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Pylos: A hub for history buffs
The Bay of Navarino in the southwestern Peloponnese, which is overlooked by the town of Pylos, 52 kilometers from Kalamata, is one of the biggest natural harbors in the Mediterranean. On October 20, 1827, it was the scene of the last battle fought at sea involving ships with sails, one of the most one-sided in naval history. The battle was also decisive in saving the fledgling Greek republic from collapse at a time when the war of independence against the Ottomans had virtually unraveled.

In 1825, after repeated failed attempts to quell the Greek rebellion, Sultan Mahmud II asked for the help of his Egyptian vassal Mohammad Ali. The latter sent his adopted son, Ibrahim Pasha, an Albanian from Kavala, who began a scorched-earth policy of exterminating or removing Greeks from their land. Under strong pressure from public opinion and wary of Russia’s aggressive ambitions against the Ottomans, Britain led an effort to coerce them into accepting a compromise.

With the July 6, 1827 Treaty of London, Britain, Russia and France agreed to force the Ottoman government to grant autonomy within the empire to the Greeks and despatched naval squadrons to the eastern Mediterranean to enforce their policy. The larger Egyptian fleet was anchored in Navarino Bay. After communication with Ibrahim proved futile, the allied ships blockaded and entered the bay on October 15.

The allied commander-in-chief, Admiral Edward Codrington, anchored his ship in proximity to the Egyptian flagship, hoping his counterpart would agree to talk. Instead, he sent the British admiral an order to withdraw, to which Codrington replied he had not come to receive orders but to give them. On October 20, a messenger boat was fired upon and the allied fleets responded in force. By evening, 60 of the 72 Egyptian ships had been sunk and over 6,000 sailors were dead. The combined allied losses came to 177 dead and only a few ships damaged. Thus, the event which opened the way to Greek independence happened more by accident than by design.

The wrecks of the sunken ships can still be seen on a clear and calm day.

On the southern end of the bay is the Niokastro fort, whose impressive fortifications cover an expanse of 30 acres and offer wonderful views. Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, it is one of the best-preserved castles in Greece and hosts the Underwater Archaeological Research Center.

Source: Ekathimerini [April 15, 2011]

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