By Catherine Tsounis
They never fail who die in a great cause.” – George Gordon, Lord Byron
“The Garden of Heroes” is not on the Beaten Trail of recommended Greek sites by excursion agencies. I went with Kapogiannis Tours of Tripoli to discover the Greek Soul of Independence on an excursion with guide Kostoula. It is located at the entrance of Missolonghi. The Garden has a large section dedicated to the fighters of the Greek War of Independence, who fought for the freedom of Missolonghi. I was impressed with a marble statue of the great poet Byron, above the place where his heart is buried. Lord Byron died in Missolonghi in 1824, during the second siege of the town. His heart was buried in Missolonghi. Every year, on Palm Sunday there is a Memorial March. The march starts from the church of Agios Spyridon and ends in the Garden of the Heroes1
The Garden of Heroes has a history not found in English internet sources. One must go to google/gr to get a complete insight and visit in person. At the entrance is a statue dedicated to the National Poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos with quotes such as “The Eyes of the soul must always be awake.” There are 69 of Greeks and Phil-Hellenes of historical and artistic importance. The Tomb of the Fallen with a lion was established by the Greek monarchy of Othon and Amalia. Marcos Botsaris tomb with the statue of the Hellinopoula (Greek girl) is visited by many. Marcos Botsaris was a heroic Greek Revolutionary hero from Souli, Epirus who died fighting in battle. He is a national figure revered in poetry, literature, and music.
I was amazed to learn from a monument that American fighters died at Missolonghi fighting for the freedom of the Greeks from the slavery of the Ottoman Turk Empire that became brutal from 1the 1800’s to 1912. The fallen heroes of Thrace had a monument. A memorial with a poem of Kostis Palamas, praises the fallen German heroes of Missolonghi for “their loyal hearts and sacrifice.”. An amazing monument carving of Greek fighters bowing and listening to the inspiring words of a priest holding a bible and pointing to God, caught my attention. I saw similar images in Moscow museums.
Athanasios Cherpelis was memorialized with his fellow fighters. “My great, great grandfather was Athanasios Cherpelis” said Dikaiophylax Archon Stephen Cherpelis, of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Flushing. “He was a Captain killed in the Exodus from Missolonghi. His brother Anagnostis survived. The Bishop of Missolonghi gave my ancestor Cherpelis the name of Anagnostis, meaning reader, because he read the epistles every week in church. Anagnostis escaped to the village of Alestia. I was born in Agalianos, Karpenisi. Our village had a lake and beautiful rivers. In 1947 our entire village was burned by the communist guerilla. Everything, buildings, livestock destroyed. They followed us with bullets. Mr. Tsinias, an old man, was tied inside his house. His godson burnt the house to the ground with the old man in it. I fled as a refugee to Athens, staying with an Aunt. I immigrated to the United States soon after. The Exodus of Missolonghi shows Greeks died fighting as heroes than become slaves. The Cherpelis family built this monument in memory of Athanasios Cherpelis in the Garden of Heroes.”
Revered heroes are from Thrace, Cyprus, America, and Germany.
The “Exodus of Missolonghi” was a mass breakout of the 10,500 population from an Ottoman and Egyptian siege. This defeat was a key factor leading to intervention by the Great Powers who, hearing about the atrocities, felt sympathetic to the Greek cause. Eugene Delacroix’s “Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi” memorialized the heroes’ sacrifice in The Garden of Heroes.