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Venetian Athens

Venetian Athens

Venetian Interlude (1684-1689)

Venetian Athens: The Destruction of the Parthenon

The Parthenon Destroyed

In 1684 the sixth war broke out between the Ottoman Empire and Venice, a further stage in an apparently unending struggle between the two powers for control of the Aegean. An expedition under Captain-General Francesco Morosini landed in the Peloponessos, speedily liberating most of it from Turkish control. The feelings of the Greeks of the day must have been ambivalent. Deliverance from the Turks would have been a mercy, but since 1204 the Venetians had probably wreaked as much destruction in the region as had the Turks, and were equally hard masters.

Following up his success in the south, Morosini sailed to Piraeus with 10,000 men, mostly German mercenaries, landing on 21st September. On the next day his force marched to Athens and occupied the lower town. The Turkish garrison and population barricaded themselves on the Acropolis. Attempts were made to tunnel into the rock under the walls, but when the chief sapper fell to his death they were abandoned. Morosini then brought up his artillery onto the Mouseion ă▀ll and tried to bombard the citadel, but most of their shots went over the hill and landed on the Greek town on the other side, provoking indignant demands for compensation.

On 25th September a Turkish deserter told Morosini that most of the Turks' ammunition was stored in the Parthenon, and that the most important of the women and children of the Turkish community were also taking shelter there, thinking that the Venetians would not bombard the priceless edifice. Without any hesitation, Morosini ordered the artillery to direct their fire towards the Parthenon. On the evening of the next day, an artillery lieutenant from Luneburg scored a direct hit. There followed an explosion that shook the entire town as the munitions exploded. The Parthenon was blown apart and about three hundred people, including the garrison commander, were killed. Even the besiegers on the Museion ăill were showered with fragments of marble.

After that, the garrison surrendered, and it and the remaining Turkish population, were evacuated by sea. Morosini sent a report to the Senate of Venice, ascribing his speedy victory to 'a lucky shot on a powder store.' The Fetihiyeh Mosque was quickly converted into a Catholic church dedicated to Saint Dennis, and a solemn Te Deum was celebrated.

When a large Turkish force assemb1ed at Chalkis, in the next year, the Venetians reluctantly decided that they had no realistic alternative but to evacuate the town they had so recently occupied. An initial proposal was made to blow up the entire Acropolis fortress in order to deny it to the Turks, but luckily that was rejected. Nevertheless, unlike his mercenaries, quite unfazed by the destruction he had already inflicted on one of the most precious monuments of humanity, Morosini decided to remove some of the sculptural decorations of the Parthenon to take back to Venice, to 'add to the splendour of the republic.' Clearly the spirit of 1204 was still alive. He instructed his engineers to take down the figure of Poseidon and the chariot of Victory from the pediment of the temp1e, but the ropes broke during the operation and they fell to the ground and were smashed.

Reluctant to leave without any souvenirs at all, he took with him a large marble lion found near the Thiseion, and the similar one which had given the name 'Porto Leone' to the harbour of Piraeus. They went to adorn the Arsenal in the lagoon, where they may still be seen today.

The departure of the Venetians placed the Greeks of Athens in a very difficult position They had certainly not opposed the invaders, and therefore dreaded the wrath of the returning Turks. ┴ few sailed to Zakynthos, which was then under Venetian rule. Many made their way went to other areas under Venetian control: to Nauplia, Patras, Gastouni, Koroni and Dimitsana. Some of these received grants of land or money and settled permanently in the Peloponnesus. But most of the Greek population fled to the island of Salamis, where they built themselves houses, and even churches, at Ambelakia

┴ few people stayed behind in the city, but they soon found themselves prey to marauding brigands, and were forced to take refuge in the surrounding hills ┴ chronicler reported:' They took whatever they could and escaped to the mountains. Most of the houses collapsed, the streets filled up, and the entire town became a lamentable wilderness. Marauders set fire to the trees, and the flames from these burned down even the ancient monuments.' Athens remained a ghost town for three years. Even the surrounding mountains were not secure, for Pendeli Monastery was pillaged at this time.

One of the most prominent citizens, Limberakis, sought an amnesty for the people from the Sultan, and was successful, so some Athenians returned. Those who remained at Ambelakia were attacked by a force of Turks, who killed all the men they could, carried away three hundred and fifty women and children into slavery, and took everything they could plunder. In May 1689, the Venetian Dimitri´s Gaspari offered to transfer the survivors to Aegina on his galleys, but by that time most of them had already decided to accept an amnesty from the Sultan and returned to Athens.

It was in the interest of the Turks to have the Athenians return so that they would be able to provide revenues in the future, so sultan Suleiman II issued a three-year tax amnesty, and the voivode provided funds for rebuilding. In time, even many of those who had settled in Venetian controlled areas in the Peloponnesus, but who had not received grants of land, gradually drifted back home.

ę John L. Tomkinson


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