A museum honouring hundreds of foreign-born volunteers who fought for Greece’s independence will open in Athens ahead of the 200th anniversary of the 1821 revolution, the head organiser said Friday.
Among over 400 items to be displayed in the Philhellenism Museum opening in early March are personal items of Lord Byron, the romantic poet who died in 1824 fighting for Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
The collection will also include paintings, letters, books, weapons, revolutionary pamphlets and ornaments.
“We want people to understand what it was like to be in Greece during this period,” says Constantinos Velentzas, founder of the Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism that manages the collection.
A Luxembourg-based entrepreneur and amateur historian who left Greece at the age of 15, Velentzas says it has taken a decade to put the collection together.
“We have a team of people who follow auctions all over Europe... and in the United States,” he said.
“It’s not a hobby, it’s a mission,” he said.
A leading figure of the Romantic movement, Byron was among hundreds of Europeans — many of them hardened veterans of the Napoleonic Wars — and Americans who joined the struggle for Greek independence, inspired by ancient Greek ideals.
The volunteers were startled to find most modern Greeks illiterate and ignorant of their glorious past — but stayed on to help Greek guerilla bands with funds, equipment and combat or medical expertise.
Former rivals in the Napoleonic Wars found themselves fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in Greece’s defence.
Among the Philhellenes was Karl Rudolf Brommy, who later helped establish Germany’s first unified fleet.
Another was Frank Hastings, an English naval officer who funded and captained the Greek sloop ‘Karteria’, the first steam-powered warship to be used in combat.
After fighting broke out between rival Greek factions, the revolution was nearly quelled by an invasion in 1824 by Egypt, a vassal state of the Ottoman Sultan.
The war was eventually won thanks to the military intervention of Britain, France and Russia, who defeated the Ottomans and Egyptians in the decisive 1827 naval battle of Navarino. Greece became an independent state in 1830.
The non-profit Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism that is behind the new museum is also planning a monument bearing the names of 1,500 foreign volunteers, Velentzas said.
The Greek state has planned dozens of events nationwide to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Greek revolutionary war.
The museum project is backed by the Athens regional administration, whose governor George Patoulis last year, said the aim was to “tighten and cultivate relations of friendship and cooperation with modern Philhellenes and allies of Greece worldwide.”
The US embassy is also a partner in the project.
The pandemic affected plans to acquire a bigger building in Athens for the collection, and initial visits may have to be online, Velentzas said.—AFP