The Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus (canal) of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland, arguably making the peninsula an island.
Next, we head for Ancient Messene. The city has the rare advantage of not having been destroyed or covered by later settlements. This landscape combines the mountainous majesty of Delphi and the lowland riverine tranquillity of Olympia, with the looming bare limestone mass of Mt Ithome and its acropolis, and the low, fertile valley around the ancient city.
Ancient Messene was founded in 369 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas (after the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, which resulted in Spartan defeat and the establishment of the Theban Hegemony). It became the capital of the free Messenian state following a long period (about four centuries) of occupation of the Messenian territory by the Spartans. The foundation of the city of Messene marked the end of Spartan dominion. The city became the political, economic, social, religious, and artistic center of the free Messenians, who in the previous centuries had been reduced to the status of helots or perioikoi under the Spartan yoke.
Messenia, the southwest region of the Peloponnese was, in Archaic and Classical times, under the control of Sparta. It was where the famous helots lived, the native population who the Spartans had reduced to a slave-like status, and who were forced to farm the land so that the Spartan citizens could devote their lives to full-time military pursuits. In the early 4th century B.C. that situation changed when Sparta experienced a series of catastrophic military defeats by Thebes. The Thebans, under their talented general Epaminondas, liberated Messenia and helped the people of the region find a new city to hold Sparta in check and prevent any resurgence of her power. Elite Messenian refugees, living in exile in other parts of the Greek world, also flocked back to Greece to take part in building this new city.
The city lies at the southern foot of Mount Ithome, a point of key strategic importance, described by some ancient authors together with Acrocorinth as being like the horns of a bull – whoever controlled both controlled the entire Peloponnese.
You will explore at your own pace and when ready your tour leader will treat you to a great lunch & drinks before heading back to your Athens accommodation but with a couple of stops to stretch and have a drink.