Kalamata used to be called Kalamai, possibly from the many reeds that grow in the delta of Nedon river, in Greek called "kalami". The city is the second largest in population in Peloponnese, sitting on the southwestern part of the land. It is built on the foot of mount Kalathi, which is the edge of Taygetus, on the cove of the Gulf of Messinia. It is an important urban, economic and trade centre of the area and its port is the second of Peloponnese, after the port of Patras.
The city's economy is based on its agricultural produce, and mostly on its olive oil which is of excellent quality, as well as its famous olives. Its modern name is possibly because of an old Byzantine monastery dedicated to Panagia the Kalomata (of beautiful eyes); in turn it was named after a miraculous image of Panagia with impressive and large eyes.
At the end of the 19th century, the city's port was built and up to the middle of the 20th century it was an important nexus of exporting raisins, figs, olive oil and olives. During that time it was known as the Marseilles of Morea; the second oldest Chamber of Commerce was founded there, after the one in Marseilles. The city also evolved into an important industrial centre.
In 1986, a huge earthquake hit the city, taking a toll of both material damages and lives. The city was quickly rebuilt, though, and today it is vibrant with life.
The two most famous events it hosts are the International Dance Festival in July and the "Saitopolemos", a custom dating back to the Turkish rule, organised in the night of Easter. The city is full of visitors at those times, from many different places.
Kalamata's history begins from Fares, an ancient city that was founded by the local hero Fari, possibly built on the site where the Franks later built the castle. The ancient city took part in the Trojan War and was mentioned by Homer. Up to the Middle Byzantine period, around the 10th century, the city is a small village forgotten on the edge of Peloponnese.
It begins to raise in glory after the Fourth Crusade of 1204, since it was taken by William I of Champlitte and later passed to Geoffrey of Villehardouin in 1210. His son was born and died in Kalamata, which he loved and made into an important economic centre of the area. He built the castle, part of which still survives, and the city became the capital of the Barony of Kalames. In 1429, it passed to the Despotate of the Morea.
Franks, Venetians and Turks take their turns in controlling the city. Kalamata was the first to be liberated from the Turks in the 23rd of March 1821 with Kolokotronis, Nikitaras, Petrobey Mavromichalis and Papaflessa to be the city's liberators. In Kalamata, the Messinian Senate (the first central government of the new Greek state) compiled two important documents, the "Warning Unto the European Courts" (a document proclaiming the new state's independence and asking for help and advice) and a similar proclamation with the Americans as recipients.
The most important sights of Kalamata are:
- The Castle, standing tall on the northwest of the city. It was built by the Byzantines, and then rebuilt by the Franks, while the Venetians later destroyed it to built it from scratch; the reason why the Lion of Venice decorates the entrance. The view from this point is amazing, since the whole city, both old and modern, are visible, as well as the Gulf of Messinia.
- The Old City, under the Castle. Picturesque sight with its narrow alleys, the few neoclassical manors that survived the earthquake and charming historical chapels.
- The Ypapantis Square, with the central church of the same name in its centre. The church was built in 1873 on the ruins of an older one that was burned. It has two bell towers and inside is kept a miraculous image of the Saviour of Ypapantis.
- The Square of the 23rd of March, in the old city. It is named after the date of the liberation of Kalamata from the Turks. The Iroon stands on it, and the square and its surrounding area are the most popular and busy parts of the city, during both the day and the night.
- The Chapel of Agioi Apostoloi (Saint Apostles), in the centre of the Square of the 23rd of March. It is comprised of two smaller churches, one built in the 11th and 12th centuries, and the other in the 17th and 18th centuries. The leaders-in-arms of the Revolution took their oaths here in 1821, and after the liberation, the chapel was used for the first Mass of the newly freed city.
- The Navarino Avenue, a coastal avenue of Kalamata on the Gulf of Messinia, framed with beautiful neoclassical buildings and uncountable taverns and cafeterias.
- The Iroo "Eleftheria" (Monument to Freedom), on the square of Vasileas Georgios, honouring the heroes of the Revolution of 1821 Kolokotronis, Mavromichalis and Papaflessas.
- The Public Train Park, an area of 13.5 acres, housing a museum unique in Greece, with many interesting exhibits.
- The Archaeological Museum, with very interesting exhibits, mostly from the Mycenaean period, from all over Messinia. It is completely restored and exhibits its treasures in a modern and vivid way.
- The Folklore Museum, a building of the 19th century, with interesting exhibits from the agricultural life of the area, and from other fields such as weaving and pottery, and archival material dating back to the Revolution of 1821. One of its wings is dedicated to typography and bookbinding, since the first printing shop of the freed Greece was operating in Kalamata.
- The Army Museum, with a great collection of uniforms from 1821, as well as wings dedicated to the Messinians Makedonomachoi, the Balkan Wars, the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the First and Second World Wars.
- The Nunnery dedicated to Agios Konstantinos and Agia Eleni, near the central church of the city and founded in 1796. The nunnery established itself through cultivation of silk and has a small museum with incredible handkerchiefs of Kalamata, parts of the iconostasis of an older church that was built in the 13th century, vestments, priestly vessels and amazing old pictures.