The perfect destination for those who want to explore the region of Messenia, in the Peloponnese, Kalamata, the second largest city in the area after Patras, sits between the sea and mountains, at the foot of the majestic and impressive Taygetos mountain range. Of course, you might be familiar with Kalamata olives, which originated in this region, but there is so much more to the city than its olives. Here is what you need to see and do in Kalamata.
Kalamata Dance Festival
Undeniably, the annual event that put Kalamata on the map is the Kalamata International Dance Festival, which launched in 1995. The festival, which takes place every summer with the mission to support and promote the beautiful art of dance, showcases the creativity of choreographers and dance troupes and welcomes visitors to this underrated region of Peloponnese.
Just like many other cities in Greece, Kalamata boasts a stunning historic quarter, where you will love wandering along narrow alleys and among neoclassical mansions and cute forsaken corners. Located in the northern part of the city, just below the castle, Kalamata Old Town is home to several must-see churches, including the Byzantine church of the Holy Apostles and the cathedral of Ypapantis, a few museums, and a plethora of little shops selling local products and original souvenirs.
The cathedral of Ypapantis, built in 1839, is a stunning Byzantine-style church that is home to a holy icon of the Virgin Mary of the same name, which dates back to 672 AD. It was discovered in the Ottoman governor’s stables after he had a dream of a woman telling him to dig in a specific spot. He even converted to Christianity after the discovery, due to the numerous miracles that it had supposedly performed. Severely damaged by the 1886 and 1986 earthquakes, the church, which sits on a square bearing the same name, was restored both times.
Set in the historical heart of Kalamata, where the old market used to stand, the Archaeological Museum of Messenia is home to an extensive collection of archaeological finds dating back from prehistoric times to the Byzantine era. It is divided into four geographical areas, which represent the four provinces of Messenia, including Kalamata, Messene, Pylia, and Trifylia. Exhibits include the splendid mosaic from Koroni, which depicts various scenes of the worship of the god Bacchus.
Kalamata central market is an attraction in itself if you are a foodie. No less than 450 producers and vendors meet every Wednesday and Saturday to sell a multitude of fruits and vegetables, including local specialties such as Kalamata olives, of course. Visitors will also find tasty products such as sfela cheese (a semi-hard cheese made from sheep or cow milk), pasteli, honey, lalagia, a type of fried dough crackers, and Poliani apples.
Dominating the city, the Castle of Kalamata (or kastro) sits on a lush pine-covered hill. Geoffroi de Villehardouin, a Frank knight who conquered Achaea, constructed the structure in 1208. It boasts an impressive gate, and though dating from the 13th century, it miraculously survived the 1986 earthquake, responsible for the destruction of a major part of the city. A little haven of peace and serenity, the kastro is the best place to enjoy the sunset from a beautiful vantage point.
If you are a history buff fascinated by Greece’s complex history, you will find solace in the Folklore and History Museum, housed in the 19th-century Kiriakou mansion in Kalamata. It’s home to a unique collection of archives, everyday artifacts, and objects from the 1821 Greek War of Independence. The second floor is of particular interest as it features a section dedicated to printing and bookbinding, a testament to the long-lasting tradition of printing of Kalamata, which was the first city of Greece to have a printing house.
As the capital of the Messenia region, Kalamata is an ideal base from which to explore the area. With spectacular beaches, four- and five-star resorts, historic treasures such as old castles and ancient cities (the ancient city of Messene is nearby), and archaeological sites, Messenia certainly deserves a visit. Whether you are there for three days, a week or even 10 days, you will quickly understand that there is so much more to Kalamata than just a little provincial city.