The first Siege of Messolonghi, dates back in October 25th, 1822, when Kioutachis and Omer Vryonis tried to take it. Their first unsuccessful attempt to conquer the city ended two months later, December 31st, after a strong resistance from the residents towards the attacks of the Ottoman Empire which underwent significant losses.
The second siege started on 15th April 1825 by Kioutachis whose army numbered 30,000 men and was later reinforced by another 10,000 men led by Ibrahim. The second one ended on April 10th, 1826, with the heroic Sortie of Messolonghi which was carried out in two phases.
The first phase of the siege took place from April to December 1825, when organized troops of Kioutachis, 30,000 Turks, surrounded Messolonghi, being however unable to storm the walls.
After vain attempts of Kioutachis to reach a negotiation with the besieged, the commander of the Ottomans, Reşid Mehmed Pasha ordered a naval blockade so the residents of the city couldn’t bring any more supplies into the city and would eventually succumb or die from starvation. In late 1825, Imbrahim rushed to join and strengthen the military forces of Kioutachis with more than 15,000 Egyptians.
The situation soon became unbearable for the defenders of the town. After one year of continuous attacks and hunger the leaders of the Greeks, Notis Botsaris,Kitsos Tzavelas and Makris made a plan to escape the city. When all food supplies had run out and people started dying from food deprivation and illnesses, the besieged Greeks decided that all women and children should somehow safely burst out of the gates, while the rest men would remain to defend the town even by sacrificing their own lives. Georgios Karaiskakis would attack the Turks from the rear and create a diversion while the besieged Greeks would escape the city. However, only 7,000 inhabitants, out of 9,000, were strong enough to take part.
On the night of April 10th, 1826 the inhabitants of Messolonghi decided the mass heroic Exodus of Messolonghi. The great sacrifice took place on Saturday, Lazarus Day and Palm Sunday.The calendar writes April 10th, 1826.
Unfortunately, the Greeks were betrayed by someone and the Turks had been made aware of the escape plan. When the refugees charged out of the city gates they were fired upon by Turks and Egyptians from defensive positions. Many of the Greeks panicked and fled inside the walls. Only 1,000 made it to safely escape the city walls. The next morning Palm Sunday the Turks entered the city. Many of the Greeks decided to kill themselves by blowing themselves up with gunpowder rather than surrender and be killed by the enemy. The rest were slaughtered or sold into slavery. The Turks displayed 3,000 severed heads off the walls.
The town was almost completely destroyed and remained under Turkish control until 1829 when it began its reconstruction process. Therefore, it proved to be the greatest Greek victory, after the sacrifice of its inhabitants for the freedom of the next generations. In the ensuing years, the town of Messolonghi produced among others, several people of history, artists and scientists, architects and men of letters and of course the heroic English Philhellene and poet Lord Byron.
Messolongi, Source of Inspiration
The remarkable event of the Exodus constituted Messolonghi a symbol of heroism and sacrifice. The strength of the soul that characterized the Free Besieged stood as a source of inspiration for great foreign and Greek artists, who attempted to impress this tragic sacrifice on poetry, literature and paintings, with the most exquisite example the “Hymn to Freedom” in 1823 by Greek poet from Zakynthos, Dionysios Solomos.
The Greek Anthem is in fact based on this large -158 strophes (stanzas)- poem. The latter was inspired by the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. According to the legend, our National poet would hear the cannonade coming from the Ottoman siege of Messolonghi and this is what actually inspired him to write the “Hymn to Freedom”.