.

Alektor tavern.  Schnitzel and grilled vegetables.

Alektor tavern. Schnitzel and grilled vegetables.

Besides the always available “greek salad” and the cheese saganaki we had delicious grilled vegetables (fresh green beans, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers and cauliflower sprinkled with lots of fennel) and a big, heart feeling schnitzel… yes, a schnitzel!  …the most tender and tasty schnitzel I ever had, served with thick, yummy chips. 

Of course, the olive oil for the salad comes on the table in their own branded bottle (“Deleika extra virgin olive oil")…. So do not be stingy…let the tomatoes, the cucumber and the feta cheese be immersed into thick, deep-green colored, organic messenian olive oil!

Alektor tavern.

Alektor tavern.

“Oneiron Gefseis” creperie.

“Oneiron Gefseis” creperie.

Less than 100m from our hotel (Achilles Hotel), there is a green, sweet-smelling, tropical “oasis”.  That is “Oneiron Gefseis” ("ονείρων γεύσεις") creperie/café/restaurant in Mezonos street.  Its name means “Dream Tastes” and it is exactly this!

This Cancun-like decorated creperie serves wonderful sweet crepes and ice-cream of a Greek brand I had never heard before (I discovered later that it is very popular all over Peloponnese): “provio” ice cream.  At “Oneiron Gefseis” you choose whatever you want from the available list of ingredients to put in and on your crepe: fresh fruit, provio ice-cream, nuts, chocolate, etc. 

They also offer burgers, sandwiches and other food, but this was our sweet-tooth every night stop on our way back to the hotel, so I do not know if the food is any good.    

Paralias Square has several restaurants and cafes.

Paralias Square has several restaurants and cafes.

PART 2:  PYLOS (NAVARINO) 

Navarino Bay (Όρμος Ναυαρίνου) is a closed bay, the north part of which is occupied by a shallow laggoon.  It's only opening (west) is blocked by Sfakteria island.

Navarino Bay (Όρμος Ναυαρίνου) is a closed bay, the north part of which is occupied by a shallow laggoon. It's only opening (west) is blocked by Sfakteria island.

Pylos (Πύλος).

Pylos (Πύλος).

Pylos and Niokastro at the background, behind the trees.

Pylos and Niokastro at the background, behind the trees.

Just 10 km north of Methoni, at the southern tip of Navarino Bay (Όρμος Ναυαρίνου) stands Pylos (Πύλος).

Actually, it is Pylos you first encounter on your way from Kalamata to Methoni, as the later is located at the very end of the Peloponnese.  One can reach Pylos either on the national road no82 from Kalamata or the national road no9 which runs along the west coast of Peloponnese. Pylos, historically, is also known under its Italian name Navarino.  

Some history....

Pylos.

Pylos.

Pylos has a long history, having been inhabited since Neolithic times. It was a significant kingdom in Mycenaean Greece, with remains of the so-called "Palace of Nestor" excavated nearby, named after Nestor, the king of Pylos in Homer's Iliad.

In Classical times, the site was uninhabited, but became the site of the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. Pylos is scarcely mentioned thereafter until the 13th century, when it became part of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. Increasingly known by its French name of Port-de-Jonc or its Italian name Navarino, in the 1280s the Franks built the Old Navarino castle on the northern end of the bay. Pylos came under the control of the Republic of Venice from 1417 until 1500, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans used Pylos and its bay as a naval base and built the New Navarino (Niokastro) fortress there. The area remained under Ottoman control, with the exception of a brief period of renewed Venetian rule in 1685–1715 and a Russian occupation in 1770–71, until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt recovered it for the Ottomans in 1825, but the defeat of the Turco-Egyptian fleet in the 1827 Naval Battle of Navarino forced Ibrahim to withdraw from the Peloponnese and confirmed Greek independence.

Battle of Navarino, by Ivan Aivazovsky, showing the Russian squadron, in line ahead (left-centre, white flags with blue transversal crosses) bombarding the Ottoman fleet (right, with red flags).

Battle of Navarino, by Ivan Aivazovsky, showing the Russian squadron, in line ahead (left-centre, white flags with blue transversal crosses) bombarding the Ottoman fleet (right, with red flags).

The Battle of Navarino was a naval battle fought on 20 October 1827, during the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), in Navarino Bay.

Allied forces from Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated Ottoman and Egyptian forces trying to suppress the Greek war of independence, thereby making much more likely the independence of Greece.

An Ottoman armada, which, in addition to imperial warships, included squadrons from the provinces of Egypt, Tunis and Algiers, was destroyed by an Allied force of British, French and Russian warships. It was the last major naval battle in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships, although most ships fought at anchor. The Allies' victory was achieved through superior firepower and gunnery.

The three Admirals (British, Russian, French), the protagonists of the Battle of Navarino. Greek stamps. 1927.

The three Admirals (British, Russian, French), the protagonists of the Battle of Navarino. Greek stamps. 1927.

The context of the three Great Powers' intervention in the Greek conflict was the Russian Empire's long-running expansion at the expense of the decaying Ottoman Empire.

Russia's ambitions in the region were seen as a major geostrategic threat by the other European powers, which feared the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Russian hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. The precipitating factor was Russia's strong emotional support for the fellow-Orthodox Christian Greeks, who had rebelled against their Ottoman overlords in 1821. The British were motivated by strong public support for the Greeks. Fearing unilateral Russian action in support of the Greeks, Britain and France bound Russia by treaty to a joint intervention which aimed to secure Greek autonomy whilst preserving Ottoman territorial integrity as a check on Russia.    

The Naval Battle of Navarino (1827). Oil painting by Garneray.

The Naval Battle of Navarino (1827). Oil painting by Garneray.

The Powers agreed, by the Treaty of London (1827), to force the Ottoman government to grant the Greeks autonomy within the empire and dispatched naval squadrons to the eastern Mediterranean to enforce their policy. The naval battle happened more by accident than by design as a result of a manoeuvre by the Allied commander-in-chief, Admiral Edward Codrington, aimed at coercing the Ottoman commander to obey Allied instructions.

The sinking of the Ottomans' Mediterranean fleet saved the fledgling Greek Republic from collapse. But it required two more military interventions, by Russia in the form of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–9 and by a French expeditionary force to the Peloponnese to force the withdrawal of Ottoman forces from central and southern Greece and to finally secure Greek independence.

The Town

Shops around Pylos' main square.

Shops around Pylos' main square.

Today Pylos, is a small, picturesque town, living mainly on tourism.  It is built amphitheatrically at the slopes of a hill leading down to a small port.  The center of all town activities is the main Square (“Three Admirals' Square”).  It is a big, shady square with cafes, restaurants and shops on its three sides and the sea on its fourth side. The town was built in the 19th century by the French, after the Battle of Navarino.

It could be the perfect place to rest and enjoy the sea breeze and tasty food, but... you remember “Greek misery”?  Well, it is present here as well.  The main road from Kalamata and Patras to Methoni goes thru the center of the town and even worse: all the incoming and outgoing traffic moves around the main square.  Actually, the square plays the role of a huge roundabout.  So, you poor tourist sit down to relax, to drink your coffee or have lunch, and the noise and exhaust fumes of hundreds of buses and trucks and cars moving around the square is such that make you miss Athens!

The Tsiklitiras plane tree.

The Tsiklitiras plane tree.

The "Three Admirals’ Square" took its name by the homonymous monument which lies in the middle of it and is created by sculptor Thomopoulos. The monument serves as a constant reminder of the Battle of Navarino. On the three sides of the monument, one can see the figures of the admirals of the three fleets which confronted the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet in the Battle of 1827; Codrington, Heyden and DeRigny. At both sides at the base of the monument, there are two cannons, an Ottoman one and a Venetian one, which are symbols of the civilizations that passed through there.

Just next to the monument stands a big plane tree that bears the name of Dr Elias Tsiklitiras, a famous 19th century mayor of the town, who planted it. Elias Tsiklitiras was the father of Konstantinos Tsiklitiras, a Greek athlete and Olympic champion.

The house where Konstantinos Tsiklitiras was born. It houses the collection of the French Grecophyle (Philhellene) René Puaux.

The house where Konstantinos Tsiklitiras was born. It houses the collection of the French Grecophyle (Philhellene) René Puaux.

Konstantinos Tsiklitiras is the local hero of Pylos. He is definitely a person who enriches the significant historical presence of the place. Tsiklitiras with his actions and his achievements managed to be mentioned until nowadays. He participated in the Olympic Games of 1908, and 1912 who won a golden and a bronze medal in Stockholm (1912) and two silver ones in London (1908).  He served in the Greek army during the First Balkan War in the Battle of Bizani on the Epirus front in 1913.

Unfortunately, Konstantinos Tsiklitiras died at an early age, only 25 years old, from meningitis. To honor him the city of Pylos bought his house and converted it into a museum. It is located in a central part of the city, right next to the Town Hall, in the harbor. It has been renovated and houses the Rene Puaux collection that was moved from the Maison Barracks in Niokastro. 

The Battle of Navarino monument in the middle of Pylos main square.

The Battle of Navarino monument in the middle of Pylos main square.

The (New) Castle

The entrance to the Niokastro.

The entrance to the Niokastro.

One of the best-preserved castles of Greece is that of the New Navarino or Niokastro (Νιόκαστρο) built during the Turkish occupation to control the western coast of the Peloponnese. 

In 1573, after the Naval Battle of Lepanto (1571), to secure more the natural port of Pylos, the Turks built a castle in the south entrance  of the bay and threw rocks and boulders at the north entry (“passage of the Fig”) to make its water shallow.

The new castle was named Niokastro opposed to older (Paliokastro) that rises to the north entrance of the bay. 

Inside Niokastro.

Inside Niokastro.

After the Venetian conquest (1686) of this part of the Peloponnese, New Navarino became the temporary capital of the Venetian lands on the Peloponnese.

The Venetians immediately started to devise all kinds of improvements on the fort in accordance to the changed military habits. These plans were never carried out, however, as the Venetians had to give up their possessions in the Peloponnese already in 1715.    

View from Niokastro towards the southern opening of the Navarino Bay.

View from Niokastro towards the southern opening of the Navarino Bay.

The castle changed hands once again, and the Turks got it till the famous Battle of Navarino in 1827.  In 1828, it was restored by the French who built several structures, like the "Maison-Barracks", which today houses the Pylos Museum.

The French army also helped in building a charming little city at the foot of this immense fort: Pylos

Inside the castle.  The main entrance is seen in the middle.

Inside the castle. The main entrance is seen in the middle.

The castle offers a magnificent panorama over the Bay of Navarino and the island of Sfactiria.

It is open daily from 09:00 am to 15:00 pm exept Mondays.  Entrance fee: 6 € (3 €, for seniors, etc). 

As you enter the castle, on your right hand is the ticket booth and on your left is the Museum

The beautifully, recently restored two-storey building (previously known as "Maison-Barracks"), houses today in a modern and comprehensive way, archaeological artifacts from excavations in the area of Pylia, dating from the Neolithic to the Roman times.    

The pylos archeological museum inside the Niokastro.

The pylos archeological museum inside the Niokastro.

Till 2012, the ground floor of Maison-Barracks, which is today the archeological museum, used to house the collection of Grecophyle René Puaux, one of the greatest philhellenes.

During his life, René collected a large number of sketches, tables and other objects from the Greek Revolution, especially from Pylos and the Peloponnese. He donated his collection to Pylos. The collection was transferred to the renovated Tsiklitiras House (next to the Town Hall). 

The upper floor of the building is used by the Underwater Antiquities Center as a library and also offers some rooms as a guesthouse for the scientific staff.

Artifacts of the Niokastro museum exhibitions.

Artifacts of the Niokastro museum exhibitions.

Today in the museum you will see funeral gifts from the vaulted (Mycenean) tombs of Voidokilia and Koukounara: vases, jewelery, arrowheads, gold objects, animal figures, etc.

There are also artifacts found at the ancient cemetery of the Hellenistic period from Divari region in Gialova.  The highlights of the museum are the beautiful painted glass containers, an elaborate golden belt, the statues of the Dioscuri and a helmet made of boar teeth.

The acropolis of Niokastro.

The acropolis of Niokastro.

To the north, at the highest point stands the citadel, an impressive hexagonal fort.  This is the acropolis of the castle and has six powerful towers at each of its six angles.

In the center imposes the Church of the Transfiguration (of the Savior).  The church was built as a mosque by the Turks and later transformed into an Orthodox Church (Ναός Μεταμόρφωσις του Σωτήρος) by the Greeks.

To the south, overlooking the sea, are the ramparts reinforced by the towers-bastions of Hebdomos and Santa Maria.

The ramparts, bastions, cisterns and all the "accessories" still visible to this day give a clear picture of the efforts of its creators to make this fortress impregnable.

The Church of the Transfiguration (of the Savior).

The Church of the Transfiguration (of the Savior).

The entrance and inside the Church of the Transfiguration (of the Savior).

The entrance and inside the Church of the Transfiguration (of the Savior).

The

The "Building of Pasha".

Since 2012, the "Building of Pasha" (across from the church of the Transfiguration of the Savior) houses the Exhibition "Navagia" (shipwrecks).

In the beautifully arranged central hall of the exhibition, you will walk on a large map of the Peloponnese marked with shipwrecks. You will learn about the wreck of the “Mentor” (lord Elgin's ship), who had an accident in his effort to transport the stolen “Parthenon Marbles” to Great Britain. In a showcase you will also see his pistol and other objects of this shipwreck.   

Comments

21.11.2018 17:10

pam frigo

amazing! I have heritage from this area and you have shown so much of what I never knew was here!

17.11.2018 11:36

Robert E Avallone

Love the pic and the writing!