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N a f p a k t o s the Jewel of the Corinthian Gulf , where the famous Naval Battle of Lepanto took place on Oct 7 , 1571 .The Gulf of Lepanto is a long arm of the Ionian Sea running from east to west and separating the Pelloponnesian peninsula to the south from the Greek mainland to the north.

Jutting headlands divide the Gulf into two portions: the inner one, called the Gulf of Corinth today , ends with the isthmus of the same name , and the outer one is an irregular , funnel-shaped inlet now called the Gulf of Patras. For six weeks Ali Pasha's ships had been anchored inside the fortified harbor of Lepanto located in the gulf's inner portion, and on October 5 they began to move slowly westward past the dividing headlands into the outer Gulf of Patras. Still unsure of the enemy's position , Ali Pasha ordered his fleet to drop anchor for the night in a sheltered bay fifteen miles from the entrance to the inlet, where it remained all the next day anxiously awaiting the return of the scouting vessels.

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Around midnight Kara Kosh reached the anchorage with the news that the Christian fleet was then at Cephalonia , an Ionian island almost directly opposite and parallel to the mouth of the Gulf of Lepanto. With the first light of dawn the following morning , October 7 , 1571 , lookouts stationed high on a peak guarding the northern shore of the gulf's entrance signaled to Kara Kosh that the enemy was heading south along the coast and would soon round the headland into the gulf itself. The signal was relayed to Ali Pasha , who gave the order to weigh anchor. Everyone scrambled to battle stations and , as the fleet advanced , strained for the first sight of the enemy force.

The Christian fleet had started to move southward toward the Gulf of Lepanto. Now only fiteen miles of open water separated the forces of Islam and those of Christendom. The Turkish fleet , which numbered over two hundred and thirty galleys and one hundred auxiliary vessels , Ali Pasha commanded the center squadron , which faced the one commanded by Don Juan of Austria.

According to naval practice in those days , the moment two rival fleets finally assumed their respective battle formations , the leader of one would fire a piece of artillery as a challenge to fight , and the opponent would answer by firing two cannon to signify that he was ready to give battle. This day it was the Turks who made the challenge , and the sharp report from Ali Pasha's flagship was quickly followed by double round from Don Juan's artillery. At this time a large green silk banner , decorated with the Moslem crescent and holy inscriptions in Arabic , was hoisted on the Turkish flagship.

Now the setting was complete. The cross and the crescent fluttered aloft , symbolizing the two religions and the two hostile Civilizations of Christendom and Islam , whose forces were about to meet in the decisive battle of their long and bitter holy war.

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 With the very first barrage many Turkish galleys were sunk and over a score badly damaged. After an hour of heavy fighting it was captured , the first Christian prize of the battle. The Christians were more than a match for them. In fact , they fought with such incredible ferocity that the battle soon became a slaughter. The defeat of the Turk's right wing was complete. Not one galley escaped. Those that were not sunk , burned , or grounded ashore were captured by their Christian opponents. The whole battle was over by four o'clock that afternoon , even though many of the Christian galleys were still giving chase to the Turkish ships and other solitary escaping Turkish vessels. The waters of the gulf for miles around were stained red from the great amount of blood shed that day and the sea was strewn with the bodies of both victors and vanquished. At sunset there were signs of approaching bad weather , Don Juan ordered the fleet to regroup quickly and head for a sheltered bay near the northwestern limits of the gulf. Around midnight they anchored in the bay and immediately all the fleet's leaders , with the exception of those badly wounded , came on board.

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Don Juan's galley gatherd to congratulate him and celebrate the victory. The losses suffered by the Holy League fleet were between seven and eight thousand killed and about twice that number wounded , and only ten or fifteen ships had been sunk during the battle. These losses were comparatively light. Of the three hundred and thirty Turkish ships , fewer than fifty managed to escape and most of them were burned because they could not be made sufficiently seaworthy for further use; one hundred and seventeen Moslem galleys were captured intact and the rest were sunk or destroyed after they had been run ashore by the fleeing Turks.

A large majority of the seventy-five thousand men who had entered the battle on the Moslem side were killed , five thousand were taken prisoner (with at least teice that number of Christian galley slaves liberated) , and only a few were able to escape either by ship or by swimming ashore.Turkey, for the first time in several centuries , was left without a navy.

Word of the fleet's splendid victory at Lepanto preceded Don Juan's return and quickly spread throughout Europe. The Republic of Venice was the first allied state to receive the happy news. The Doge quickly ordered a week of public celebrations and the seventh of October was declared a perpetual holiday in memory of the Battle of Lepanto. Hundreds of poems , songs , and paintings were produced all over Christendom in commemoration of the victory. All of Christendom took heart.

The famous Spanish writer , Miguel de Cervantes , who himself was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto , serving in the Spanish infantry , and who had also been a captive of the Barbary pirates until ransomed , recounted many of his experiences in the novel Don Quixote. The Battle of Lepanto marked the end of Turkish naval supremacy and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire's decline on both land and sea. Perhaps the most important result of the battle was its effect on men's minds: the victory had ended the myth that the Turks could not be beaten.

The Turkish fleet had 208 Galleys, 66 small ships; The Christian fleet about the same number.

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The crusaders lost 17 ships and 7,500 men; 15 Turkish ships were sunk and 177 taken, from 20,000 to 30,000 men disabled , and from 12,000 to 15,000 Christian rowers, slaves on the Turkish Gaileys, were delivered. Though this Victory did not accomplish all that was hoped for, since the Turks appeared the very next year with a fleet of 250 ships before Modon and Cape Matapan, and in vain offered battle to the Christians, it was of great importance as being the first great defeat of the infidels on the sea.

Held by the Venetians from 1687 to 1689, and thence by the Turks until 1827, it became in the latter year part of the new Greek realm. Today Nafpaktos (Naupactus,) chief town of the district in the province of Arcarnania Aetolia, has (12,000 inhabitants), all Orthodox Greeks.

By Georgios Rigas


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