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Greek Archaeologist Petros Themelis Who Revived Ancient Messene Dies

Petros Themelis Ancient Messene
Petros Themelis at the theater of Ancient Messene. Credit: AMNA

Leading Greek archaeologist Petros Themelis, who is best known for pioneering work at the site of Ancient Messene in Southwest Peloponnese, died aged 87, it was announced on Friday.

Ancient Messene’s extensive site includes a theater (one of the largest surviving ancient theaters in Greece) and the Sanctuary of Isis and Serapis.

Under Themelis’ initiative, the buildings were reconstructed and the site opened to the public for events, turning Ancient Messene – whose history ranges from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD – into a living museum and a model for other sites. Its extent covers at least 40 hectares.

Themelis Ancient Messene
The ancient theater of Messene, on Greece’s Peloponnesian Peninsula. Credit: AMNA

Themelis directed the restoration of Ancient Messene from 1986

Themelis was the son of writer Giorgos Themelis, and was born in Thessaloniki in 1936. He studied archaeology and history at the University of Thessaloniki and received his doctorate from the University of Munich.

Among the positions he held in the archaeological service was head of ephorates in Messinia and Ilia (Peloponnese), Attica and Evia, Fokida-Lokrida and Etoloakarnania (all in Central Greece) from 1963 to 1980, and he also headed the Ephorate of Paleoanthropology and Speleology (1980-1984).

He directed the Delphi Museum (1977-1980), and Section I of the excavations at Ancient Eleftherna which is located between Rethymno and Iraklio on Crete (1985-2003).

He directed the excavations and restoration of Ancient Messene from 1986 until his death and received the European prize Europa Nostra for his work there twice, in 2006 (Madrid) and 2011 (Amsterdam).

In addition, he taught classical archaeology at the University of Crete (1984-2003), among other positions he held there.

Themelis also published 10 monographs, 250 reports, tour and site guides, and articles in Athens and Messinia newspapers. Messini, Andritsena and Kalamata had all made him an honorary citizen for his contributions, while he was also an honorary or life member of several Greek and foreign institutes.

He was decorated with the Order of the Phoenix, Commander in 2005 (President Kostis Stefanopoulos), and Order of the Phoenix, Grand Commander in 2016 (President Prokopios Pavlopoulos).

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recalled the archaeologist, who was devoted to a life “in the trenches” and to highlighting the importance of Ancient Messene.

“Themelis was a great Greek because he leaves behind as valuable legacy in the light he tended, so that our national heritage always shines through time.”

Among other messages of condolences for his death were those of former prime minister Antonis Samaras, who said that Themelis’ “scientific contribution, especially in Messinia, is invaluable,” and his death is a great loss to Greek culture.

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