Southern Greece is comprised of thousands of islands and the mainland of the Peloponnese. Parts of it touch the Aegean and southern Mediterranean seas, a combination of beautiful elements, unlike anywhere else on Earth. In this unique corner of the world, rests the city of Kalamata, situated between the first and second `feet' or peninsulas of the Southern Peloponnese region. Specifically, it is located at the base of the mythical Mani Peninsula and it is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Athens on a relatively new super highway. It can also be reached by public transport and airplane if you prefer.
You have probably heard of Kalamata when dining or food shopping, as the city is famous for their olives, which are exported worldwide. Vast fields of olive groves cover the land surrounding Kalamata and its neighboring regions. But there is so much more to this southern city than its exported goods. Its history is as rich and ancient as other significant settlements in Greece. It is believed that in ancient times the location of Kalamata was once the city of Pharai. As noted in Homer's Odyssey, Pharai was one of the seven cities promised to the warrior Achilles by King Agamemnon. It certainly was influenced by the events and civilizations surrounding it, with neighbors like the great warrior Spartans.
In the middles ages the area was ruled by foreign occupiers like the Franks and Venetians, due to the first fall of Constantinople and the Greeks' loss of regional power to the crusaders. During the time of Ottoman aggression, locals from the Mani Peninsula known as Maniotes made a deal with the Venetians to join efforts to expel these aggressors. The fight would continue until the of the Greek War of Independence that began in 1821, but during their brief rule the Venetians brought great wealth and commerce to Kalamata. When the city was finally liberated from Ottoman rule, notable figures like Theodoros Kolokotronis swept through and saved his fellow Greeks from their oppressors.
Remnants of Kalamata's distant and not so distant past can be found scattered throughout the city and the region. Within the city limits is the Castle of Kalamata. These castle walls have the scars and patchwork that illustrate not just the city's but also the country's battles and triumphs. It is located more towards the outskirts of the city and is open for visitors for only three Euros according to the official cultural website. At this elevated angle, you will get a fantastic view of Kalamata and the sea that hugs it. Another structure of great importance is the Church of the Holy Apostles, which is only a five-minute walk from the castle. The church dates back to the Middle Ages and became the site of the first Greek Orthodox service after almost four hundred years of Turkish occupation following the victory for Greek Independence.
The area surrounding the church is a truly charming part of Kalamata and known as the Old Town. There is a large town square called Plateia Othonos and a wide selection of authentic or modern food and drink spots to choose from. It is explorer friendly and is mostly lively alleys and walkways. After dining and drinks follow the alley walkways to the cultural attractions like the Historical and Folklore Museum of Kalamata or the Archaeological Museum of Messinia.
On the other side of the city is the main port and seaside getaway also called Paralia Kalamatas. The beachfront of Kalamata is stunningly organized and picturesque. Countless restaurants and cafes line the smoothly paved promenade that runs for about three and a half kilometers along the seafront. Here, locals and visitors can dine and relax with a front row seat to the Mediterranean Sea with a backdrop of towering mountain ranges. A step away from your table are the waves and sand. Choose from the many sunbeds offered by the adjacent shops, or simply find a cozy spot in the sand. A walk along the promenade will open your eyes to the exciting natural beauty of Kalamata, but also the classic vibe of its old buildings and history.
If you are looking to get a bit further out and away from the crowds of the city, head East towards the area of Paralia Vergas. Only a ten-minute drive from the center of Kalamata, this area is more spread out and situated against the green of the mountain's base. A drive along the main road, Odos Kalamatas – Areopolis will gift you a view of Kalamata from a distance as you move parallel with the sea. There are lots of places to eat and drink here as well, with the same seafront bliss. In contrast to the long main beach in Kalamata, here you will find small pebble beaches spread along the roadside. Some are more noticeable and others are hidden behind houses mimicking secret paradises.
If you want to take it all in from above, a popular elevated restaurant and venue is Kastraki-Meteoro. It is mainly outdoor seating, with a panoramic view of Kalamata and the bay of Messinia. It is also the prime spot to catch the sunset, as it dips down into the horizon right across from you. The towns across from here to the West are also lively but less touristy. There is accommodation available throughout the area though, including small mom and pop rooms for rent, as well as bigger beachfront resorts.
It is difficult not to admire and enjoy a place like Kalamata, where colossal mountains merge with the sea. Although it has an ancient past, something about it feels so modern. A little known fact about the city is that in addition to its popular olive exports, the city was also historically famous for its silk production. Only about two hundred years ago, nuns in the monastery of Kalograies produced luxurious silk textiles and attracted buyers near and far. Kalamata's residents took control of the resources at their disposal and helped their city to flourish economically and culturally. So when you get the chance to visit Kalamata, make sure to taste the authentic olives you surely have heard about and don't forget to snag a luxurious locally made mulberry silk scarf for yourself!