Thursday, October 4, 2007

Turks never invaded Corfu - The History of the Sieges


Turks at the Gates of the City
Kerkyra remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the Venetian fortifications of the island as well as the strength of the Byzantine fortifications of Angelokastro, Kassiopi, Gardiki and others, was another great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek civilization after the fall of Constantinople.

Early contact
There were many attempts by the Turks to take the island starting as early as 1431 when Turkish troops under Ali Bey landed on the island, tried to take the castle and raided the surrounding area, but were repulsed.

The Siege of 1537
This was the first great siege by the Turks. It started on the 29th August 1537 with 25,000 soldiers from the Turkish fleet landing and pillaging the island and taking 20,000 hostages as slaves. Despite the destruction wrought on the countryside, the city castle held out in spite of repeated attempts over twelve days to take it, and the Turks left the island unsuccessful because of poor logistics and an epidemic that decimated their ranks.

The Siege of 1571
Angelokastro in Kerkyra. These were the Byzantine fortifications that withstood the Turkish onslaught in 1571.
Thirty four years later in August of 1571 the Turks returned for yet another attempt at conquering the island. Having seized Parga and Mourtos from the Greek mainland side they attacked the Paxi islands, killing, looting and burning. Subsequently they landed on Corfu's southeast shore and established a large beachhead all the way from the southern tip of the island at Lefkimi to Ipsos in Corfu's eastern midsection. These areas were thoroughly pillaged and burnt as in past encounters. Nevertheless the city castle stood firm again, a testament to Corfiot-Venetian steadfastness as well as the Venetian castle-building engineering skills. It is also worth mentioning that another castle, Angelokastro (Greek: Αγγελόκαστρο meaning Angelo's Castle and named for its Byzantine owner Angelos Komnenos), situated on the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa (Greek: Παλαιοκαστρίτσα meaning Old Castle place) and located on particularly steep and rocky terrain, a tourist attraction today, also held out.
These Turkish defeats in the East and the West of the island proved decisive and the Turks abandoned their siege and departed.

The Siege of 1573
Two years later the Turks repeated their attempt. Coming from Africa after a victorious campaign, they landed in Corfu and wreaked havoc on the countryside yet again. Their troops however were not particularly noted for their discipline, so after a counterattack by the Venetian-Corfiot forces they were forced to leave the city by way of the sea.

The Siege of 1716
This is the second great siege of Corfu, which took place in 1716, during the last Turkish Venetian War. After the conquest of the Peloponnese in 1715, the Ottoman fleet appeared in Butrinto opposite Corfu. On 8 July the Turkish fleet, carrying 33,000 men, sailed to Corfu from Butrinto and established a beachhead at Ipsos.The same day the Venetian fleet encountered the Turkish fleet off the channel of Corfu and defeated it in the ensuing naval battle. On 19 July, after taking a few outlying forts, the Ottoman army reached the hills around the city of Corfu and laid siege to it. Despite repeated assaults and heavy fighting, the Turks were unable to breach the defences and wereforced to raise the siege after 22 days. The 5000 Venetians and foreign mercenaries, together with 3000 Corfiotes, under the leadership of Count von der Schulenburg who commanded the defence of the island, loomed tall and victorious once again. The success is owed in no small part to the extensive fortifications, where Venetian castle engineering had proven itself once again against considerable odds. The repulsion of the Ottomans was widely popularized in Europe, where Corfu was seen as a bastion of Western civilization against the Ottoman tide.
Today however, that role is often relatively unknown or ignored.Why?

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