Stories and legends



Messinians are renowned for their hospitality (‘filoxenia’ in Greek). Homer tells the story thus: searching for his father Odysseus, Telemachus accompanied by the Goddess Athina in mortal guise, came ashore at night in Voidokilia which was also the port of ancient Pylos, to ask King Nestor of his father Ulysses whereabouts. The Wise King was holding a feast with his sons on the sand, he gave the travelers the best cuts of meat and his best wine. Only after they were fed and rested, did he ask them who they were and what was the purpose of their visit. This is the first written account of hospitality in the Western world and it’s in Homer’s Odyssey, the foundation of Western storytelling.

The tale of the ‘ox-belly’ beach

The peculiar name of this enchanting location, Voidokilia (lit. ‘ox-belly’), can be traced to an ancient myth about Hermes, who stole the oxen of his brother, Apollo, and hid them in a cave above the beach. Feeling remorse, Hermes gave Apollo a lyre made from the shell of a sea turtle, which to this day lays its eggs in the bay.


The ancient Greeks took sport very seriously and it is undoubtedly one of their most enduring gifts to the modern world. Sports and athletes were a popular subject in sculpture, as in this representation of a game known as ‘spheristiki’ from the base of a statue dated to 510-500 BC. Though little is known about the rules, it appears to be a club-and-ball sport, not unlike modern-day field hockey or even… golf!


This drinking cup or ‘kotyle’ was found in a grave in the ancient Greek colony of Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia, off the western coast of Italy. Now widely known as Nestor’s Cup, the remarkable clay vessel has been dated to the Geometric Period (c. 750-700 BC) and bears a three-line inscription that is one of the oldest known examples of writing in the Greek alphabet. The inscription has been transcribed as: “Nestor’s cup I am, good to drink from. Whoever drinks this cup empty straightaway, desire for beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize”

Roots in the past

According to legend, the great hero Heracles brought the olive tree to Greece from the land of the Hyperboreans, planting the first one in the Peloponnese. In ancient Pylos, archaeologists discovered the earliest written forms of ‘olive’ and ‘olive-oil’ on clay tablets inscribed in Linear B script which date to 1300 BC, providing concrete evidence that Messinia was among the first regions to cultivate the sacred olive. One of the oldest recorded olive trees in the world still thrives in Kalamata (photo), where it continues to blossom and produce olives after 17 centuries!

The 'Pyramid'

Due to its shape, this peak of Mount Taygetos is known as the ‘Pyramid’. According to some researchers, the peak was thus shaped by man in very ancient times, while others believe it to be the work of nature. However, question marks remain over whether the distinctive shape could indeed have been caused by the natural processes of erosion and weathering. On July 20, the feast of the Prophet Elias, the peak mysteriously casts a shadow that points directly to Koroni at sunrise and directly to Sparta at sunset

The seabed of Methoni

Methoni stands in a strategic location that gave its occupants control over vital sea routes. So important was the position that the Venetians referred to the castle at Methoni, along with the nearby sea-girt fortress of Koroni as “the eyes of Venice”. A battery of cannon around the impressive octagonal tower of Methoni castle was used to sink any ships that refused to pay the taxes levied by the occupants. This is one of the reasons that the seabed around Methoni is an area particularly rich in underwater archaeology.

Pirate treasure

Proti, less than one mile off the coast of Messinia, is said to have been used as a hideout by the infamous pirate Katoulias and legends tell of buried treasure on the verdant island. Some believe that the inscriptions on the massive rock ‘Grammeno’ give clues to the location of this treasure, though it has been suggested that the inscriptions were made by sailors who had taken refuge on Proti from raging storms and are prayers for fair winds and a safe voyage.


During the Ottoman occupation of Greece (1453-1821), in the small town of Filiatra in Messinia, a young man named Panagos Lelonis consistently won the annual horse race organized by the community. This irked the local Ottoman authorities who, using an incident that followed a race as a pretext, arrested the young man and convicted him to death by hanging. During the execution, Lelonis’s sweetheart Krinio rode up on a horse, cut the rope around his neck with a sword and fled. The young couple was pursued by the Ottomans and, finding no escape route, chose to drown in a local nearby lake rather than surrender. Following Greece’s independence, an annual horse race, revived by the local church of St. George, was dedicated to the memory of the young lovers and named “Lelonia”.


According to local legend, if a pregnant woman passes under the majestic natural archway of Fanari, she will give birth to a male child.

Castle of Koroni

There is a fascinating story about the castle of Koroni involving a maiden who rode her horse off the battlements into the sea to avoid capture by the Ottomans. The castle’s eastern rampart is said to be haunted by the maiden’s spirit, whose cries are reported to have been heard by some of the more imaginative local fishermen, especially on the anniversary of her death.

Koutroulis’ Wedding

A local tradition in Methoni involves the annual revival of an actual medieval wedding. In the late 14th century a local nobleman, Chevalier Ioannis Koutroulis fell in love with a divorcee and asked for her hand in marriage. In accordance with ecclesiastical law, he sought the approval of the area’s bishop who, being a staunch traditionalist refused his blessing. It took 17 years and a number of appeals to higher authority before the bishop was convinced to approve the ceremony, which took place in 1405. The wedding was followed by unprecedented festivities that lasted for several days and were attended by most of the population of the surrounding region. From that time on, all such grand and exuberant celebrations came to be described as being “like Koutroulis’ wedding”.

Ointment manufacturers at the times of Nestor's palace

Alephazooi or Alephozooi were artisans who made paste, perfumes and decorative face coatings or nail and lip colorings. They enjoyed high status in the palace because their products were used not only for personal care (mostly of women), but also for the dead. Perfumes were one of the most important sources of wealth for Greek cities. The base of the perfume generally consisted of olive oil mixed with a little salt to prevent oxidization. To this mixture they added resin to bind the perfume and prevent rapid evaporation.. Although they were not familiar with distillation, they did use concentration and transfusion. The combination of the various essential oils for the manufacture of perfumes produced more stable results.


Three days before a wedding, the married women gather in the bride’s house to make the ‘kouloura’, traditional round wedding bread with elaborate designs; with devotion that finds its reflection in that of the soon-to-be-married couple, the technique requires a great deal of skill and patience. Believed to bring good luck, the ‘kouloura’ is offered to the groom’s family as a gift from the bride.

Wedding Celebrations in Messinia

In the villages of Messinia, tradition holds that before the wedding the bridegroom, riding a finely adorned horse, visits the bride’s house and offers the waiting bride two golden rings, the complete bridal wardrobe, the bridal flower bouquet and a round bread covered by a hand-embroidered napkin. The bride, on her part, prepares the bridal bed with her girlfriends and on the day of the wedding visits the groom’s house, bringing gifts for everyone. A three-day celebration, with special dishes, such as diples, and plenty of wine, singing and dancing follow the wedding.


A particularly tragic event associated with Paleokastro took place in 1825, as the Greek War of Independence raged. The Egyptian forces under Ibrahim Pasha had invaded the Peloponnese the previous year after the Ottomans had asked for assistance in crushing the Greek revolt. As the Egyptians approached, many women from the area of Garantza, along with their children, jumped from the cliffs of Paleokastro, preferring death to being captured.

The first Souvlaki

It is said that the tradition of souvlaki, or skewered meat, started in Messinia, based on the purpose-made ceramic vessel found in the kitchen of the Palace of Nestor, dating from around 1300 BC. It is believed that lamb, goat and beef chunks were skewered and spit roasted in this vessel over an open fire and then served to guests and strangers seeking sanctuary.


During the years Greece was under the Ottoman yoke, local authorities would often steal foodstuffs from the Greek population. To prevent this, Messinians – who used to spit roast lambs in the countryside during festivities – would place spits with suckling pigs (gourounopoula) in front of the lambs to mislead the Muslims who would not eat pork due to religious restrictions. Believing that only pork meat was being cooked, the Ottomans would not approach the spits. The local tradition of roasting pork on a spit has survived to this day, producing one of the most renowned delicacies.