The ancient city of Messene was built in 369 BC at the foot of mount Ithomi, sacred to the Messenians, after the Spartans had suffered a crushing defeat to the Thebans under Epameinondas at the battle of Leuktra (371 BC), which led to the Messenians’ liberation. The city was surrounded by a 9.5 km-long fortification wall, with two gates, the Laconian and the Arcadian. Although the former no longer stands, the latter is now the site’s emblematic monument, winning a Europa Nostra Diploma in 2005 for its excellent restoration. Archaeological excavations, first launched in the late 19th century and resumed since 1986 under Professor Petros Themelis, include a vast programme of impressive restorations. These allow the visitor to form a vivid and accurate picture of the most important public buildings, including the Arsinoe fountain, the Asclepieion building complex, the stadium with the mausoleum of the Saithidae family, the gymnasium, the theatre and the odeon (also called ecclesiasterion, i.e. assembly hall).