Medal struck in Morosini’s honour for his military exploits in the Morean War, by P. H. Müller, Nuremerg, 1688 / Wikimedia Commons
By Dr. Kornilia Chatziaslani
Head of the Information and Educational Sector of the Service of Conservation of Acropolis Monuments (YSMA)
After the conquest of Crete in 1669, the Turks turned their eyes northward. Having taken over several cities in Poland and Russia, they laid siege to Vienna in 1683. The Turkish army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, however, was defeated on September 12 by the Polish army under the command of the Polish King, Jan Sobieski and Duke Charles of Lorraine, who felt that it was necessary to expel the Turks from Europe entirely.
Α “Holy League” of Austria, Poland and Venice was founded, with Papal blessings, for the purpose of conquering the European portions of the Ottoman Empire and a war of Christians against Muslims began. A mercenary army composed of fighters of many nationalities was organized. Francesco Morosini (1619-1694) was appointed as its leader.
Francesco Morosini, which many researchers believe came from the Greek Mavrogenis, was a descendent of a well-known Venetian family. His ancestors included Doges, Admirals, Generals, and Latin Patriarchs of Constantinople. At an early age, he was distinguished by his bravery and his military valor in battles against pirates of the Aegean and against Turks during the Turko-Venetian War.
In 1654, at the age of only thirty-six, and following the successive deaths of Admirals Mocenigo and Foscarini, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief and Admiral of the Venetian Fleet, the Defender of Crete, Leader of the war against the Turks. The Turko-Venetian war lasted until 1669. On September 27, Morosini, after extremely harsh fighting, signed the treaty for the surrender of Candia (Crete) and returned to Venice, defeated, but a hero. He was charged with treason and put on trial. He was found innocent by a majority vote. Demoralized, he withdrew voluntarily from public life to live in total obscurity.
Fifteen years later, in 1684, by a decision of the Senate and the Council of Six, Franceso Morosini, at 66 years of age, was appointed general of all land and sea forces of the Republic, Commander-in-Chief of all military operations against the Turks.
On June 10, 1684, a mass was celebrated at St. Marks in the presence of the Doge Marcantonio Giustinian, and and Morosini departed with the entire fleet of the Republic. In the first year of the war, the Venetians conquered Preveza and Lefkada. Meanwhile, the Turks engaged in major military preparations. In view of this, the Venetians sent proclamations throughout the Italian peninsula, as well as the Germanic lands, in order to mobilize a voluntary mercenary army. As Dimitrios Kambouroglou writes: “The Venetians had discovered the secret for conquering the world. They didn’t trouble themselves to have their own armies and generals. They rented them.” The Venetians took on the obligation to pay them, supply them with war-making materials and ensure that their food supplies were adequate. The mercenary forces were placed under the administration of Count Otto Wilhelm von Konigsmark (1639-1688).
Count Otto Wilhelm von Konigsmark was born in 1639 in Beiden, Westphalia. An exceptional student, he received the highest honors at the University of Jena. He chose a military career and enlisted in the Swedish Army. In 1686, the Venetians offered him the leadership of the mercenary forces with a salary of 18,000 ducats, offering him as well the option of taking with him his wife, Katherina Karlotta, and his entourage. The lady-in-waiting to the countess, Anna Akerhjelm, a woman unusually educated for her time, had left us her diary, as well as letters to her brother, which describes the campaign vividly.
At the start of 1685, the diverse, multilingual army gathered on the Venetian isle of Lido and set out for Greece.
With surprise attacks and methodical sieges, the ports and fortresses of the Peloponnese –Pylos, Navarino, Methoni, Koroni, Argos, Nafplion, Patras, Rio, Mystras, Corinth– fell into Venetian hands. Thus, with the exception of Monemvasia, the Venetians became masters of the entire Peloponnese –an extremely fertile extent of land ten times the size of their own, with ports that secured the entire Aegean for Venetian commerce.
The Kingdom of Moreas was established, and lasted until 1714. Morosini assumed the title of Knight of St. Mark and was awarded the honorary designation of “the Peloponnesian”. His bronze bust was placed in the great hall of the Palace Loge. Konigsmark’s salary was raised to 24,000 ducats annually.
In August of 1687, the troops gathered at Corinth. Morosini, accompanied by Konigsmark, explored the possibility of dividing the Isthmus and his engineers were in fact worked out a plan. But when they realized the number of laborers and the amount of time the project would take, they abandoned the idea. A war council was held to decide if the troops, following fortification of the Isthmus, would winter in the Peloponnese or if, for the rest of the summer, they would engage in new military enterprises, and, if so, in what direction.
Crete was ruled out because it was far from the Peloponnese, Evvoia was also considered to be relatively distant, and the fortress of Chalkida among the best fortified, while at the same time the Turks were gathering their forces in Mainland Greece. Their thoughts turned to Athens.
The sources of the period describing the Athens campaign and the blowing up of the Parthenon are few and contradictory amongst themselves. Morosini’s correspondence; the official minutes and announcements of the Venetian Republic, which served political purposes; the witness of persons of many nationalities written in different languages; the witness of people present during the campaign and others who gathered their material in Venice, without ever have gone to Athens, all generate many uncertainties and difficulties in researching the events.
At the end of August, a Capuchin priest, authorized to negotiate the amount which the Athenians would pay every year in order to keep the campaign from taking place, arrived in Venice. The Venetians asked for 40,000 reals annually. At the beginning of September, a new delegation of Athenians, headed by the Metropolitan Iakovos, arrived to negotiate the amount. After much negotiating, they reached an agreement, and Morosini promised that they would not be disturbed.
On September 14, another war council took place, at which the leaders of the forces insisted that the Athens campaign proceed. Morosini raised objections using arguments, which demonstrated his strategic capabilities, since what his arguments turned out to be valid. First of all, winter was approaching and the conquest of the fortress in a brief time would be difficult. Second, once the fortress was conquered, the military benefits of its conquest were dubious, since the Turks could invade the Peloponnese from Megara and provisions for the troops in Athens could only be sent from the sea, which was at a distance. Finally, if the Turks were later to attack Athens, the Venetians would have to abandon it and, naturally, to destroy the city and the fortress. Moreover, the Athens would be subject to the revengeful mania of the Turks, while otherwise they would pay their tax. Unfortunately, however, the other leaders were not persuaded.
Exactly at that moment, a third delegation of Athenian notables arrived, soliciting the Venetian campaign with promises of making their own contribution. They assured the Venetians that the Turks had been terrorized, that the fortress of Athens was in poor shape, and that it would fall in a matter of days. The relations between Turks and Greeks in that period were very bad and the rumors of a Venetian campaign against Athens had made the Turks more hostile. The Athenians believed they had found the opportunity to break out of bondage. Based on this new state of affairs, the war council decided on a campaign against Athens.
I will try to give you a description of the state of the Acropolis monuments shortly before the start of the Morosini campaign.
In roughly the Sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a church dedicated to Saint Sophia. Later, we find the church dedicated to the Virgin, the so-called Atheniotissa.
The transformation of the building into a Christian church, and in fact into a basilica, took place as follows: The two formerly independent large spaces of the inner cella were connected by three doors that were opened in the dividing wall. The ancient main temple, being three-aisled, served as the temple of the Christian basilica, while the ancient western wing served as its narthex. The eastern door was eliminated in order to place there the Christian sanctuary, in accordance with the orientation of Christian churches, while the existing western door of the temple was retained as the main entrance. In this church the emperor Basileios II came to pray in 1018 after his victory over the Bulgarians.
From the beginning of the 13th century, the temple, still dedicated to the worship of the Virgin, continued to operate, but as a Catholic church. In 1380, King Pedro IV of Aragon, without having seen the Acropolis, describes it in an official document: “The above-mentioned castle is the most important ornament in existence in the entire world and this perhaps because none of the living Christian Kings have been able to build anything like it.” In 1458, sultan Mohammed V the Conqueror came to Athens and admired the monuments of the Acropolis. The Parthenon was then converted to a mosque and a minaret was erected.
The first illustrations of the Acropolis were done by Cyriacus of Ancona around 1435—a depiction that was reproduced in 1465 by Giuliano Giamberti, known as Sangallo. Around 1640 the Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi describes with admiration the temple. In 1674 it received a visit from the French ambassador of Louis XIV to the Ottoman Porte, the Marquis Olier de Nointel. His painter, Jacques Carrey in only 15 days, depicted, systematically and with great accuracy, the pediment, the frieze, and the southern metopes of the Parthenon. Many of those who have studied the Parthenon sculptures rely on these valuable drawings, while a portion of the sketches would be irretrievably lost thirteen years later.
In 1676, the French doctor Jacob Spon published a drawing of Athens showing the Acropolis, which had been sketched by the Jesuit missionary Jacques-Paul Babin. In the same year, Georges G. de Saint-Georges, who had never visited Greece, published a description of the temple in his work, and in turn, Spon, with the British botanist George Wheler depicted Athens, giving us descriptions, as well as illustrations of the monuments of the Acropolis.
A view of Acropolis and part of the city of Athens, sketched by Babin and published by Spon (1672-1676).
In early 1687, the Frenchman Graviers d’Ortières visited Athens, and the engineer Plantier sketched for him a perspective of the Parthenon, the last before the catastrophe.
In 1687, the Parthenon, after its transformation first into a Christian church and then into a mosque, was in the following condition, according to the description of the architect Manolis Korres. The “intercolumnia” (i.e. the space between the columns of a colonnade) of the peristylewere enclosed by a wall roughly five meters high. The intercolumnia of the western and probably those of the eastern porch, were united with a similar wall in order to form a closed corridor, perhaps a kind of substitute for the atrium of a typical basilica. In a few of the intercolumnia, entrances into the building were opened and at those points additional steps were carved into the basis of the peristyle.
The ancient roof had been destroyed by fire in the 3rd century AD and along with it almost the entire insides of the sanctuary. In the major repairs that followed, the new roof of the temple, wooden with clay tiles, only covered the sanctuary, while the wings remained exposed. And these were not the only differences between the new and the old roof. Adhering to more recent models, it had a far larger incline. The exaggerated height of its easternmost section above the main temple, related to three later windows on each side, is perhaps due to a much later change in the Christian church. The Christian windows that were opened in the long walls divide the frieze and are so high that their upper reaches form small pediments at the level of the roof.
The minarets of the mosque were raised on the southwestern corner of the sanctuary upon the strong trunk of an older stone tower with a spiral internal staircase. Within the cella, the two-storey arrangement of the columns was utilized for the construction of galleries, probably only over the side aisles. The floor of the eastern part of the cella, was raised to create the sanctuary. There were two more columns, made of jasper, as well as the “ciborium” (i.e. the canopy surmounting the altar), which had four columns made of porphyry, with Corinthian capitals made of white marble. In the apse, the “synthronon” (i.e. the raised seats’ area for the higher clergy) with a semicircular graduated arrangement still exists. The Turks plastered over the insides of the mosque in order to hide the Christian frescos .
The Erechtheum in the early Christian period was changed into a three-aisled, basilica dedicated to Christ the Savior. During Frankish rule, it seems to have acquired a secular use. During Turkish rule, it was used as the residence for the Pasha and his harem. It was mentioned little or not at all by travelers of the period, but seems to have been maintained in good condition. In its western section, a large underground reservoir was created. The residence was extended into its northern porch, in whose intercolumnia walls were built. East of the northern porch, along the length of the northern wall of the classical building, there was a three-storey wing of the residence, with a single-sloped roof. The Porch of the Maidens was left untouched, but walls, however, covered the spaces between the Caryatides.
From the end of the 3rd century AD, the Propylaea was connected uninterruptedly with the fortifications along the western side of the Rock, which is, strategically speaking, the only vulnerable side of the Citadel. According to the description of the architect Tassos Tanoulas, the Propylaea at the end of the 12th century had already become the residence of the Orthodox Bishops of Athens and was later converted into the residence of the Frankish rulers. The chapel which had been connected with the northern wall of the central building during the middle Byzantine period was retained during Frankish rule.
Atop the central building a storey was added, which used the ancient paneled ceiling as its floor. In the art gallery, a ceiling with a cross vault was constructed, which was used as a floor for the added storey. That storey was extended eastward over the late Roman reservoir. Over the southern wing, the Frankish Tower was built to a height of twenty-six meters. In the intercolumnia of the Doric colonnades of the central building, walls were built, thus eliminating the entrance into the Citadel from the Propylaea. The new entrance to the Acropolis was between the Frankish Tower and its southern wall. Access to the palace took place from the eastern porch. The classical building was maintained almost untouched, but the total impression was that of a fortress with towers and crenellated ramparts. During Turkish rule, the Propylaea was used as the residence for the Commander of the Acropolis Garrison.
The west side of the Acropolis with the Frankish Tower, in a painting by Lemercier.
In 1640, lightening struck the central building of the Propylaea, where gunpowder was being stored, resulting in a huge explosion that demolished a section of it. Nonetheless, it appears from Spon and Wheler’s 1676 description, as well as from the 1687 illustrations of d’Ortières and Verneda, that the western portion of the building was not destroyed.
The temple of Athena Nike was still untouched in its position atop its ancient Tower when Spon visited the Acropolis. A fortification that enclosed the space between Agrippa’s Monument and the Tower was high enough to include the western façade of the temple with the walls.
Finally, within the Acropolis there, for years, existed homes built on top of the monuments out of materials that had fallen from them.
The Turks of Athens, once they realized that the fortified rock of the Acropolis was the primary and most important obstacle to conquest of Mainland Greece, and since, of course, the initiatives of the Athenians had not escaped them, made the requisite preparations.
They tried to confront the fearsome artillery fire of the Venetians, which was exceptionally strong and had brought catastrophe and desertion to Fortresses of the Peloponnese. Because of the range of fire—the range, depending on the kind of artillery, varied between 100 and 700 meters—the danger of cannon fire on the Acropolis was apparent from the western side, that is, from the hill of the Muses and the Pnyx, locations from which the Venetians would be able to set up their artillery.
The Turks rushed to erect new fortifications to strengthen the western side of the Acropolis, which was its only vulnerable entrance. The repaired the walls, built a tower west of the temple of Athena Nike and they reinforced the ramparts between the temple and the Agrippa Monument in order to place a second battery of cannons. Because of the need for ready-at-hand materials, they demolished the temple of Athena Nike and used its architectural parts, along with rocks and earth, to build the rampart. In the excavations following the liberation, all of the temple’s parts were discovered, permitting it to be re-erected in 1838. Naturally, shell damages do not exist. The campaign against Athens began on September 19.
The Citadel and the City of Athens as seen by the Venetian army in 1687 (engraving, Stathis Finnopoulos collection).
Morosini, in order to deceive the Turks and catch them unprepared, sent a portion of the Venetian fleet, under admiral Venier, towards Evvia. The Turks, indeed, were relieved that, for the time being, the threat had been averted. On the same day, the rest of the fleet transported to Pireaus the entire Venetian army—according to Morosini’s secretary, Locatelli, 9,880 men and 871 horses—along with artillery, bombs, military supplies and plentiful materials for a siege.
Akerhjelm mentions in her diary that, because of a major windstorm, the galley which she boarded to accompany the Countess von Konigsmark was forced to land at the port of Pireaus, where naturally it took down the Venetian flag and raised the British one. Fortunately for the ladies, the British Consul was in Piraeus and, speaking in English, told them that the Athenians were not inclined to pay taxes to the Venetians, but speaking in German, said that the fortress of the Acropolis had only four hundred men and, consequently, its capture would not be particularly difficult. The ladies insisted on touching land and went to visit the famous Lion of Piraeus, and in fact to in fact to measure it. The next day, a favorable wind blew in and they departed, with useful information for Morosini.
On the morning of September 21, the Turks awakened to see the entire Venetian fleet anchored off Piraeus. Even Venier had arrived from Evvia. The Turks were overcome by fear and terror. With enormous haste they gathered their valuables and ascended the Acropolis. By mid-day they were all enclosed in the Fortress. In Athens, only the Greeks remained.
According to Locatelli, a committee of notables visited Morosini and promised obedience, assistance, and topographical and strategic information. The Athenians sided with the Venetians because, if they had remained if they had remained neutral, no matter who would won, they would suffer the consequences, and Morosini’s bombs would have destroyed the city. Thus they decided to side with the Venetians openly and to remain in the city, taking care at the same time to hide their valuables out of fear, both of the Turks and of the Venetians.
The Venetians advanced with a force of 150 men under colonel Raugraf von der Pfalz who occupied Athens in order to protect the Athenians from the Turks. They sent a message to the Turks, seeking the surrender of the Fortress in exchange for the undisturbed departure of the Turks, along with their portable goods. Ali, the Agha of the Castle, refused. He had ammunition and was awaiting Serasker (the commander-in-chief of the Ottoman army) with reinforcements. The main force of troops under Konigsmark—with the guidance of the Athenians—moved through the olive groves of Attica and, without entering Athens, occupied the main strategic points from which they could make an offensive on the Acropolis, mainly the hills and heights west of the Castle.
Meanwhile, army engineers attempted, from the north, to open underground passages in order to use explosive materials to blow up the Fortress. The Turks fired on them continuously, thinning out their ranks. The Venetians manage to reach the cave of Agraulos, where they were stopped by the density of the rocks.
On the night of September 21 to the 22nd, Konigsmark, according to descriptions, put his artillery in place: on the hill of the Muses a wall of cannons consisting of 15 guns, on the Pnyx nine, and on the Areos Pagos five enormous mortars. The Turks fired incessantly against the Venetians, attempting to prevent them from setting up their artillery. On the morning of September 23, the Venetian artillery was in its final positions and began to systematically strike the Acropolis.
In charge of the artillery was Antonio Muitoni, Count di San Felice, who most witnesses accuse of being totally incapable. Amply ironic descriptions from his collaborators tell us that “often the shells sailed over the Fortress and landed on the other side, resulting in the deaths of the besiegers instead of the besieged.” Seeing no results, the Venetians set up a new artillery battery on the eastern side of the Fortress, sent a colleague to Moutoni named Leandros, while Konigsmark personally supervised. On September 25, according to the Count Léon de Laborde a bomb landed in the small powder magazine in the Propylion, the gunpowder ignited and a portion of the Propylion collapsed. The Venetians continued to bombard the Fortress with undiminished intensity.
Two views of the bombardment and plan of the Acropolis Citadel (engraving).
There is conflicting information from the period regarding the “fortuitous” blowing up of the Parthenon. Some sources say that the shot was random, others that it was aimed. According to the witness of the German officer Sobievolski, on September 22, an escapee from the Fortress informed the Venetians that all of the ammunition had been transferred to the so-called Temple of Athena and that all of the Turkish dignitaries had taken refuge there in the belief that the Christians would never damage the temple. After receiving the information, most of the mortars directed their fire at the temple, without, however, success, since the temple was marble, and thus the building well protected.
The night of September 26 (towards the 27th), during the full moon, a bomb—some claim that it was fired by a lieutenant from Luneburg -managed to pass through an opening in the roof and to ignite a large quantity of gunpowder that was stored within the temple. The explosion that followed split the building in two, ruining the finest structure of classical Art. The Venetians, according to the sources, exploded in cheers. Some shouted “Long Live the Republic”, others “Long Live Konigsmark.”.
As a result of the explosion, three of the sanctuary’s four walls nearly collapsed and three-fifths of the sculptures from the frieze fell. Nothing of the roof apparently remained in place. Six columns from the south side fell, eight from the north, as well as whatever remained from eastern porch, except for one column. The columns brought down with them the enormous marble architraves, triglyphs and metopes. The entire building suffered a fearsome shock. The blast and the blowing up of the building created indescribable panic. Three hundred Turks were killed by the marble that was launched in all directions. The fire spread to surrounding homes, and, since there was not enough water, became extended ever further. The entire night of September 26 (towards the 27th) as well as the entire next day, the Acropolis burned.
Despite everything, and while threatened with burning, the Turks decided not to surrender, since they had received word that Serasker was nearing with powerful Turkish forces. And indeed, early on the morning of September 28, Serasker’ forces arrived. However, Konigsmark was expecting them and turned immediately against them with the largest part of his army and cavalry. Serasker was terrified and retreated without firing a single shot, and the besieged Turks saw their last hope extinguished. They decided to surrender and raised the white flag above the tower of the Propylion on September 28. Five Turkish προύχοντες emerged, authorized to negotiate the terms of surrender. A cease-fire order was issued and the representatives were led to the military camp in Pireaus.
A war council was called together. Morosini insisted on the unconditional surrender of the Acropolis and of the besieged. The delegated Turks asked for an explicit guarantee of their lives and facilitation of their departure. Konigsmark sided with the Turks and on September 29, a treaty was drawn up that began with the words “out of compassion.” The Turks received a guarantee of their lives and freedom of departures, with the right to transport whatever luggage they were able to carry on their shoulders, excepting, of course, arms and ammunition.
The Turks surrendered at mid-day September 29 and the Venetian flag was raised from the Propylion over the Acropolis. It was in a tragic state. The three hundred dead remain unburied, the injured had neither doctors nor medicine, and the rest, living so many days crowded together among the ruins and corpses were in a miserable state. A few risked contact with the foreign guards and the Greeks in order to sell the personal valuables that they were not able to carry with them.
On October 4, as soon as the Turks had abandoned the Acropolis, the Venetians ascended and occupied it. Count Pompei was appointed Commander of the Fortress. His first concern was the interment of the bodies, which had remained unburied for around ten days, and an inventory of the abandoned warfare materials. At the same time, improvised teams tried to put in order the endless amounts of marble that were scattered everywhere from the explosion and to open passages amongst the ruins of the burnt houses. Morosini, accompanied by Konigsmark, surrounded by the upper echelon of the officer corps, entered triumphantly into Athens. At the gates of the city, the Bishop and Athenian nobles which received them as victors and declared their fealty to the Republic of St. Mark. Morosini ratified the social privileges of the Athens, approved self-government and recognized the rights of the Archbishop and the Orthodox Clerics.
A thanksgiving mass was celebrated in one of the “largest mosques,” which was converted into the church of St. Dionysios the Areopagite. Later, most of the abandoned mosques were converted into Orthodox churches, while one of them was dedicated to Catholic worship and another to the Protestant.
After the mass, Morosini and his entourage ascended the Acropolis. The sight of the ruined monuments appears to have provoked sincere sorrow from the conquerors. Acherhelm: “How distressed was Excellency [meaning Konigsmark] at having had to destroy the beautiful temple that, for 3000 years, stood there and was called the temple of Athena! But for naught! The bombs did their work in a manner such that never can this temple be rebuilt!”
The victors decided to winter in Athens. The foreign mercenaries set up camp by nationality in Athens. The Venetian engineer Verneda, following an order from Morosini, composed a topographical plan and representation of Athens and the Acropolis. A series of these plans, as well as others, depicting the bombardment and explosion have been preserved up to the present.
The bombardment of Acropolis, in a sketch by the Venetian Giacomo Verneda.
We do not have much information about Athens and its inhabitants during the period of co-existence with foreign peoples. What we do know from sources, in any case, is that the Athenians received them well and treated them considerately. The problem of language differences, naturally, made communication very difficult. The German mercenary Urlich Friedrich Homberg wrote: “Athens is a large and populous society. I wouldn’t change the wine of Attica for the best beer. Here I found enormous grapes like those mentioned in the Old Testament. Two men would find it difficult to lift a single cluster…”.
Akerhjelm wrote to her brother: “The city is better than all the others. There are many beautiful cities, both of Greeks and of Turks. They have clothes made of fine fabrics, and of wonderful weaving. We went to see a Capuchin who lives at Demosthenes’ Lantern, and he treated us to wine, bread, apples, figs and pomegranates. It is impossible for me to describe all of the antiquities that are found here! I would like to know, my brother, what you think about our being in this city, Athens, the fount of civilization for all the others, including that of Rome!”.
In the meantime, the relations of the Venetians and the mercenaries worsened daily. Morosini in his reports accused the foreign mercenaries of constantly extorting him with new and constantly increasing demands for pay, while the mercenaries, in all the descriptions that have been preserved, accuse the Venetians of bad faith and greed. Characteristically, Homberg writes: “The Republic had deceived us and behaves towards us in a despicable manner. Twenty-eight Ducats that should have the value of 23 German Talira they exchange for 15, because we are forced to take half a Florin for three-and a half Talira which in Venice would have the value of two.” It appears that Morosini gave them devalued Venetian currency, considering it to be a healthy measure by thus reducing their payments. The religious differences between the Catholic Venetians and the Protestant Germans, along with the linguistic differences that made communication difficult, hindered contact between them even more.
The differences and the hostility between the Venetians and the mercenaries naturally worked to the detriment of the Athenians. The mercenaries did not execute, as promised, their obligations to protect the Athenians from Turkish raiders and many residents of Attica were forced to abandon their homes and lands and move to Athens. In Athens, due to the concentration there of the people of Attica and the army, food supplies began to get scarce; the mercenaries began looting and pillaging and, moreover, a plague broke out. Meanwhile, the Turks were gathering their forces in Thebes.
On December 31, 1687, Morosini convened a war council in Piraeus where he laid out the critical nature of the situation. He demonstrated that, in order for Athens to be properly fortified, many years of labor and around 3000 laborers would be required. Excluding this, he proposed abandoning Athens, exiling the Athenians in order to avoid their slaughter by the Turks and, finally, using explosives to level the city and the Acropolis to their foundations, in order the prevent the Turks from once more fortifying them.Three days later, the war council again convened, as newer reports presented the situation as exceptionally critical. A final decision was made on the emigration of the Athenians to other regions under Venetian control.
Morosini called together the notables to announce the decisions of the council. In his report to Venice of January 1, 1688, he wrote: “They listened mournfully the announcement of the decided-upon measures. I tried to comfort them, promising that I would give them every support and every assistance in their new residences.” The Athenians offered funds, they proposed the formation of military forces that would undertake defense against the Turks and the financial support of these forces for one year, but Morosini turned them down. On February 12, the war council made a unanimous, final decision for the immediate abandonment of Athens. The proposal for destroying the city was considered. Fortunately, neither the time nor the means existed. To destroy the walls of the Acropolis and its monuments to their foundations would require thousands of workers and a long-term project. No one present thought of another reason for avoiding the destruction of the monuments aside from the lack of laborers, tools and time.
The preparations for departure began.
On December 4, the Senate sent the following decree to Morosini: “We received the diagram of the city of Athens and its Fortress which was drawn up by Count di San Felice and with pleasure observed the famous ancient monuments existing there. We authorize you the removal and sending to us here that which would be judged the most important and most artistically vigorous to enhance the prestige of the Sovereign, and to also be used as a new immortal monument of Our Distinguished Virtue. The vote was 162 for, 2 against, and one abstention.
Morosini chose the best preserved statues of the western pediment and tried to remove them. He writes in his report of March 19: An effort was made to remove the large pediment, but collapsed from the colossal height and it is a miracle that something didn’t happen to some laborer. The reason is that the structure is built without mortar and the various stones are assembled together with remarkable skill. Furthermore, from the explosion in the gun powder magazine, the structure suffered a most serious shock. Our inability to erect scaffolds, by transferring from the galleys the high masts and other necessary mechanisms, has forced us to abandon any subsequent effort. As a result, every effort to remove other sculpted decorations has ceased. Furthermore, missing from the buildings at this point are the most wonderful pieces and those that remain are of lower value and manifest missing parts due to their age. By all means, he continued, “I decided to take a lioness of the most beautiful artfulness, even if its head is missing, that could be easily be replaced, however, with the marble that I will send you along with the lioness and is of a like.
In total, Morosini took whatever lions he found: one from the Acropolis, one from the district of the Theseion, and of course, the well-known Lion of Piraeus, which was the reason that the port of Piraeus had been named Porto Leone. The lions were transported to Venice and, from that time, have adorned the Naval Station of the Republic as a trophy of the victors. Morosini’s officers, Venetian and foreign, took with them whatever pieces were easily transportable. Items from the Parthenon or other monuments of Athens which today are found in private collections and European museums without anyone knowing how, were possibly transported in this period by the soldiers of Morosini’s army.
The most typical case is that of Morosini’s secretary San Gallo, who took with him the head of a female statue which fell from the western pediment during the Venetians’ failed effort and was separated. After many misadventures, the German archeologist Weber, who had studied the Parthenon carvings from Elgin’s casts, purchased it from a Venetian marble worker just as he was about to break it, recounts de Laborde, who later bought it from Weber and removed it secretly from Italy. Today the “Laborde head” is found in the Louvre. Another Venetian officer took a section of the frieze showing two horsemen in the procession and the head of a horse. Today it is found in the Museum of Art History in Vienna .
A Danish officer named Hartmand took two heads from each of two southern metopes. Today they are found in the Copenhagen National Museum. In any case, the hurried departure, the illnesses and the inability to transport many objects, on the one hand, and the indefinite future of the campaign, on the other, were the reasons that the looting did not become systematic. The path of pillage, however, had already opened.
After the destruction of the Parthenon by the Venetian artillery, a new mosque was built during the 18th century inside its ruins, as depicted here in a painting by J. Skene (1838).
The Parthenon was a house of worship for the Muslim faith before it was destroyed. The Turks did not allow the removal from the building of the smallest stone of religious value. Only because it was decimated by Morosini’s bombs and abandoned as useless ruins could Elgin later receive permission to remove certain items and, misusing the firman (ottoman imperial decree), proceed with the total looting of the ruined Parthenon. The events of 1678 were the initial cause for all the succeeding catastrophes and we can consider it certain that, if Morosini’s siege and military bombardment had not taken place, the Parthenon would have survived until today nearly intact.
In mid-March 1688, the Athenians boarded Venetian ships in a state of enormous despair and mourning and abandoned Athens, taking with them whatever possessions they could carry. Some established themselves in Salamina, others in the Peloponnese and others on the Ionian Islands. On April 4, the evacuation of Athens was complete. War-making materials were loaded on the boats, the army boarded and the signal for departure was given. On April 8, Morosini abandoned the deserted city. After his astounding victories of the past three years, he for the first time abandoned a conquered fortress.
The Doge Marcantonio Giustinian had just died. On July 8 in Aegina, Morosini received word of his election to the highest office of the Republic. His enthronement took place in Aegina and, now as Doge, he departed for Halkida.
In September 1688, during the siege of Halkida, Konigsmark died. At the end of the year, Morosini fell ill and was forced to return to Venice. Five years later, at the age of seventy-five, he launched for the third and last time a campaign against the Turks. He fell ill at Karystos and was transported to Nafplion, where he died in January 1694. His coffin was buried with high honors in Venice.
From a military standpoint, the campaign against Athens was an insignificant event, but it would remain always in history because it resulted in the destruction of the greatest masterpiece of classical antiquity.
The Venetians, of course, looked at the matter from the mindset of the era. They attempted, with blasting powder, to destroy the Acropolis, celebrated in particular when the Parthenon exploded and their goal was attained, while the only reason they did not destroy the monuments before abandoning Athens was the lack of time, workers and tools.
Morosini was a highly capable general. From the start, he was against the campaign and all of his arguments showed themselves to be valid. Once the decision to attack was made, the Acropolis, for him, was merely another fortress and the Parthenon another powder magazine that needed, at all costs, to be conquered by arms. As James Morton Paton wrote in 1940, it was amongst the first and, by all means worst instances where “strategic necessity” turned modern weapons against an unrivalled work of art.
Morosini Francesco, Dispacci: Civico Museo Correr, Venice, I. 299, Collocamento 772. Dispacci del Capitan Generale Francesco Morosini, May 31.1686 – May 19, 1688.
Relatione Marciana: Biblioteca Marciana, Venice. Mss ital., VII, 656, fols. 103-4.
Relatione dell’ Operate dell’Armi Venete doppo la sua Partenza da Corinto, e della Presa d’Atene.
Fanelli, Francesco, Atene Attica: Descritta da suoi Principii Fino all’Acquisto Fatto dell’ Armi Veneti nel 1687, Venice, 1707.
Laborde, Leon de, Athènes aux Xve, XVIe et XVIIe Siècles, 3 vols, Paris, 1854.
Varola, Niccol and Francesco Volpato., Dispaccio di Francesco Morosini, Capitano Generale da Mar, Intorin at Bombardamento e della Presa d’ Atene, l’ Anno 1687, Venice, 1862.
Paton, James M. (editor), The Venetians in Athens, 1687-1688. From the lstoria of Cristoforo Ivanovich, Gennadeion Monographs I, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1940.
Mommsen, Theodor E., «The Venetians in Athens and the Destruction of the Parthenon in 1687», American Journal of Archaeology, 45, 1941, 544-56.
Korres, M. and Booras, Ch. Study for the restoration of the Parthenon, Ministry of Culture ESMA, Athens, 1983
Tanoulas T., The Propylaea Since the Seventeenth Century their Decay and Restoration. MA in conservation studies, University of York, York, 1983.