Messolongi (Greek: Μεσολόγγι, Mesolongi) is a municipality of 34,416 people (according to the 2011 census) in western Greece. The town is the capital of Aetolia-Acarnania regional unit, and the seat of the municipality of Iera Poli Messolongiou (Sacred City of Messolongi). Messolongi is known as the site of a dramatic siege during the Greek War of Independence, and of the death of poet Lord Byron.
Messolongi was first mentioned by a Venetian called Paruta when he was describing the naval Battle of Lepanto near Nafpaktos. According to predominant historical opinion, its name came from the combination of two Italian words, MEZZO and LAGHI which means "in the middle of lakes" or MESSO and LAGHI (Messolaghi) which means "a place surrounded by lakes". Until 1700, Messolongi was under Venetian domination. Its inhabitants were mostly fishermen. They lived in cabins which were made of a kind of waterproof straw and reed and stood on stilts above sea water. These cabins or stilt-houses have always been called "pelades".
North-west of Messolongi are the remains of Pleuron ('Asfakovouni'), a town mentioned in Homer's works. It participated in the Trojan expedition and was destroyed in 234 BC by Demetrius II Aetolicus. The new town, which was built on the remains of old Pleuron, was one of the most important towns in Aitolia. Its monumental fortification comprised thirty towers and seven gates. The remains of the theatre and an enormous water tank with four compartments still exist.
During the Orlov Revolt in 1770 the fleet of Messolongi was defeated and the town passed to the Ottomans. Messolongi revolted on May 20, 1821 and was a major stronghold of the Greek rebels in the Greek War of Independence, being the seat of the Senate of Western Continental Greece. Its inhabitants successfully resisted a siege by Ottoman forces in 1822. The second siege started on April 15, 1825 by Reşid Mehmed Pasha whose army numbered 30,000 men and was later reinforced by another 10,000 men led by Ibrahim Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt. After a year of relentless enemy attacks and facing starvation, the people of Messolongi decided to leave the beleaguered city in the "Exodus of its Guards" (The Sortie) on the night of April 10, 1826. At the time, there were 10,500 people in Missolonghi, 3,500 of whom were armed. Very few people survived the Ottoman pincer movement after the betrayal of their plan.
Due to the heroic stance of the population and the subsequent massacre of its inhabitants by the Turkish-Egyptian forces, the town of Messolongi received the honorary title of Hiera Polis (the Sacred City), unique among other Greek cities. The famous British poet and philhellene Lord Byron, who supported the Greek struggle for independence, died in Messolongi in 1824. He is commemorated by a cenotaph,containing his heart,and a statue located in the town.
The town itself is very picturesque but also modern with functional, regular urban planning. Some very interesting buildings representative of traditional architecture can be seen here. People whose names were related to modern Greek history once lived in some of them. The mansion of the Trikoupis family, Palamas' (poet) house, Valvios Library, Christos and Sophia Moschandreou Gallery of Modern Art emphasize the fact that Messolongi has always been a city of some wealth and refinement. In addition, the Centre of Culture and Art, Diexodos, which hosts cultural events and exhibitions as well as the Museum of History and Art is housed in a neo-classical building in Markos Botsaris Square and hosts a collection of paintings indicative of the struggle of Messolongi, further boosting the city's cultural and artistic profile. The Messolongi Byron Society also, founded in 1991 in the city, is a non profit organisation which is devoted to promoting scholarly and general understanding of Lord Byron's life and poetry as well as cultivating appreciation for other historical figures in the 19th-century international Philhellenic movement, idealists who, like Byron, gave their fortunes, talents, and lives for the cause of Greek War of Independence. The Messolongi Byron Center is now located in the upper floor of Byron House.
Today, the Entrance Gate remains intact and so does part of the fortification of the Free Besieged which was rebuilt by King Otto. Past the gate, there is the Garden of Heroes where several famous and some anonymous heroes who fought during the Heroic Sortie are buried. The Garden of Heroes is the equivalent of the Elysian Fields for modern Greece. Every year the Memorial Day for the Exodus is celebrated on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter); the Greek State is represented by high-ranking officials and foreign countries by their ambassadors.
Messolongi is the native city of five prime ministers Harilaos Trikoupis, Spyridon Trikoupis, Zenobius-Zafirios Valvis, Demetrios Valvis, Epameinondas Deligiorgis, and also of the poets Kostis Palamas, Miltiades Malakassis, Georgios Drossinis, Thomas Gorpas. From Messolongi is also the hagiographer & painters family of Kassolas (Demetrios, Gerassimos, Angelos & Ioannis), the writer Antonis Travlantonis and the philosopher Anastassios Giannaras
The lagoon of Messolongi : The shallow (0.45 to 1.65 m) lagoon of West Central Greece is the more important of all those formed due to silting of rivers Evinos and Acheloos. The region is famous for its rich bird fauna and fish fauna. The shallow waters are assisting the development of rich flora and marine macrophytes, which are food for tens of thousands of ducks, divers, egrets, cormorants, gulls, while regular is the presence of raptors, such as Scissor-bird and Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca).
Messolonghi is known for its fishing products, especially the famous Fish Roe of mullet, as the adjacent lagoon is ideal for aquaculture. The lagoon with its picturesque 'pelades "-the small wooden houses on stilts, in the water- is protected by the Ramsar Convention validated by Greece since 1974 and is an environmental park and ecosystem.
(Translation from Wikipedia by C. Theodorou)