[LINK] "Rethymno and the complicated history of Crete"
Australian blogger Jim Belshaw of Personal Reflections recently visited Greece, and found the time to write about Crete and its interesting and long history outside of the Greek state (joined in 1908 after a period of autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, only recognized internationally in 1913). Earlier still, it was a Venetian possession, a key element of that republic's Mediterranean thalassocracy
The geo-political position facing Venice was quite complicated. It was a city state. However, like Athens before it and England later, it ruled a maritime empire. Trade was central. In turn, this made naval power central.
Venice also had to contend with complicated and changing relationships between other powers. At home, it had to manage the rise of, and conflict between, changing forces, including a papacy that was both a temporal and spiritual power. Abroad, it had to manage the trading and political relationships required to preserve its control of trade. This included its relationships with the Byzantine Empire.
Venice grew as the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire in the west, it prospered because of its later relations with the Byzantine Empire, the biggest European power of the time. A constant stream of secret messages passed into Venice to inform the Government. These, together with the Papal archives, provide a picture of the complex relationships in the Mediterranean at a time when England was still emerging.
The merchants of Venice were, I think, practical men. They had little time for the more arcane religious disputes. These were things to be managed. Yet, as practical men, they faced a conflict between a dollar in the hand now and the longer term. Venice's role during the Crusades gave them an immediate gain in terms of wealth and power, but the damage done to the Byzantine Empire on which their wealth actually depended arguably doomed them in the longer term. However, that doom was sometime coming.
To hold their new territory, they built forts. The Forteza at Rethymno is a huge construction. Designed to protect the harbour the town grew up around it.
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At its peak, Venice had some 3,000 warships with more than 30,000 crew. All Venetian ships were designed to be multi-purpose, with cargo vessels required to carry armaments. So the old harbour below must have been crowded with craft of various type.
The fortifications themselves seemed mainly designed to protect from the sea. Yet they were also built at at a time when gunpowder was about to become important. This changed the military equation, because it meant that even the most powerful fortifications were more vulnerable. Even so, I did wonder just how a place like this might fall.P1010161
In 1645, four hundred plus years after Venice took control of Crete, the Ottoman Empire began its attack.
Four hundred years! That's a remarkable time span, even if dwarfed by the time that the various Roman Empires controlled Crete. I wonder if Australia can last that long?
The battle wasn't easy. The siege of Candia to the west lasted from 1648–1669. The last Venetian outpost finally fell in 1718. Still, now the Ottomans were in charge, even if this seems today as just a flick of an historical eye-lid, less than two hundred years.
So far as the Forteza was concerned, the Ottomans were not going to waste an important military asset. They modified it as required, but otherwise maintained it.