Missolonghi is a walled city, towards the Corinth Gulf, where British poet and philhellene, Lord Byron died in April 1824. A year later the city was besieged a third time by combined Turk and Arab forces. After holding out for twelve months, starved and desperate citizens followed their beleaguered fighting force in the now famous exit on the eve of Palm Sunday, April 1826. Although circa 7,000 people attempted escape less than 1,000 made it to safety. Hundreds of women and girls became slaves, and a macabre display of severed heads adorned the city walls.
Many of those who could not flee, including children and elderly, gathered in the home of Christos Kapsalis, who ignited powder kegs to prevent them being captured alive.
The ‘Sacred City of Missolonghi‘ has a wonderful Garden of Heroes. Once a battle site it now forms a tranquil space to stroll and contemplate. Among the plaques and marble memorials I found this simple stack of kegs a very moving tribute. These heroic acts are commemorated annually with a parade through the town culminating in a re-enactment in the Garden of Heroes.
These dreadful events inspired poet, Dionysios Solomos to write his poem Free Besieged, the foundation of the Greek national anthem.
Research for a sequel to Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, sparked my interest in Missolonghi when I discovered that one of my characters, Cretan rebel leader, Captain Kazanis played a part in the siege. I soon realised fact was better than any plot I could dream up, now all I need to do is find a way to get him there…
Missolonghi sits on the edge of a huge lagoon – an amazing geographical feature.
Walking within Missolonghi’s walls gave shape and scale to a city far larger than I’d imagined from academic research. I even looked down cannon barrels to see where Ottomans camped . When Ibrahim Pasha demanded the city surrender their famous response was, ‘The keys to the gates dangle from the tips of our canons’.
In a garden full of memorials I was delighted to find the pillar dedicated to Notis Botsaris; in my version of events he and Kazanis become brothers in arms.
Next stop, the Museum of the History and the Art of the Sacred City of Missolonghi. Lord Byron had a club foot, and thanks to the museum I’ve seen his shoes – I’ll certainly use this fabulous detail.
It’s no good, I can’t do Missolonghi justice in a single blog post. Come back next week when I’ll take you inside the museum to meet my new hero…