The Castle of Methoni

The castle of Methoni -actually a fortified city- is one of the most important and the most beautiful castles in Greece. It was built by the Venetians after 1209 at a strategic location, on a rock penetrating the sea and is separated from the land by an artificial moat.

Nowadays the fortress, even though in ruins, continue to be impressive. The castle of Methoni occupies the whole area of the cape and the southwestern coast to the small islet that has also been fortified with an octagonal tower and is protected by the sea on its three sides. Its north part, the one that looks to land, is covered by a heavily fortified acropolis.

In the small peninsula in the SE end of Peloponnese there has always been a city since the ancient times, renown for its harbour. It has been identified to the city Pedasus that Homer mentions as the last of the seven cities that Agamemnon offers Achilles in order to subdue his rage. Pausanias names the city “Mothoni” and mentions that it was named after either the daughter of Oineas or after the small fortified islet, the name of which was “Mothon Lithos”.

During the 4th century B.C. Methoni was fortified with more elaborately and remained autonomous until the imperial roman years, when it enjoyed the favour of some emperors. During the Byzantine years, it was still an important harbour and one of the major cities of the Peloponnese, and the seat of a bishop.

The Byzantine commander Belisarius used it as a base to attack the Vandals of North Africa in the 6th century, and there is reference to a Byzantine port here in 583.

The Venetians started having their eye on the harbour of Methoni since the 12th century, since 'it was in the middle of the route from Venice to the East'. Moreover, in 1125, they had launched an attack against the pirates who used it as a shelter, because they had captured Venetian traders on their way home from the East.

When the Franks had Constantinople under a siege in 1204, Geoffrey de Villehardouin strayed with his ship to Methoni on his way to Constantinople and had to spend winter in the area. He then accepted the invitation of the local lord Ioannis Kantakouzinos to help him occupy the Western Peloponnese. The cooperation was successful. When Kantakouzinos died, his son tried to break the alliance, with no success, since Villehardouin had understood that the conquering of the Peloponnese by the Latins would be easy.

In 1206, however, the Venetians occupied Methoni and their domination was established in the spring of 1209 with a treaty signed with Villehardouin, who made all the necessary consents that would guarantee him the help of Venice for the final subordination of the Peloponnese. The Venetians fortified Methoni, which developed, as well as Koroni, into an important trade center with great prosperity.

It was only natural to attract the attention of the Turks, who, despite the treaties with Venice, were harbouring the notion of conquering the area. Vaghiazit II, in late 1500, gathered his forces against Methoni, the important middle station between Venice and the Holy Lands, where every traveler stopped on their way to the East.

Sultan Vaghazit, despite the hard siege, would not have been able to invade it if the inhabitants, thrilled by the arrival of reinforcements, had not deserted the walls, a fact that the yenitsars took advantage of and invaded the tower from the governor´s palace. The city was given to the flames, the Catholic bishop was killed while talking to the people, the men were decapitated, the women and children were sold to slavery. On the 9th of August 1500, Methoni fell after having been in the hands of the Venetians for about three hundred years. Happy for his trophy, Vagiazit made the yenitsar who first climbed the walls a santakbei, meaning a provincial commander and on the first Friday after the invasion, when the fire went out, he went to the desecrated cathedral to offer his thanks to the god of battle, to whom, as he confessed, when he was looking into the deep moat, owed the conquering of this fortified city. The desolation was so complete that he ordered families to be sent “from every village of Moreas ” so that Methoni regains its population again.

The walls were repaired and the period of the first Turkish occupation began. In 1531 the Knights of St John landed on the port of Methoni, planning to occupy the previously Venetian colony. Initially, they managed with a conspiracy to disembark and take out the guards. But the occupation of the fortress was not completed because Turkish reinforcements arrived that forced them to leave, after having ran shacked the town and arrested 1600 prisoners. In 1572 the shores of Methoni were threatened by Don Juan of Austria, who did not manage to take it.

During the whole of the 16th and 17th century, even though the look of Methoni has not changed, the decline in all sectors was obvious. In June 1686 the forces of Morozini had Methoni under siege. The Turks surrendered on the 10th of July. The walls, that suffered substantial damages during the siege were repaired and new inhabitants were sent to reinforce the population of the town. However, this second period of Venetian occupation did not last for long. In 1715 the Turks launched a siege to the castle and the Venetian defenders, deserted it. During this second period of Turkish occupation, the decline was complete. As is apparent from travelers´ descriptions, the population was reduced, the battlements were in bad condition and the harbour became shallow. The most important trade conducted was that of slaves!

During the first years of the Greek Revolution (1821), Methoni was one of the few castles that was not taken by the Greeks.

In 1825, the forces of the Egyptian Ibrahim pasha landed in Methoni (invited by the Turks to fight the Greeks). The headquarters of Ibrahim was the command building of Methoni, above the entrance of the castle. In the same building, the French general Maison who freed the town together with others in the Peloponnese, settled in 1829.


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