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HISTORY OF CORFU

THE VENETIAN STATE 1386-1797

THE SECOND PERIOD

Towards the end of the 14th century the Byzantine Empire and the Sovereignty of Ipirus found themselves in a sharp decline and even though the rule of the Anjou in Corfu was weak, they were in no position to interfere. However another force, the Venetians, with their strong pro-Greek spirit, tried using peaceful, diplomatic means, to annex Corfu.

They offered to buy off the island from the then ruler, Philip, in 1314 and again in 1350. In 1355, an attack was planned on Corfu, a venture that was postponed at the last minute, to be followed by new offers for the island in 1374 and 1382.

Supported by a large number of Corfiot friends, the Venetians plotted conspiracies that were unsuccessful.

Following intense negotiations that took place on the island, the pro-Venetian view was upheld with promises from the Venetian admiral Ioannis Miani that Corfu would be treated as an ally and not a vassal.

This is followed by a successful attack on the fortification and the hoisting of the Venetian flag on 20 March 1386 at Corfu’s fort.

Although Angelokastro gave in immediately, the fort at Cassiopi put up strong resistance. After many casualties and fiery battles, the fort was taken, but in retaliation it was razed to its foundations, leaving the area unfortified.

THE ADMINISTRATION UNDER THE VENETIANS

The second Venetian period lasted for more than four centuries (1386 – 1797). In these four centuries Corfu assimilated its Venetian population and they in return gave the Corfiots many useful elements from their traditions, culture and organisational experience.

All through the period of the Venetian occupation, the system of government was based along the lines of the aristocratic state of Venice itself. The administration of the area was in the hands of the social class of the aristocracy, the ‘Nobili’ (those registered in the Libro D’Oro) in conjunction with the occupying authorities. It should be mentioned that Venice gave away the functioning of the entire state machine to the local element.

‘Vailus’ and his two consultants, all of them being Venetians, held judicial power. The ‘Pronoitis’, being Venetian, too with a certain amount of judicial power commanded the military forces.

The overseeing authority of all of the above was the ‘General Pronoitis of the Seas’ who was based in Corfu.

During regular intervals the ‘Inkvigitor’ came to the island being authorised to investigate the conduct of all the authorities and to impose severe penalties.

The overall governing of the island was undertaken by frequently appointed generals who held a wide spectrum of responsibilities.

INCURSIONS DURING THE VENETIAN OCCUPATION

Although Venice defended Corfu during the entire period of her occupation, invasions and pillaging still took place. In 1403 an attempt to occupy Angelokastro was made by the Genoese fleet. The pillaging of the surrounding area was followed by a furious battle with the Corfiot garrison, which forced the Genoese to withdraw.

 

ATTEMPTED TURKISH INVASIONS

Because of Venetian occupation, Corfu was the only part of Greece never to come under Turkish rule, with its harsh oppression. The absence of a Turkish influence can be seen in every possible way (architecture, town planning, literature, music, and lifestyle)

However there were frequent attempts by the Turks to take the island as in 1431 when Turkish troops under Ali Bey, landed on the island trying to occupy the castle but were repulsed. Pillaging of the neighboring villages was repeated.

At this time there were also pirate-like attacks from the Genoese and Franks..

THE SIEGE OF 1537

The first great siege by the Turks.

On the 29 August 1537, a 25,000 strong Turkish fleet landed and ravaged the island, taking 20,000 hostages into slavery.

After twelve days of destructive, but unsuccessful attacks against the city castle, in which they failed to take the town, they left Corfu, affected by the lack of provisions and a deadly epidemic

THE SIEGE OF 1571

For three decades Corfu tried to heal the open wounds of the siege of 1537.

Mid August 1571, the Turkish fleet, having successfully conquered the castles of Parga and Mourtos, once again headed for Corfu. It first occupied the Paxi islands, looting, slaughtering the few inhabitants and burning the island. Immediately after that, Turkish troops landed all along the coast from Lefkimi to Ipsos, with specific orders to burn everything to the ground. Once more the castles of Corfu and Angelokastro managed to stand firm.

THE SIEGE OF 1573

Victorious Turkish troops, on their return from Africa, pillaged the Greek coastline and landed at Corfu. Their victory had made the troops undisciplined and disobedient. As a result, after a brave counterattack by the Venetian and Corfiot troops, the Turks were forced to board their ships and leave Corfu Town.

 

THE BUILDING OF THE WALLS OF THE TOWN

After occupying Corfu, the Venetians undertook the responsibility for its fortification.

A local representation of Corfiot nobles (Ambassadors) requested in 1532, for the first time, the extension of the fortifications, in order to protect the residents outside Corfu Town in case of attack.

In 1542 the same request is repeated by another team of ‘Ambassadors’ that visits Venice. The ‘Ambassadors’ of 1558 secures the improvements to the fortifications.

Following the sieges of 1571 and 1573, work on the fortification of Corfu Town was accelerated and supplemented by the construction of the New Fort, Avrami Fort, and The Saviours Fort. These works started in 1576 and were completed in 1588 under the supervision of the military engineer, Francisco Ferdinando Fratelli.

 

THE SIEGE OF 1716

The second great Turkish siege.

The intentions of the Turks for expansion to the West and their interest in the Ionian Islands never stopped.

Venice, in response to the situation, sent John Mathew Schulenburg, an Austrian general in Venetian employ as Field Marshal to lead the defense of the islands.

A new landing of Turkish troops, this time 33,000 strong, took place on the island on the 8th July 1716. They first took over the fortresses of Mandouki and Garitsa and then they seized the fortresses of Avrami and the Saviour. They also seized one of the most important bastions of the New Fort.

The Turkish attacks continued until the 8th of August.

On the 9th August, a destructive storm created havoc in the Turkish camp. Rumours that soldiers saw St Spiridon as a monk threatening them with a lit torch further increased their panic. Other military obligations forced the withdrawal of the Turkish troops from the siege of Corfu.

The departure of the Turks on the 11th August was a rout and was assigned to the miraculous intervention of the saint.

This was the first siege that had not cost any civilian lives.

Venice honored Schulenmburg, the Corfiots and Corfu for the defense of the island. At the same time, it legislated the establishment of the litany of St Spiridon on the 11th August as a commemoration of the event.

 

 

ST SPIRIDON

According to tradition, a Greek, recorded as having been both priest and wealthy citizen, George Kalocheiritis brought the relics of St Spiridon and St Theodora to Corfu Island from Constantinople.

The relics remained the property of the Kalocheiritis family until the latter, was given to the municipality of Corfu. The latter was ‘married’ into the Boulgaris family when he became dowry for a great-granddaughter of the original Kalocheiritis.

Up to 1577 the relics of St Spiridon (Protector of the island) were placed in the privately owned church of the Boulgari (the present position of the Palace cinema).

Following the fortification of Corfu Town, the church was demolished. The relics were transported to a newer church, which was built inside the fortifications (its present position) and became the property of the Orthodox Church. Here he remains until today, universally loved and respected throughout the Ionian.

Four litanies were established during Venetian occupation in the following chronological order:

-The Easter Saturday litany commemorating the miracle of the Saint for saving the island from famine

-The litany of Palm Sunday which was established for his saving of the island from the plague of 1629

-The litany established for the first Sunday of November to commemorate the saving of the island from the plague of 1673

-The 11August litany to commemorate the saving of the island from the Turkish siege of 1716.

 

THE SETTLEMENTS OF CORFU

The sieges of 1537 and 1571 resulted in the depopulation of the island. The existing population of the island did not exceed 20,000. Venice then started creating a flow of immigration towards Corfu for two main reasons. The first was to give life to the Corfiot countryside that had great potential for development.

The second was to bring to its own territories the human potential distinguished for its financial, spiritual, military and technical skills from mainland Greece. As a result of this policy there was organised emigration from Nafplio and Monemvasia to the area of Lefkimi with the establishment of Anaplades village.

The main body of emigration went to the northern coast of Corfu, extending from Pirgi to Cassiopi with chieftain, Barbati, in charge.

Close to Corfu Town they established the suburb of Stratia.

Another great wave of emigration from the Pelopponese built Moraitika, rebuilt destroyed Korakiana and took over abandoned houses, properties and villages over the entire island.

The most populated of all was the Cretan colony that spread around the Garitsa area which was also rebuilt. Those Cretans who were financially stronger stayed in the town itself.

In the southern section of Corfu, Cretans built the villages of Kritika, Strongili, Messongi and Argirades, whilst in the northern part of the island they established St Markos’ village.

These new immigrants gave life to the island and Corfu enjoyed great prosperity.

It was characteristic of all settlements that the dynamism of the Corfiot element dominated the foreign elements directly and decisively.

THE LOWER CLASSES

During the Venetian period, the financial, political and social life was firmly in the hands of the local oligarchy.

On the other side of the social spectrum stood the ordinary people forming a developed, progressive and demanding society that knew how to fight exploitation and oppression and knew how to revolt even when it knew that it would lose the battle. The sieges of 1538 and 1571 left gaps in the ranks of the nobles. To fill these gaps, new families were allowed to register in the book of nobles (Libra d’Oro).

Those from the middle class that did not become nobles began creating problems that upset and stirred the masses. During the entire 17th century, a number of revolts disturbed the peace of the island, leading to bloodshed.

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