Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Αγιολεος - St. Lyon

Towards the end of the fifteenth century the Venetian Empire was in a bad way and losing ground fast to the Ottomans. Methoni, one of the 'Eyes of the Republic' - Koroni was the other - was a Venetian garrison vital to the security of her merchant ships on the sea route from the Levant. Fear among the population of imminent Turkish invasion led the authorities to give incentives and take such reassuring measures as they were able to encourage the population, essential to the efficient running of the garrison, to stay put. Incentives came in the form of tax exemptions and reassuring measures in the form of monasteries to accommodate Catholic monks. The ruins of one of these fifteenth century monasteries survive a short distance to the north of the the town, sadly abandoned and largely ignored. The monastery was dedicated to 'St Lion' and is known locally as Agioleos (Αγιολεος). The Greeks, it seems to me, concern themselves only with their glorious Classical history, anything more recent, with the exception perhaps of their so called 'revolution' early in the nineteenth century, is largely ignored. Given that much of Greece's post-Classical history is more foreign than greek maybe this disregard of it is not so surprising. Where Agioleos is concerned there is the added embarrassment, there being no love lost for Roman Christianity from the Orthodox Church, of the monastery having been a Catholic establishment. And so, unmarked and lost among brambles and olive trees, grazed over and fouled by sheep, goats and no doubt shepherds, seen only by those who can be bothered to seek them out, the ruins of Agioleos continue slowly to crumble.
Disastrously for those who were persuaded to stay all measures designed to keep Methoni in Venetian hands failed. In August 1500, after almost three hundred years of Venetian rule, the Turks entered Methoni; a hastily abandoned town of smoking ruins.
That the belligerent advance from the East of the Ottoman Empire was extremely damaging to the prospects of the Venetian Republic can not be doubted but equally, if not more damaging to its future prospects, was the completion in the last months of the fifteenth century, of Vasco da Gama's nonaggressive round trip to from Lisbon to India via the Cape; a voyage that was to deliver a terminal blow to both the monopoly of overland routes from the east and of their continuation from the Levant, across the Mediterranean, into Europe.

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