Methoni

Article and pictures by Stephen Wass, all rights reserved.

This small flat peninsula with its natural harbour to the east has been occupied and fortified from the earliest times. It featured in the Peloponnesian wars of the 4th century BC, was taken by the Macedonians and Romans and was later an important port and fortress for the Byzantines.

Following the collapse of the Byzantine Empire after the fourth crusade the town was taken by the Franks in 1205 then occupied by the Venetians the following year. They maintained it as a trading port until 1500 when it fell to the Turks.

The Knights Hospitallers failed to recapture it in 1531 and it remained in Ottoman hands until a three-week siege in 1686 began the second period of Venetian occupation.

By 1715 the Turks were back in control and remained so until the Greek War of Independence, following which in 1828 it was briefly base to a French contingent. Italian forces built pillboxes around the site, now largely removed, and it was damaged by two separate explosions during WWII.

The land front on the Northern side of the old town is the most strongly defended sector. A broad ditch'separates the peninsula from the mainland.

This was designed to be flooded by the sea but after several remodellings remained unfinished. To prevent access to the north end of the ditch a detached battery was built in the early 18th century. A false bray'defends the ditch between flanks of two bastions;

the Loredan bastion to the east and the Bembo bastion to the west. The two bastions are linked by a double curtain wall which creates a covered way'between them.

The inner wall may contain elements of the original Byzantine defences, although it dates mainly from the first period of Venetian occupation. In the 15th century it was strengthened with a central round tower.

The wall was reinforced by a hefty earth rampart and a curved bulwark built at the east end.

Late in the century the fan-shaped Bembo bastion was added at the west end. Early 18th century improvements saw the Loredan bastion built in front of the eastern bulwark and the covered way extended to the east of the Bembo Bastion to create a demi-bastion at a lower level.

An additional flanking battery in the shape of a demi-bastion was added to the south.

The entrance to the site is across a stone bridge built by the French in the 19th century to replace the earlier wooden one. The present outer gateway is a fine example of early 18th century Venetian work and is decorated with carved flags and pikes.

At the eastern end of the covered way is a late medieval double gate giving access to the main part of the town although the northern section immediately behind the land front is closed off by a wall with square towers and a single gate, all dating from the 16th century Turkish occupation.

The wall around the remainder of the town follows the coast line and is mainly 13th century with considerable patching and other additions from the following centuries. East of the Sea Gate is a square tower of the 16th century, ruined by a WWII explosion!

At the southern tip of the peninsula is the Sea Gate with two square towers. The eastern tower has some earlier Venetian material but the entrance was remodelled in the 16th century with addition of the western tower.

A causeway links the gate to the small island fortress, the Bourdzi. This octagonal lantern-shaped tower of the 16th century has two levels within an outer wall with a loop holed parapet. Another WWII explosion took out a section of the western curtain wall revealing the huge depth of stratified archaeological deposits which has built up on the site. Other surviving buildings include two 18th century powder magazines, one with pyramidical roof, a ruined Turkish Bath and a 19th century chapel.

Some clearance has been done opening out the lines of streets and lanes from the town which was finally abandoned early in the 19th century

Visiting Methoni

Public transport options for getting to Methone are limited. There is a bus service from Kalamata but for those who drive there is a free car park on the site of the former glacis. The ticket office is sited on the landward side of the bridge but when not staffed the gates appear to be left open.

Since the 1970s there have been sporadic campaigns by the Greek Ministry of Culture to consolidate and restore the remains, but despite this the area remains fairly unkempt and the walls in places in poor condition.

There is plenty of accommodation and several good tavernas in town including the Methoni Beach Hotel (good for a cold beer and fresh orange juice) and the Akro Giali restaurant, which lie on the beach next to the Loredan Bastion. There was no guidebook to be had on site but the widely available publication “Pylos – Pyla – A Journey Through Space and Time” has very good coverage of all the fortifications in the vicinity.

Article and pictures by Stephen Wass, all rights reserved.


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