Messolongi: Heroes, Flamingoes and Bottarga
A rewarding weekend trip to the “sacred town” of the Greek Revolution and its famous lake.
Though often overlooked by tourists, Messolongi
is just a three-hour drive from Athens
and has something for everyone: the history buff, the foodie, the nature lover – and anyone who knows how to appreciate authenticity in all of its manifestations.
No matter where you look in Messolongi, there’s something of importance to modern Greek history. The town itself is closely identified with the Greek Revolution of 1821, largely because of the dramatic sortie that is also referred to as the Exodus. After a year-long Ottoman siege, thousands of local civilians and soldiers were massacred on April 10, 1826, as they tried to escape the city and raise the siege. The event, while not a military success, won international sympathy for Greece and helped turn the war in their favor. In town, you can see the tomb of the Revolutionary War hero Markos Botsaris as well as dozens of statues of renowned military chieftains. You’ll also find the monument to Lord Byron, who died here at the side of Greek revolutionaries after contracting a high fever, and many other memorials, both to the philhellenes who gave their lives during the sortie and to the unknown individual, the “Free Besieged” that the Greek poet Dionysios Solomos (author of the lyrics to Greece’s national anthem) wrote of in his unfinished poem of that name.
In addition to such important buildings as the old Town Hall, which today houses the Museum of History and Art – Municipal Art Gallery (dedicated to the Greek Revolution), there are other noteworthy initiatives which further highlight the ideas and ideals of the fighters and intellectuals of that period. One such example is the Messolongi Byron Society, an international research center focusing on the life and work of Lord Byron.
The Diexodos Center of Literature and Arts, housed in the family home of Thanassis Razi-Kotsikas, Commander of the Guard of Messolongi during the sortie of 1826, also does significant work in this area. Along with its permanent collection with historic artifacts dating from 1821, it also stages regular modern thematic exhibitions that highlight aspects of the town and that appeal to visitors and residents alike.
Messolongi is the only town in Greece where bird-watching requires just a short walk or bike-ride to the lagoon. Here, in a wetland that is home to more than 270 species of birds, you can see Dalmatian pelicans, herons and flamingoes (close enough to be seen with the naked eye) in an otherworldly setting protected by the Ramsar Convention.
Along the famous 19th century road that reaches across the lagoon to the island of Tourlida, you will see the pelades, the fishermen’s wooden shacks built on stilts planted in the lagoon’s silty bottom, and the gaites, the elegantly constructed wooden boats with the stafnokari (square fishing nets made for shallow waters and strung between two poles). The best time of the day for fishermen, cyclists, photographers, lovers and lost poets in general is sunset; Messolongi is famous for this “start-of-evening” show.
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