During the War of Independence, the strategically important town of Messolongi was chosen by Mavrokordatos as the Fanariot western outpost. Britain’s philhellenic bard Lord Byron arrived there in 1823 with the intention of organising the troops and supporting the Greek war effort. After months of vain attempts, Byron contracted a fever and died on 19 April 1824, his immediate aims unfulfilled.
But Byron’s death was not in vain – it spurred international forces to hasten the end of the War of Independence, making him a Greek national hero. Many men, now in their 70s, bear the name Byron (Vyronas in Greek) and most Greek towns have a street named after him.
In the spring of 1826, under the helm of Egyptian general Ibrahim, Messolongi was captured by the Turks. Their year-long siege drove 9000 men, women and children to escape on the night of 22 April 1826 through what is now called the Gate of Exodus. Most took refuge on Mt Zygos, only to be caught and killed; many others jumped to their death rather than face capture. This tragic exodus was immortalised in Dionysios Solomos’ epic poem ‘I Eleftheri Poliorkimeni’ (‘The Free Besieged’).