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Odeion (or Ecclesiasterion) of Ancient Messene

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The Ecclesiasterion (Odeion) of Ancient Messene is located near the village of Mavromati, in Messene Municipality, Messenia Prefecture. It forms part of the architectural complex of the Asklepieion and the first phase of its construction is dated to the late 3rd c. BC. The repairs to the proscenium walls and the orchestra ,carried out in the 1st and 3rd c. AD, are evident.
Plan of the Ecclesiasterion (Odeion) of Ancient Messene

The Ecclesiasterion (Odeion) is a theatrical structure with an upper and lower cavea, inscribed in a rectangular shell in the form of a high, strong buttress (retaining wall). The north and east outer sides of the retaining wall are built of bossed, pseudoisodomic (irregular coursed) masonry. In the northwest corner of the retaining wall is a covered staircase leading to the upper passageway.

The Odeion has a semicircular orchestra, a stage and a proscenium. On either side of the proscenium are small storerooms for the stage sets used in performances. (Photograph).

The lower cavea is divided into three cunei with 11 rows of seats in each. The upper cavea was also divided into three cunei. On the side of the road to the east there are two entrances leading to the interior of the cavea, while an entrance on the west side leads from the orchestra to the peristyle stoa of the Asklepieion.

At the east end of the orchestra is set the large base of a bronze equestrian statue which depicted the benefactor of Ancient Messene, Claudius Saithidas.

In modern times, prior to 1986, the Odeion was used for theatrical performances. In 2002 it was used in a pilot study for the presentation of ancient Greek musical themes. Following the recent consolidation, reconstruction and conservation work (2000-2004), the Odeion is preserved in excellent condition, is open to the public and can be used for events appropriate to its size and character.

Petros Themelis
Archaeologist

Monument Name

Ecclesiasterion (or Odeion) of Ancient Messene

Category

Odeion

Brief Description

Theatrical structure with a cavea (upper and lower), inscribed in a rectangular shell in the form of a high, strong retaining wall.

Images - Plans

There is full photographic documentation and drawings of the monument in whole and in part, held in the archive of the Society of Messenian Archaeological Studies (33 Psaromilingou St., 105 53 Athens, tel. no. 210.3251481).

Documentation - Bibliography

Π. Θέμελης, Αρχαία Μεσσήνη, Ο Χώρος και τα Μνημεία, Αθήνα 1998, pp. 22-25

Π. Μπίρταχας, Το Πρόπυλο και το Εκκλησιαστήριο της Αρχαίας Μεσσήνης, Αθήνα 2008.

Location

Mavromati (now Ancient Messene), Messene Municipality, Messenia Prefecture.

Dating

The monument forms part of the architectural complex of the Asklepieion and the first phase of its construction is dated to the late 3rd c. BC. The repairs to the proscenium walls and the orchestra carried out in the 1st and 3rd c. AD are evident.

General Description of Monument

Theatrical structure with a cavea (upper and lower), inscribed in a rectangular shell in the form of a high, strong retaining wall. The north and east outer sides of the retaining wall are built of bossed, pseudoisodomic (irregular coursed) masonry. The west side of the retaining wall adjoins the east stoa of the Asklepieion. A covered outer staircase in the northwest corner of the retaining wall leads to the upper passageway. The orchestra is semicircular with a diameter of 9.70 m. The stage is 21 m. wide. There is a proscenium with six semi-columns and storerooms for stage sets on either side. The lower cavea is divided into three cunei with 11 rows of seats in each. The upper cavea, which has not been restored, was also tripartite. A large number of stone seats from the upper cavea remain, but the retaining walls of the cavea need to be restored to a great height, potentially affecting the aesthetic result and stability of the monument. Two entrances on the side of the road on the east side lead to the interior of the lower cavea. An entrance on the west side leads from the orchestra to the east stoa of the Asklepieion. At the east end of the orchestra is set the large base of a bronze equestrian statue which depicted the benefactor of the city Claudius Saithidas, dating to the 2nd c. AD.

Current Situation

The state of preservation is excellent following the recent conservation, restoration and reconstruction work (2000-2004).

Excavations - Interventions

The monument was first excavated in 1895 by the young archaeologist Themistocles Sofoulis (later a Samos statesman and Prime Minister of Greece). It was investigated in 1909 and 1925 by Prof. Georgios Oikonomos and later by Anastasios Orlandos, member of the Academy of Athens, between 1956 and 1974, with funding from the Archaeological Society at Athens. In 1993-1998 the area north and east of the Ecclesiasterion was excavated by Prof. Petros Themelis, a Fellow of the Archaeological Society at Athens and its representative in Ancient Messene. Between 1997 and 2001 restoration-reconstruction work was carried out in the lower cavea, the proscenium and the orchestra, according to a study prepared by architect Panagiotis Birtachas as part of a 2nd Community Support Fund programme. In 2005, in the framework of the 3rd CSF, the surfaces were conserved and cleaned with biocides, and the paved floor of the Roman orchestra was restored. Public information signs were set up between the semi-columns of the proscenium, and the outer area of the access routes to the cavea and the orchestra was laid out.

Permitted Uses

Following the recent consolidation, reconstruction and conservation work, the Ecclesiasterion can be used for events appropriate to the size and character of the monument. The establishment and repetition of such events at regular intervals, and their adoption by the local community and authorities, will contribute to public awareness of the need for the lasting protection of this important monument.

History of Modern Uses

The monument had been used prior to 1986 and before the consolidation interventions for theatrical performances by local theatrical groups, details of which have not been recorded. In May 2002 it was used in a pilot study for the presentation of ancient Greek musical themes with choral accompaniment by the Department of Music Studies of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in the framework of the Council of Europe MINOTEC Programme, concerning ancient places of performance and their conditions of use.

Further Information

Following the layout work, access to the monument is unimpeded and safe. There is a water supply nearby. An electrical lighting study has been partially realised. In October 2008 the theatre was used for the first, celebratory General Meeting of the founding members of the DIAZOMA Association, chaired by the Association president Stavros Benos, and for a concert by the New Greek Quartet held on the same evening and organised by the Society of Messenian Archaeological Studies in collaboration with Messenia Prefecture (Nomarch Dimitris Drakos) and the 38th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities (Director Xeni Arapogianni).

Intellectual Rights

The intellectual rights for the study and publication of the monument are held by the Archaeological Society at Athens and executed through its representative Prof. Petros Themelis.

Jurisdiction

The monument belongs to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, specifically the 38th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, based in the Benakeion Archaeological Museum of Kalamata, which is responsible for Messenia Prefecture.

Latitude

37.175765°

Longitude

21.92111°

Altitude

310 m