On this day in 1988, Alec Issigonis, the Greek-British car designer and developer of the Mini Cooper, died at the age of 81. Born in Smyrna in 1906, Issigonis immigrated to London in 1922 during the war between Greece and Turkey. After studying engineering, he joined Morris Motors as a suspension designer. There he developed the Morris Minor, which remained in production from 1948 to 1971. A reliable vehicle with excellent steering and cornering qualities, it was the first all British car to pass the one million mark in sales (surviving models are still cherished by owners and collectors). In 1959, in response to the Suez energy crisis and the popularity of Germany’s Volkswagen Beetle, Issigonis introduced the Mini. The boxy, inexpensive, fuel-efficient Mini used a transverse engine to power its front wheels – a radical design at the time – and thus could seat four passengers despite being only 10 feet long.
On this day in 1828, the Greek city of Patras was liberated by the French expeditionary force under the leadership of General Maison. Located on the Gulf of Patraikos, Patras is the chief port of the Peloponnese and one of the largest ports in Greece. In the 8th and 9th centuries, its population was increased by refugees from various Slavic invasions. In 1205, it became a Frankish barony after the notorious 4th Crusade and the seat of an autonomous Latin archbishop, who later sold the city to Venice in 1408. It was long contested by the Venetians and the Turks. Patras was the see of Bishop Germanos, who in 1821 raised the standard of the Greek War of Independence in Kalavrita. During the War, the Turks burned the city to the ground before they retreated. Patras was eventually freed in 1828 and its current grid plan dates from the reconstruction that took place after the war was over.
Also on this day in 1908, Crete revolted against Turkey and aligned itself with Greece. The island of Crete, an Ottoman possession since the end of the Cretan War (1645-1669), when Venetian rule ended, was inhabited by a mostly Greek-speaking population, whose majority was Christian. During and after the Greek War of Independence, the Christians of the island rebelled several times against external Ottoman rule, pursuing a union with the rest of Greece. In 1878, the Pact of Halepa established the island as an autonomous state under Ottoman suzerainty, until the Ottomans reneged on that agreement in 1889. The collapse of the Pact heightened tensions on the island and led to another rebellion in 1895, which expanded greatly over the next few years to cover most of the island. In 1897, there was another violent uprising in Crete which led the Ottoman Empire to declare war on Greece. In turn, this caused the Great Powers (Britain, France, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia) to intervene on the grounds that the Ottoman Empire could no longer maintain control. This was the prelude to the island’s final annexation by the Kingdom of Greece, which occurred de facto in 1908 and de jure in 1913.
On this day in 1987, Konstantinos Tsatsos, the Greek politician and second President of the Third Hellenic Republic (1975-1980) died at the age of 88. Born in Athens, he graduated from law school before joining the diplomatic corps. He completed his doctoral studies in Germany and returned to Greece where he became a professor of law in 1932. He was exiled for opposing the dictatorial 4th of August Regime under Prime Minister of Greece Ioannis Metaxas in 1940. Later, during the Axis Occupation of Greece, he participated in the Greek Resistance and eventually fled to the Middle East where the exiled Greek government was seated. After the end of the War, he returned to Greece where he became a minister for the first time – serving as Minister of the Interior. After the formation of the National Radical Union by Constantine Karamanlis, he became a member of that party and one of the closest colleagues of Karamanlis – even though, ideologically, he was a centrist-liberal and not a conservative. He worked alongside Karamanlis for many years and was eventually elected President of the Republic by the parliament. Tsatsos retired after serving his five-year term. He died less than a decade later and was survived by his wife, Ioanna nee Seferiadou, the sister of the Nobel Laureate poet George Seferis.