Venetian Cyprus


May 25, 2022

The island of Cyprus was an overseas possession of the Republic of Venice from 1489, when the independent Kingdom of Cyprus ended, until 1570-1571, when the island was conquered by the Ottoman Empire.


Venice wanted to control Cyprus for centuries and Venetian merchants operated on the island starting from 1000 AD, when the Venetian expansion (commercial and military) in the eastern Mediterranean began. In 1468, James II of Cyprus of the Lusignan family became king of Cyprus. In 1468 he chose Caterina Cornaro (born in Venice from the noble "Cornaro" family) as wife and queen consort of Cyprus. The choice of the king was extremely welcome by the Republic of Venice, since from then on he could have secured the commercial rights and other Venetian privileges on the island. The two married in Venice on 30 July 1468 by proxy of her when she was 14 years old. Giacomo died shortly after the marriage due to a sudden illness and, according to her will, Catherine, who was pregnant at the time, acted as regent. She became sovereign when their newborn son James died of malaria in August 1474 before her first birthday. The kingdom of Cyprus had long been in decline and was a tributary state of the Egyptian Mamluks from 1426. Under Catherine, who ruled Cyprus from 1474 to 1489, the island was controlled by Venetian merchants, and on March 14, 1489 was forced to abdicate and to sell the administration of the country to the Republic of Venice. According to George Boustronios, «on February 14, the queen dressed in black and accompanied by the barons and their ladies, set out on horseback. Six riders held the reins of her horse. From the moment she left Nicosia, her eyes kept filling with tears. When she left, the whole population was crying ». Thus, the last Crusader state became a colony of Venice and, in return, Catherine was granted the title of Queen and she received the appointment of Sovereign Lady of Asolo, a county in the Venetian mainland in northern Italy, in 1489. Most of Cyprus under Venice was made up of Greek Orthodox peasants who were oppressed by the Latin ruling class (linked to the former kings of the Lusignano) and it was estimated that there were about fifty thousand servants. Venice preferred Catholicism, which thus enjoyed an enormous increase in followers: for this reason there were problems with the local Greek Orthodox priests.

Attacks by the Ottoman Empire

During the period of Venetian rule, the Ottoman Turks attacked and plundered the peoples of Cyprus at will. The Greek population of Cyprus received weapons from their Venetian rulers and fought the Ottoman aggressors. In 1489, the first year of Venetian control, the Turks attacked the Karpas Peninsula, plundering and taking prisoners to sell as slaves. In 1539 the Turkish fleet attacked and destroyed Limassol. Fearing the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire, the Venetians fortified Famagusta, Nicosia, and Kyrenia, but most of the other cities were easy prey. In 1489, when Cyprus came under Venetian rule, Nicosia became its administrative center. The Venetian governors considered it necessary to fortify all cities of Cyprus due to the Ottoman threat. In 1567 the Venetians built the new fortifications of Nicosia, which are well preserved to this day, demolishing the old walls built by the Franks and other important Frankish era buildings including the King's Palace, other private palaces and Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries and Latin. The new walls took the shape of a star with eleven bastions: the bastion design was more suited to artillery and presented better control for defenders. The walls had three gates: the "Kyrenia Gate" to the north, the "Paphos Gate" to the west and the "Famagusta Gate" to the east. The Pedieos River flowed through the Venetian walled city, but in 1567 it was diverted to the es