The heart of Cephalonia beat for centuries in the Castle of Agios Georgios.
The hill where this fortification monument of the island is located, hosts a strange Universe-carrier of messages, a fortress by nature, worked in stone, with stone and wood, soil and water. A space open to the gods and the sky, in the air and in the light, warmed by the timeless, anonymous and not, traces of its walkers, a space full of unique energy, full of the uninterrupted and infinity of years, has a secret relationship with Kefalonian nature that for years took care of itself, its existence and faithfully serves the historical memory, as, as the first capital of the island, its history is identical with that of Cephalonia.
Myths and legends were covered by the first traces of history. Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian. And somewhere between the last two, history recorded two short Turkish occupations, so short that their heirlooms are few and limited to old coins.
Shortly before the abandonment of all the Frankish possessions of the East in the Crescent, the ruler of Cephalonia Leonardo II Tokco in 1477 decided to bypass the Venetian power that had risen in the Mediterranean, and married in a second marriage the nephew of King F. Martiana. The Venetians, on January 20, 1479, agreed to peace with the Turks – in fact “humiliating peace” – and to avenge Toko, they left him out of the treaty, resulting in the overthrow of the County, the appearance of the Turks in Cephalonia and Tokko’s flight to Taranto.
16/9/1479 – 1481: First Turkish occupation (almost two years)
Ahmet, commander of Avlona, triumphantly entered the Castle, slaughtered all the lords, “cut them into pieces” and set fire to the Fortress. He left part of his army on the island led by a military commander -subasi- who resided in the fortified capital and gathered in his hands all the powers on behalf of the Sultan, while when he left he took with him 10,000 villagers whom he sold into slavery. of the East.
Immediately after the official installation of the Turkish guard, part of the Turkish fleet headed for Zakynthos. There, however, the Venetian Captain protested on the grounds that the island was inhabited for the most part by citizens of Galinotati. But the pasha was not intimidated. He looted and burned this part of the Palatinate County of Cephalonia.
In 1481 Leonardo with Neapolitan tarides and galleys headed to Cephalonia and asked the Turkish Sumbasi to hand over the island. The Turk refused. In the same year, Leonardo’s brother, Antonio Tokco, with Catalan mercenaries captured Zakynthos and Cephalonia, in whose Castle it is testified that the Turkish guard was weak and few. But already, on May 3, 1481, Muhammad the Conqueror had died and his son Bayezid II took his place, just as capable as his father, but more pacifist.
In 1482 the Turks recaptured Zakynthos and Antonios was fortified in the Castle of Agios Georgios. This act once again aroused the hatred of the Venetians for the Catalans. Admiral Duodo was sent from Galenotati to Cephalonia and offered the besieged to surrender the Castle in exchange for -500 ducats and other privileges-. But he refused. The oppression he exerted on the Kefalonians as well as his tolerance for pirate raids that stripped the island, led to an attack even by the locals, during which Antonios was killed in 1483 by his own guards inside the Castle of Agios Georgios. His assassination marked the end of the Toki dynasty, the end of the Frankish period for Cephalonia and the beginning of a brief Venetian occupation of the island, until:
1485-1500: Second Turkish occupation (almost fifteen years)
The merchants of the North would keep Zakynthos for their service but would pay the Sultan 500 Venetian pennies a year. However, before leaving the island and following the order of Doge Giovanni Montsenigo, Cephalonia was completely deserted, so as not to offer revenue to the Sultan.
In the days of the Turkish occupation, the sluggish stereotype prevailed, which of course had a positive result: the stabilization of the various elements that make up what, although it existed, years later took on flesh and blood: the Greek nation.
The Ottoman regime was completely theocratic. Bayezid II was “the shadow of God on earth,” the legislator, the absolute ruler. “The earth belongs to God and he gives it to whomever he wants.” Based on this principle of the Qur’an, all the lands that had been conquered by the Ottomans belonged to the Sultan. And he, in turn, gave as much land as he wanted to his favored ones.
Thus the land ownership regime changed in Cephalonia. In the possession of the Turks it passed apart from all public property – duties, mills, salt flats, estates -, and much of the private.
Bayezid issued Cannuname specifically for Cephalonia in 1492 and economic, judicial, military and administrative matters were determined. The island was ruled by a Voevoda (military commander) and a Kadis (priest-judge) and the joint Turkish administration was applied, which corresponds to the rest of Turkish-occupied Greece.
Taxation, the main income of the Turks, was regulated by special provisions. Officials on the subject collected revenue from the products of the primary sector of Cephalonia, and often the locals suffered from their predatory dispositions.
However, the second Venetian-Turkish war broke out soon, the first hostilities of which took place in 1499 and its end was signed in 1503. The result of the war was the conquest of some Venetian centers by the Ottomans, such as Nafpaktos (29/8 / 1499), Navarino (24/6/1500), Methoni (10/8/1500), Koroni and since the Empress of Adria could not even cross the Ionian, he decided that he had to occupy Cephalonia, the which had already twice tried to recover during its oligo-Turkish occupation by violating Bayazit’s Firman. One was under Antonio Grimani and the other under Melchior Trevisan (Pesaro’s predecessor), who died on the island after leaving the entire business.
Organization and preparation of the recapture of Cephalonia
Venice, in order to preserve its prestige and sovereignty in the Ionian, urgently launched diplomatic efforts through the mediation of Pope Alexander VI. He found a response to the Most Catholic kings of Spain, Ferdinard II and Isabella I, who at that moment, this acceptance was translated as a sacred Christian duty against the non-believers. After all, the Spaniards had already collaborated with the Doge because they intended to defend the coast of Sicily from the French. Thus Spain sent the great and already famous for the successes of the Gran Capitan of the Spanish fleet Gonzalo de Cordoba (Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y Enríquez de Aguilar, Hellenized Cδrdoba by Satha) to lead the . Thus the morale of the Venetians was revived, especially after the union of the two fleets in Zakynthos. In fact, the strength of this fleet was so great that after the recapture of Cephalonia (Christmas Eve 1500), followed that of the castle of Pylos and Lefkada (30/8/1502) which was carried out only by the Venetians.
Almost the entire Spanish fleet, equipped with a large number of experienced soldiers, with many horses, weapons and cannons, was concentrated in Malaga, from where they departed immediately, on June 3, 1500 for Messina. On October 31, de Cordoba sent his reconnaissance ships and led the fleet to Zakynthos. There he joined his Venetian Pesaro and they co-decided to march north, to Cephalonia, the conquest of which was the demand, since they also received a “Zakynthian man armed” as noted by the Chian.
When the allies anchored at Vardiani, “the perimeters [the Turks on the island] took refuge on the rock of Agios Georgios Fortress”. Then the Spanish-Venetians sailed to the leeward bay of Argostoli, a station known for its commercial routes for its fertile soil and the abundant drinking water available on its aquifer, and began to cut down its rich and already well-known forests. Ainou.
Important to the besiegers was the offer of Patrikios Giannoulis and his sons Petros and Antonios. They were among the Kefallinians who lived persecuted in the mountains. But as soon as they realized what was happening in the Castle, they hurried to help the Spanish-Venetians, taking care of their food. In a short time they collected animals, the value of which amounted to the important for the time amount of 200 ducats. Sathas reports that Patrikios Giannoulis informed the allies about the “fortress of the fortress, the terror of the Turks and the lack of food and ammunition.” The description of the chronology of the fall, however, gives different facts.
The united Christian forces soon besieged the 300 Turks who, under the fearless Albanian Hisdar, were fortified inside the Castle of Agios Georgios.
300 steps outside the main gate of the impenetrable fortress, part of the artillery (Bombardieri) with 600 infantry was installed. He formed ramparts and had as his leaders Villalva and Pizzaro, the father of the later conqueror of Peru.
In the second line, behind the artillery, a little to the left and at a distance of about 35 steps, the rest of the artillery was placed. Next to it was the headquarters of de Cordoba, the other cavalry and 2,500 infantry.
On the last line, on the supply line, were the Venetian soldiers led by Pesaro.
To the right of the artillery and to the left of the Spaniards lined up outside the side exit, between the Castle and the settlement outside, 200 hoplites, 200 cavalry and 1,500 infantry were stationed under the command of Don Diego de Mentoza and Don Perdo Paz. .
Where Esopilon was and on the hill where the Turks had a hidden side door, 100 hoplites, 100 cavalry and 1000 infantry lined up under the orders of Pedro de Hoces.
Thus the impenetrable Castle was almost suffocatingly surrounded and at its foot 1000 infantry lined up.
Other prominent officers on the front lines were: Count Melito, Zamudio, Diego Garcia de Paredes. It should be noted that the multifaceted help from the Kefallinians was also important, who left the security provided by their shelters, and ran to the side of their liberators. The besiegers had already taken care to promise privileges to those locals who helped in the fall.
The position of the besieged Ottomans was clearly difficult. Just the sight of the thousands of armored vehicles that had blocked the hill of Ai-Giorgis would have disappointed them. And yet they were not discouraged. The bloodthirsty Turkish hordes did not become easy prey. Let us not forget that Doge Agostino Barbarigo had not underestimated this fact at all and so, in the perilous siege of St. George’s Castle, in this fight for prestige, he had relied on the experience of the Spaniard, overthrowing his own and with him and his own forces, which played an auxiliary role in the siege.
The Turks had repaired the fortress and had a lot of weapons. In particular, each soldier had 7 bows and 7,000 arrows which, in order to make them safe from death, were poisoned. Due to the abundant and good quality wood provided by the forest of Ainos, they had built many war machines, including the “wolves” (lobus). In addition, they were warlike and savage. Encouraged by Muslim rules and driven by their predatory interests, they would make it difficult for united Christians to succeed.
The Spanish-Venetians, before starting the hostilities, sent two commanders, Aparicio, admiral of the triremes and Solis, commander of the infantry, and offered his surrender to Hisdar, ensuring their freedom and safe return to their homeland. If he did not surrender the fortress, there would be no pity for the losers. Hisdar, an adventurer, fearless and disobedient by nature, answered them characteristically: “Christians, thank you for the opportunity you give us to prove to our emperor, Bayazit, our devotion. We will bravely resist or die glorious. Your threats do not frighten us. We know that only destiny can decide our destruction. ” And along with the words he sent de Cordoba a sturdy bow and a gilded bow.
And of course, the Spanish-Venetians began the siege.But the rains also began.
The attackers worked day and night and attacked the besieged in waves. He started the artillery with powerful missiles that could penetrate a thick wall. Another very important weapon that the besiegers had, and to which they owed their victory, was the abundant timber of Ainos that allowed them to build siege engines. They also built stairs so that they could climb, made piles higher than the walls, opened sewers – on November 5, two large sections of the wall collapsed from the explosion – and during the attack, to protect themselves from the rain by the poisoned Turkish arrows, stones, hot oil and tar, applied an already successful method of the Spaniard de Cordoba: they hid under bulky baskets covered with cork.
Nevertheless, there were many dead on the Spanish side. And those of them who had the irrational courage to enter the fort were killed as martyrs. The only exception is the prisoner Diego Garcia De Paredes, whom the Turks admired for his courage and fighting spirit and respected him, intending to exchange him for their lives in case of forced surrender.
The battles continued unabated and with great fury. The attackers alternated while the besieged began to run out. Swords, spears, harpsichords, cannons, ladders, towers, bridges and even trenches, all offensive weapons and all war structures were used with rage and stubbornness.
The Turks dared to attack not from the gates, but from the places where the walls had been torn down. In one of them, the Spanish Admiral, tired as he was, had fallen asleep. However, he woke up and was led “from a dream” -as the chronicle says- to a specific point of the wall, from where he was the first to attack the non-believers, preventing the certain slaughter and defeat of the Spaniards.
On Wednesday, November 16, Pesaro, overestimating his strength and desperate for the fruitlessness of the Spanish attacks, despite the opposition of the measured de Cordoba, decided to leave the supply line and attack with all the means at his disposal – including . At the same time, his soldiers attacked. Finding no resistance, they entered through the walls. The Turkalvans – as expected – had trapped them. Those who dared to enter quickly found themselves in front of a surprise: the wicked Orientals, attacked from their hiding places and slaughtered others, captured others and demolished others from the high walls.
The plight of the Venetians made the Spanish Admiral even more cautious, who, together with Pedro Navarro – later named minador – dug three large sewers, which were filled with explosives. The Turks, however, through the walls, monitored these openings and took their measures as much as they could, constantly strengthening the bases of the walls. The Spaniards, in parallel with the explosions, also organized a simultaneous group attack from a bridge they had already built towards the unguarded side of the walls. But the explosions did not work out as expected, as the walls were too strong.
On December 24, Christmas Eve 1500, 50 days after the siege began, the final assault took place. The Venetians and the Spaniards, taking advantage of the hunger and exhaustion of the long besieged, used all sieges at the same time and from all sides, while the Turkalvans, in order to close the rifts, even placed the bodies of their dead comrades. Eventually, the besiegers entered from the bridge, stormed the Castle and took possession of the island. Among the first dead of this siege is Markos Sigouros from Zakynthos, who “killed himself” and jumped first from the walls. Zeus rewarded his sons with the title of comet and with estates in Zakynthos “Venice”.
All this according to the Spanish chronicle and the Venetian historians. However, according to Ottoman sources, the janissaries, after an eight-month siege, surrendered the kala-i-Kifalonia (Castle of Cephalonia) despite the fact that the azep, the auxiliary hoplites, had initially put up resistance. In fact, Bayezid II later ordered the execution of the janissaries who handed over St. George of Cephalonia. We should not forget that the Turks have a special way of dealing with their defeat, which they embellish with clothes if not of victory, at least of lesser defeat.
Immediately after the outburst, and while the victorious soldiers would “clear” the area, the Venetian noble officer of the fleet, Marco Orio, raised the flag with the lion of St. Mark next to the banner of St. Jago in the half-destroyed shells and sabotage walls. of Fortetsa with the sound of trumpets, while the need for proper fortification of the city immediately emerged.
On the same night, Pesaro wrote a letter to the Members of the Council of the Most Serene, announcing the recapture of Kefallinia.
At the same time, Ferdinand’s reputation as a “defender of the Christian faith” immediately spread throughout Europe. This glorious victory added glamor to Spain, which emerged as a cosmopolitan empire.
In January 1501, after a delay of a few days due to the strain of such a difficult battle but also due to the weather, the Spaniards were the first to set sail from the port of Argostoli, with their ships loaded with timber, for Sicily. In the small settlement of fishermen, trade -legal and illegal-, and warehouses, a little later was to be erected by the new rulers of Cephalonia the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria which, as its name says, was dedicated to Our Lady Victory, symbol of the Spanish Reconquista.
The Venetians, as they agreed with the Spaniards, kept the island for their Most Peaceful Republic. The first officials of the administration of Kefallinia were immediately appointed, while during the first months of 1502, Pesaro left the Castle and headed towards the neighboring Lefkada, leaving behind two galleys, whose crews would help in the reconstruction of Fortezza.
A characteristic phrase describing the Castle in February 1500 is that of the nobleman Batista Polani “it is so powerful that the devil can not do anything like it”. Polani lived through the most difficult and stubborn period of hardship, participated in the terrifying above-ground and underground destruction of the walls and saw the “burned earth” that remained. Frequent changes of rulers, wars, looting, the brief and double presence of the Turks on the island with all that entailed, plagues, famines and earthquakes, dramatically reduced the number of inhabitants who had reached lower levels (a total of 10,000 inhabitants are reported in 1500). Adequate hands to work the land were few. But the earth itself had suffered several disasters.
Thus, the first concern of the Venetians was the settlement of the island. Here, too, areas under Turkish occupation played a role, the Greek inhabitants of which they lured by offering lots of land and recruited them as stradioti. Many Venetians, merchants and aristocrats, adventurers and nobles, who found in Cephalonia, in this new land that promised much, a way out and new horizons, also gathered. Thus whole families arrived from the West and the East and settled on the island that began with Venice its historical course which was to last 300 whole years.