By Aurelia, contributing editor
The extraordinary life of Laskarina Bouboulina, the heroine of Greece’s War of Independence, and the only female in the world to hold the title of Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, is immortalized on the island of Spetses in a museum that was once her home. Located behind the harbor, the three-hundred-year-old museum contains her famous headscarf embroidered in gold, her pistol, and many items that were personal belongings.
Displayed throughout the museum are artifacts and objects covering the island’s unique cultural history during a period of almost four thousand years. The museum is rich with numerous other artifacts and objects dating from the Classic and Proto-Hellenic periods to the Post-Byzantine years.
Highlights of the exhibition include a tour of the grand drawing room where meetings of the Admiral’s war councils were held, and a forty-minute video narrating her life story. She was born in a Turkish prison in Constantinople, demonstrated extraordinary love of her country during her life, was credited with many heroic feats during the war, earned the title of Admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, sailed with eight ships to form a naval blockade on the island of Nafplion, and was tragically killed by an assassin’s bullet after the war during a family feud.
Admiral Bouboulina inherited the fortune of her second husband, Dimitrios Bouboulis, who fought with the Russians against the Turks in the Russo-Turkish war. At age forty, the Ottoman’s tried to confiscate her property in Spetes and she fled to Constantinople where she sought the protection of the Russian Ambassador. Determined to return to her island and fight, she joined an underground movement there and used most of her fortune to buy ships, including the huge battleship Agamemnon. She recruited Spetses men to serve under her command and bought arms, ammunition, food and clothing for the soldiers and sailors. She said she fought during the Greek War of Independence “for the sake of my nation.”
The sea battle and destruction of the Turkish ship during the battle in the harbor of Spetses are celebrated annually on the island during the week- long Armata Festival in September. Prince Michael of Greece honors the Admiral in his book, Bouboulina, Heroine of the Greeks, and Irene Papas played this larger than life figure in a 1959 film by Costas Andritsos; it is shown on Greek TV every August 25. Unfortunately, the film is no longer in print, but it can be seen upon request at the National Cinematic Museum in Athens. Two English language videos about the War of Independence, however, do not give her one mention. Nikos Kazantzakis, the great Cretan writer, satirizes her in Zorba the Greek through the character of Madame Hortense, whom he secretly calls “Bouboulina.” He pretends to romance Madame Hortense and portrays her as a prostitute who has “known many admirals,” and cannot live without a man.
Aurelia is a professional travel writer and author who specializes in writing about the islands of Greece and its mainland. She is a Philhellene who lives in Greece two months of every year. She has written two novels, “A Lone Red Apple,” set on the island of Mykonos, and “Labyrinthine Ways,” which unfolds on the island of Crete. Both are available on Amazon.