Also spelled Mesolóngi or Messolóngi (and some other variants and transliterations invented by Italian and English authors) and meaning more or less "amidst meadows." City in western Greece on the north coast of the Gulf of Patras, 244km (151 mi) by road due west of Athens; population ca. 11.000; administrative capital of the prefecture of Aetolia and Acarnania.
Mesolongi is a very new city by Greek standards, having been founded only in the 16th century. It originally lay on several islets in the mouth of the Evinos and Acheloos rivers but now lies beside a lagoon created by their silting. The Mesolongi Lagoon is one of the most important and scenic wetlands of the Eastern Mediterranean despite its industrial misuse as a major source of sea salt, for fish farming, and as a receptacle for waste coming down the rivers. The city gets little mention until the early 18th century when it emerged as one of the most prominent shipping centres in Greece and began acquiring riches due to its location on the west coast that made for shorter links with Italy and allowed it to get a slice of the British-dominated shipping in the region. By 1770, at least 80 seagoing ships called the port home. The city's participation in the insurrection of that year saw it burned down and its inhabitants flee to the Ionian islands, only to return and rebuild both their fleet and their city within the next 30 years.
The power gained through shipping of this city and many others on the Gulf of Corinth and other parts of Greece was one of the motivators for the Greek war of independence that began in 1821 and included Mesolongi by the end of the year. It was during this struggle that the city wrote the finest page in its history. Much strife and internal squabbling among factions of the Greek liberation movement led to a resurgence of the Ottoman forces and significant losses in the mainland part of the country. its reputation was enhanced due to its choice by the philhellene Lord Byron and other romantics to join the Greeks in their war. Its disagreeable, swampy climate was probably the cause of his death. His heart is kept beneath his statue in the city centre.
The event that marks the city's history was the second siege of the city in 1825/6. The first attempt by Turkish forces to take the rebellious city had ended in failure on 1822-12-31 and the city had become a steady source of human and material resources for the Greeks despite a naval blockade which the wily Greek captains often ran. In April of 1825 the Turkish general Reshid Pasha laid siege with 15.000 Turkish and Albanian troops against 3000-5000 defenders but the inhabitants' frequent raids and his poor supply line allowed him to make no headway for six months. He was then joined by the 10.000-strong force of Ibrahim Pasha who had been rampaging across the western Peloponnese. Together they surrounded the city and tightened the blockade with the aim of starving it into surrender. Outnumbered eight to to one and desperately short of food and every other necessity, the defenders were getting more desperate by the day. By April, there was nothing left to eat. Even rats were in short supply, themselves finding nothing edible.
Faced with certain death either of malnutrition or at the hands of the Turks the night of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday, 1826-04-23, saw 9000 people, at least 7000 of whom were women and children, make a break through the Turkish ranks. They were, however, betrayed by a Bulgarian deserter and ambushed. Of the 9000 who left only 1800 of the first party made it past the Albanian soldiers sent by the Turkish commanders and reached Ámfissa fifty-odd miles to the east. The 3000-odd defenders, locals and freedom fighters from other areas, who had stayed behind to distract the enemy fought to the last man before the Turks captured the city itself.
The fall of Mesolongi, already known as adopted city of Lord Byron, was an important military success for the Ottoman Empire but the slaughter of its inhabitants was a public relations disaster that hastened the intervention of the great powers on the Greek side, an intervention which would prove to be the deciding factor of the war. Modern Greek literature has paid much tribute to these events, most prominently by national poet Dionysios Solomós who wrote an epos titled the Free Besieged and also added several stanzas about it to his earlier Hymn to Liberty which is now the Greek national anthem.
The city's role in occupying 25000 elite Turkish troops for as long as it did and the "Exodus of Mesolongi" on that fateful Easter Sunday earned it the title of "Holy City" for the enormous sacrifices it made during the war. Still, Mesolongites aren't very popular since too many of them let the "holy city" stuff go to their head and have a mostly deserved reputation of being stuck-up in Greece. In reality it's a small, provincial city with little more than nice scenery, masses of mosquitos and a museum with memorabilia of the war of independence.
The visitor will probably like its atmosphere but, unless interested in its recent history, following in the footsteps of Byron, bird-watching or fishing in the lagoon, will find little excitement. It's reachable only by road, using the coastal highway of the north Peloponnese and crossing back to the mainland via ferry if coming from Athens.