In Western Greece, there is a sacred place that welcomes you with its natural wealth, stout and hearty citizens and the watery charms of a famous lagoon
Even the finest photographers have trouble capturing the light that turns the vast Messologi lagoon golden at sunset. Situated between two lagoons, Messologi (from the Italian mezzo laghi, hence its alternative spelling, Messolonghi) is a flat city, beloved of cyclists and genuinely family-friendly.
Echoes of the Greek Revolution abound: Lord Byron died here, inspiring hundreds of Philhellenes to support the Cause, and national poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos, immortalized the famous siege in an epic poem. The lagoon is a fisherman’s tale of cinematic proportions, made up of ‘corrals’, or special fishing enclosures, weirs that fiddle a little with the water flow, fishing huts on stilts, flat-bottomed boats and the islets of Kleisova and Agios Sostis; sights that will have you clicking your camera nonstop. Here in Western Greece, Messologi shares its secrets.
What to do in Messolongi
Revolutionary Messolongi: the stand of the free
For Greeks, the city stands for an unparalleled show of courage and resistance. Besieged by a much larger force of Ottoman Turks and Egyptians for 12 months, the whole population decided to break out in April 1826. Only a fraction survived but the ‘Exodus’ became a milestone in Greek history and was a catalyst for greater international support. Messolongi was declared a sacred city in 1937.
One of the Mediterranean’s richest wetlands
The twin lagoons of Messolongi-Aitolikos, together with the deltas of the Acheloos and Evinos rivers, form one of the Mediterranean’s largest habitats for birds and fish. It extends from the foothills of Mt Varasova to the bay of Astakos on the Ionian, with a coastline of 50km, covering 140,000 sq m. Protected by the Ramsar Convention, it attracts more than 200 types of birds, best observed between October and March.
Avgotaraho: a delicacy fit for the Sultans
Messolongi bottarga, dried grey mullet roe, is prized the world over. Under the Turks, the Sublime Porte in Constantinople consumed it all. Now you too can taste this briny treat, a unique product of Greece, which some prefer to caviar.
Walking in the garden of heroes
The creation of this leafy garden commemorating the heroes of the Greek War of Independence of 1821 was one of the first acts of the Capodistrias government in 1830. Here, you’ll see the tombs of many renowned patriots as well as that of Lord Byron. Afterwards, you’ll want to visit the Museum of History and Art, in a handsome neoclassical building of 1932 and the Folklore Museum.
The Contemporary Art Gallery houses an important collection of 20th-century Greek painters, sculptors and engravers. This cultured city appreciates art and history but also has a taste for the good life, as you’ll find in its hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants, which are open year round.