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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2007.


Map of Modon Modon (Methoni)

Key dates:
1125 Venetians occupy Modon.
1500 Sultan Bayazet II invades Peloponnese and forces Venetians out of Modon.
1686 Venetians return to Modon.
1714 Second occupation by the Turks.

Maritime routes in the Mediterranean closely followed the coastline. This made Modon, a small harbour at the tip of the western Peloponnese peninsula, across from the Island named Sapienza (Wisdom), a strategic point on the route from the Ionian to the Aegean Sea, a key section of the route from Italy to the eastern Mediterranean. For this reason Modon and the nearby fortress of Corone were called the "eyes of Venice".

Bastione Loredan
Access to the fortress after its XVIIIth century Venetian enlargement (the bridge is a XIXth century addition)

In particular Modon was key to a very profitable business: the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The pilgrims embarked at Venice for Palestine on regularly scheduled sailings, June through September to take advantage of the northwest wind. From 1227 on, the Venetian government controlled the pilgrim business: ships could not be overloaded, and the captain was obliged to take pilgrims where they wanted to go and not to engage in trading along or off the route unless agreed upon in the contract. In the course of seven weeks they could sail along the coast of Istria and Dalmatia, through the Ionian Islands, stopping at Modon, then on to Cerigo (Kythira), Candia (Crete), Rhodes, Cyprus, and finally Jaffa. After visiting Palestine the pilgrims would often journey overland to the monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai and then to Egypt, whence they would sail from Alexandria back to Venice.

Land entrance
(left) Land entrance; (centre) its XVIIIth century decoration; (right) medieval walls behind the entrance

What follows is an account written by Felix Fabri, a pilgrim in 1483. He stopped in Modon, before he and his fellow pilgrims continued on to Crete (source: Felix Fabri, "The Wanderings of Felix Fabri," vol. 7 of The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1887-1897, p 184-186).
"On the fifteenth [of June, 1483], which was the third Sunday after Trinity, and the feast of St. Vitus and St. Modestus, when the sun rose, the galley-slaves begun to work the galley along with their oars, because the wind was not fair for the harbour of Metona [Modon], from which we were not more than one German mile distant. By great labour we got into it about eight o'clock in the forenoon".
Fabri and his companions tour the Venetian city of Modon:
"Straight[a]way we got into the boat and rowed to the city, where we found the pilgrims who sailed with Master Augustine [in the second, rival Venetian pilgrim galley bound for the Holy Land]. I took my lords and some other pilgrims to the church of the Preaching Friars, and there we heard high Mass. The prior of that place and the other brethren knew me well from my first pilgrimage [in 1481]. After Mass was over we went to the house of the bakers, where biscuits are baked for seafarers, wherein dwells an old German, and there we had our dinner cooked, and dined. The other pilgrims went over to the house of the Teutonic Knights and there provided a meal for themselves. After dinner we went up to the walls of the town and walked round upon them, and admired its impregnable fortifications. It is not an island, but part of the mainland [a peninsula], whereof the whole [of the rest of the mainland] belongs to the Turks. In this port lay also the galley of Master Augustine, and all his pilgrims were in the city, so we made a happy and merry fellowship with them, though this displeased the captains, who thought that because they had quarrelled and were at enmity one with another, even so we ought to be tainted with the same venom, and ought to avoid each other's company. But we took no heed of this, and both ate and drank together with them, and we brought them on board and showed them our galley, and they took us to see theirs, and so we spent the day together until vespers, rejoicing with each other at having met in the middle of the sea; for the city of Modon is said to be midway between Venice and Jerusalem. About vespers both patrons blew their horns to call their pilgrims on board, and when we heard this signal we all went on board the galleys. That same evening Augustine and his pilgrims left the port, but we remained there until the morrow."

Inner castle
Walls of the inner castle and its entrance

Another pilgrim, Pietro Casola, made his journey to Jerusalem in 1494. Unlike most other chroniclers of the pilgrim experience, he did not let his piety stifle an inquisitive and observant nature. Sailing at night between Zante and Modon, he provides us with just the sort of account otherwise lacking in the literature: "All complained of the extreme heat except the Germans and certain other nations, who - said the venerable Don Francesco in his sermon - ate and drunk from morning till night and then went supper less to bed. These individuals did not feel the heat; the rest of us did unfortunately. And thus ended the day of St. John the Baptist. At length by the grace of God, we arrived at Modone at the twentieth hour, and all landed in great haste, without waiting for the casting of the anchor, so great was the desire to go on land. Although, in truth, there was not much comfort in the way of lodgings to be found there…it was as much as we could do to find a few eggs. He notes some further details about the town of Modon, and then: There is a large suburb, also walled. It seems to me that the greater part of silk industry is carried on in the said suburb; certainly many Jews, both men and women, live there, who work in silk".

Sapiendza
The inner castle and the whole fortress seen from its nothern end; in the background the island of Sapienza

The walled suburb mentioned by Pietro Casola was the vast area between the medieval fortifications and the sea: these were made up of a simple curtain of wall with square towers placed at regular intervals.

Winged lions
Winged lions on Bastione Loredan and Bembo; inscription on Bastione Bembo

In 1460 the Venetians built new walls which could withstand artillery fire and a large quadrilateral bastion named Bembo after the town governor. They also built walls which reached the sea and included the market square.

Granite Column
Site of the market square: granite column which supported the winged lion and reliefs portraying the symbol of Venice.

The Venetians placed a (lost) statue portraying the Lion of St. Mark on a granite column they found in a shipwreck near Cerigo: according to a barely visible inscription it was placed there in 1493; other symbols of the Republic were placed on public buildings and on the walls: some of them are still where the Venetians placed them, others were relocated by the Ottomans when they modified parts of the fortress.

Sea Gate
Sea Gate (Castel da Mar)

The Venetians fortified with a large tower (Castel da Mar) the access from the sea and built a second tower on a rock immediately outside it: (this is named with the Turkish word Bourtzi). Both buildings were strengthened during the Ottoman period and a stone with the coat of arms of the Venetian governor ended up at the foot of the Sea Gate wall.
During the second Venetian occupation (1686-1714) a new large bastion (Bastione Loredan) was completed and a 1714 inscription celebrated the event: notwithstanding this a few months later the garrison surrendered without fighting.

Turkish fortress
(left) Turkish tower (Bourtzi) built in the XVIth century to control the access to the harbour; (right) coat of arms of the Foscolo family in the lower part of the Sea Gate

Excerpts from
Memorie Istoriografiche del Regno della Morea Riacquistato dall'armi della Sereniss. Repubblica di Venezia printed in Venice in 1692 and related to this page:

Modone

Entro ai limiti di Belvedere, ch'è quell'amena, e fertile Provincia nel Peloponneso estesa, la dove era l'antica Messenia, tra l'altre Città numerasi sotto l'Arcivescovato di Patrasso l'Episcopale, e celebre Emporio, da Sosiano MODONE, da Turchi MUTUNE, e da Plinio chiamata in memoria di Methena Figliola d'Eoner METONE, non lungi da Corone, che dieci miglia, da Napoli di Romania cento venti, e settantadue da Capo Matapan, il di cui sito favorito di circonstanze forti dalla natura, e dall'arte, attrovasi sopra un Promontorio, ch'avanzato nel Mare di Sapienza, fronteggia colle coste dell'Africa con sicuro, e commodo Porto a piedi, dove risiede il Sangiaco della Morea, Ministro di stima appresso la Monarchia Ottomana.
Nel corso di secoli soggiacque agl'insulti di chi volea avanzarsi a soggiogar colla Provincia il Regno; onde antemurale riguardevole al medemo, come ben spesso combattuta, e vinta, così più volte costretta a sostenere con suoi tributi di varie nationi il comando.
Ottennero il possesso di questa per i Spartani i popoli di Napoli, che per sometterla al freno, introdussero nella piazza una Colonia. Indi a poco ambitiosi gl'Illirici d'ingrandimento, creatisi per dominante un Rè, posta in piedi poderosa armata scorsero le vicine campagne, arrivando a Modone, finsero da quelle genti, come amiche, volere procacciarsi le vettovaglie; ma poco cauti i Cittadini, dando fede alle loro bugie, corser'a gara a portarli le provisioni chi di pane, chi di vino, ed'altro, quando sul più bello usciti quasi tutti gl'habitatori dalla Fortezza, gl'Illirici con la Spada alla mano assalendo ogni sesso, molti n'uccisero, e molti fecero schiavi, restando la Città saccheggiata e distrutta. L'imperatore Traiano teneramente amando il misero avanzo di quei traditi, generosamente li diede privilegi, e franchiggie, colle quali aristocraticamente si governarono sin'al tempo di Constantino, che da Roma passò a Constantinopoli con la sua fede, à cui restando soggeti, non lasciarono il solito modo di vivere come capi riverendo solo gl'Imperatori.
Nel 1124 la combattè, e vinse il Doge Domenico Michele, che per la terza volta da Terra santa facea ritorno, trionfante per li gloriosi acquisti di Tiro, ed Ascalona in Soria, Rodi, Scio, Samo, Lesbo e Andro nell'Arcipelago, à quali memorabili imprese vi si aggiunse la sconfitta data all'Armata infedele coll'espulsione di questa dall'assedio di Zaffo; e quantunque l'anno susseguente fosse rilasciata al greco Impero, nulladimeno nella divisione di questo, fatta l'anno 1204, ritornò alla Republica, alla quale nel 1208 fù rapita da Leone Vetrano di natione Ligurico, di professione Corsaro, che non molto la resse, poichè in breve fatto schiavo nell'Hellesponto, fù condotto a Corfù, e strozzato da mano Carnefice; riportò in trofeo delle sue ingiuste rapine il supplicio d'una morte infame; a causa della quale confusi, e dispersi li suoi, riuscì con poco sforzo al Dandolo, e Premarino racquistarla al natio Dominio. Ma Baiazette Secondo, che per accrescere il proprio Impero vegliava all'acquisto de più Paesi, nel 1498 munito d'un Corpo di cento cinquanta mille Combattenti, la strinse per espugnarla, e diroccando à precipitio col cannone le mura al Borgo, obligò i Capi, ad eseguire la consulta di ritirarsi colle spoglie entro la Città, nella quale pure sperimentorno mai sempre più violenti gl'impulsi dell'Inimico; dal che angustiat'i Veneti, havrebbero piegato alla resa, quando l'Armata della Republica staccatasi dal Zante non havesse affrettato il soccorerli; qual pervenuta a fronte de Turchi nulla prezzando i cimenti, venne alla zuffa, , che fra varij successi, diede addito ad'una Feluca di spingersi a ragguagliare a que' Popoli la costante risolutione di provederli com'anco riuscì; poichè dall'Armata Veneta quattro Galere col carico di munitioni: trapassando queste le squadre Ottomane, ad onta loro conseguirono a salvamento il Porto: successo felice sì: ma origine di lagrimevol disgratia, poichè abbandonati dal Presidio i posti per ricever festosi i sospirati soccorsi; i Turchi, che dall'altra parte applicavano alla vittoria, conosciuti absenti gl'ostacoli si valsero dell'ocasione, entrando furiosamente nella Piaza, dove con strage horrenda, diedero saggio della loro tirannide, sotto la qualefinì i giorni di sua vita Monsignore Andrea Falconi, che vestito in Pontificale, animava que Popoli a sostenere l'incursione di quegl'infidi.
Iddio ch'a tempo punisce, chi con sacrilega mano non isdegnò imporporarsi nel sangue de Pastori Ecclesiastici memore del scempio di questi barbari benche ritardata la vendetta sin quasi al spirar di tre secoli, volle poi finalmente ch'il braccio robusto de suoi più fidi la eseguisse; non tutto ciò in quella guisa, che ben doveasi perche nel cuor de fedeli scintillando la carità non può regnarvi, in uno l'ombre della Tiranide; Quest'anno 1686: ch'è quell'anno apunto in cui penuriano nella fertilità medesima le palme, mentre copiosi i campioni per coronarsi le tempia tendono a introlarle doppo esperimentato da Turchi per il continuo di 16 giorni il Veneto valore s'aresero in fine avedendosi che troppo ruvinoso era il loro eccidio quando congiuratogli dalla Regina dell'aque unita al fuoco; il Morosini già è il prode, che rinforzato da generosi guerieri abbate coll'aspetto aterra col guardo quei popoli, che se sano, pure non vogliono apprezzare gl'eserciti di Christo. Gli successi nel fatto sono varij, moltiplici s'anumerano le contingenze da chi ne diede in luce distinte notitie, s'adduce quivi solo come li 7 Luglio all'hore 22 esposero gl'assediati bandiera bianca, al che seguiti i capitoli della resa uscirono il terzo giorno con armi è bagaglio, consegnato già anticipatamente il Torione della Marina, perche così richiesti dal Generalissimo; al numero di 4000 erano gli habitanti trà quali mille habili alla Militia; l'imbarco l'hebbero per Barberia; nella Città e Fortezza vi sono rimasti 100 pezzi di Cannone di bronzo detratone nove.

Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses

Pages of this section:
On the Ionian Islands:     Corfù (Kerkyra)     Paxo (Paxi)     Santa Maura (Lefkadas)     Cefalonia (Kephallonia)     Asso (Assos)     Itaca (Ithaki)     Zante (Zachintos)     Cerigo (Kythera)
On the mainland: Butrinto (Butrint)     Parga     Preveza and Azio (Aktion)     Vonizza (Vonitsa)     Lepanto (Nafpaktos)     Atene (Athens)
On Morea:     Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra)     Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza     Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata     Modon (Methoni)     Corone (Koroni)     Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà     Mistrà     Corinto (Korinthos)     Argo (Argos)     Napoli di Romania (Nafplio)     Malvasia (Monemvassia)
On the Aegean Sea:     Negroponte (Chalki)     Castelrosso (Karistos)     Oreo     Lemno (Limnos)     Schiatto (Skiathos)     Scopello (Skopelos)     Alonisso     Schiro (Skyros)     Andro (Andros)     Tino (Tinos)     Micono (Mykonos)     Siro (Syros)     Egina (Aegina)     Spezzia (Spetse)     Paris (Paros)     Antiparis (Andiparos)     Nasso (Naxos)     Serifo (Serifos)     Sifno (Syphnos)     Milo (Milos)     Argentiera (Kimolos)     Santorino (Thira)     Folegandro (Folegandros)     Stampalia (Astipalea)     Candia (Kriti)

You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.

Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to the Venetian fortresses and to other locations (opens in a separate window)