The Turks in Terra d'Otranto

Turkish soldier Click here to enlarge


In the second half of the 15th century the Turks, having consolidated their dominion in Asia Minor with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, began to extend their expansionist gaze towards Europe and the Mediterranean. In August 1480 Otranto was laid siege to and conquered by the Turkish fleet of Mohammed II, under the command of Ahmed PasciÓ, governor of Valona. In the city's cathedral the bishop Stefano Pendinelli, the clergy and the people who had taken refuge there were all killed. Legend has it that on the nearby Minerva hill,, the surviving prisoners were massacred, to be remembered in history as the "800 martyrs" of Otranto. Their remains lie today partly in large glass cases inside the cathedral and partly in the church of Santa Caterina in Naples. During the siege, not far from Muro, Giulio Antonio Acquaviva, Count of Conversano, fell in a Turkish raid on the 7th February 1481.


After about a year of Turkish occupation Otranto was liberated by the troops of Alfonso d'Aragona, Duke of Calabria, but this did not bring an end to continual raids and sackings. It was thus that in the following century the Spanish government took steps to strengthen the town's defences and built coastal towers, so as to create a continuous line of defence and so as to be able to watch and warn, to protect the population and the general security of the Kingdom. Europe continued to live in fear. Turkish aggression culminated with the conquest of Cyprus which pushed Pious V, who became Pope in 1566, to promote an Italo-Spanish coalition, the "Christian League", against a common foe. Thus in 1571 the papal fleet set sail from Messina, where it had been put together at the end of August, and attacked and defeated the Turkish fleet on Sunday 7th October, in the famous battle of Lepanto, in the gulf of Patras. Christianity celebrated this victory with great jubilation, even if Sultan Selim II is said to have commented "The infidels have only succeeded in singeing my beard. It will grow again".


Turkish map
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Imported fine ware from Iznik, XVIth century Click here to enlarge