Messolonghi

Messolonghi appears in History for the first time after Renaissance. Sources of that period refer to it as a fishermen's settlement and a pirates' refuge. Soon the village developed a lot and, in the early 1 7th century, it is already a big town for its time, practising trade within Greece and abroad and shipping with 50 big ships and the first ship-yard in Greece; accommodating vice-consulates of European countries and thriving culturally. A cultural thrive that neither (he temporary occupation and the sack by the Venetians (1684) nor the repeated ravages by the Turks managed to interrupt.

In 1769, during the Russian-Turkish war, Messolonghi revolted for the first time, turned away the Turks and a small ditch was constructed to protect the town. Unfortunately the revolt did not succeed and the Turks burned down the whole (own and its fleet which by then consisted of 80 ships. Nevertheless, Messolonghi recovered soon. New houses and ships were built and the local University resumed its operation attracting students from all over Greece.

When the Revolution broke out in Peloponissos, it became clear that there were only two routes which the Turks could follow in order to suppress it. The first route, through eastern Continental Greece, held a decisive pass through Thermopiles; Messolonghi controlled the second. This explains Ihe importance and the doom of Messolonghi. Messolonghi revolted on May 20, 1821 and the town was fortified. Soon Mavrocordatos (a Greek politician who had been living abroad) chose the town as the seat of the (Government of Western Continental Greece. And the course to sacrifice and glory begins.

The first siege began in October 1822. The besiegers (Omer Vryonis and Kioutahis with an army of 12,000 men) made unfruitful efforts for 3 months. Thus they conceived the idea of surprising the besieged by an assault on Christmas night, when everyone would be at church. But they were informed by a Greek who served as Omer Vryonis' huntsman and were awaiting on the bastions. Therefore the enemy was decimated.

In August 1823 Moustaee Pasha and Omer Vryonis blockaded Messolonghi from land and sea, but by November they were forced to break the blockade with many casualties after a victorious assault by the besieged.

During that same year the first printing-house, where the National Anthem was first printed in Greek and Italian, was established in Messolonghi.

In January 1824 Gordon Byron, the famous English poet, arrived in Messolonghi as an emissary of the Philhellenic Committee, bringing the money of the so much talked about Loan. The arrival boosted the town's hopes. The poet undertook the command of the Souliotes' corps and prepared an expedition in order to free Nafpaktos -which was still under the yoke of the Turks. Unfortunately for Messolonghi and Greece Byron died, his plans unaccomplished, in April.

In the meantime, the mechanic Michael Kokinis was commissioned to plan the walls of the town and supervise their construction. Men, women and children worked to build those walls that were to prove themselves invaluable.

The great, endless, second siege began in April 1825. Kioutahis camped outside the walls of the town, with an army of 40,000 and the Sultan's order "either Messolonghi or your head" to haunt him. The siege, from land only in the beginning, was supplemented in June with blockade from the lagoon, while in November 150 vessels of the Ibrahim fleet blockaded the gulf of Patras. This meant that it wasn't possible to provide the besieged with food by sea anymore. Few times only Admiral Miaoulis managed to break the naval blockade and relieve them temporarily from hunger; five days before the Sortie, unable to approach Messolonghi, he sailed looking from afar and crying.

In December, after Kioutahis’ failure to defeat the besieged or negotiate with them, the Sultan sent Ibrahim over to Messolonghi. He, at first sight, called the walls of the town "a fence" with contempt both for their very state and Kioutahis' inability to conquer them; but two months later he was obliged to ask for Kioutahis' help.

Therefore Messolonghi lay encircled by two armies, well-trained by European officers. An endless series of acts of heroism, self-sacrifice and inexpressible dignity was about to begin. For 12 months the besieged suffered enormously, showing stoicism and great emotional strength. Under the continuous warfare they kept on living as if there was no war around. They wedded, they enjoyed life, they educated their children. The mutual teaching school for the local and the refugees' children did not interrupt its sessions for a moment. But hunger is an invincible enemy. The supplies gradually decreased and the Government in Nafplio was either dilatory or unconcerned. The besieged lived on whatever they could find: from plants of the sea-shore to cats, dogs and rats. Sources with narrations of those days report cases when cooked human parts and intestines were consumed. Despite the hunger not a hint of surrendering; "the town keys are hanging from the muzzles of our cannons" they replied to the besiegers' tempting proposals.

But when there was no water either - for the wells were full of corpses and the water unfit to drink - they all decided to attempt a desperate sortie. Women would wear men's clothes, children would be drugged to sleep, the old and the ill would entrench themselves in powder-magazines in order to blow themselves up when the Turks entered the town and while the rest would be leaving through the walls, sword in hand, on the eve of Palm Sunday (April 10, 1826). Unfortunately, the Turks were informed and waiting. In the furious battle that followed, a great number of combatants and civilians were killed, many others retreated into the town after hearing a voice calling: "back! to the ramparts", fought desperately against the Turks that followed and died with no exception. Ibrahim sent 3,000 salted human ears as a present to the Sultan; the Greeks who were taken prisoners were sold at the slave markets of Egypt; the ones that were locked in the powder-magazines of the town set them on fire as planned and blew themselves up. From the heroic population approximately 700 miserable human beings managed, after many days walk, to arrive in Nafplio.

This is how the biggest collective sacrifice in History took place; 12,000 men, women and children offered themselves as a sacrifice for freedom and human dignity.

Since 1829, when it was eventually liberated, Messolonghi hasn't been in the limelight of Greek history.

Nevertheless during the last decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, the town experienced a remarkable intellectual prosperity; thus it was able to offer Greece five Prime Ministers (Spiridon Trikoupis, Harilaos Trikoupis, Epaminondas Deligiorgis, Dimitrios Valvis, Xenovios Valvis and Greek Culture a considerable) number of poets' and writers' names like Palamas, Malakasis, Drosinis, Regas, Golfis, Travladonis, Liberakis.

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