29 October 2012

Cretan Defenses, 1502

Crete, by Piri Re'is

 From July 1500 through August 1502, Bartolomeo Minio was Venetian captain of Crete, which meant that he had primary responsibility for the defense of the island, and was second in command after the Captain General of the Fleet for the defense of the stato da mar.  In June 1502 he was finally able to make a tour of the defenses of Crete, unable to go sooner because of the pressure of the Ottoman war.  This is what has survived of his account of the fortifications, from a draft translation of the book I have coming out with John Melville Jones: The Greek Correspondence of Bartolomeo Minio: Volume 2: Dispacci from Crete, 1500-1502.
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14 July 1502
. . . I left here on the 19th of June to investigate various parts of this island and among other places, I was at Milopotamo1, a fortification on the shore which is in very bad condition in every respect that can be mentioned, where a number of good people live, but I am ashamed to speak of their condition. Then I went to Rethimno where I stayed two days. I looked over that place carefully and found it to be very weak, both in its walls and its ditches, and in my opinion a small enemy fleet would cause it great fear, and harm because of its weak fortifications. Then it has a large borgo, unwalled, not protected by any ditch nor anything else, one could jump into the terra over it anywhere without getting wet feet.

I left that place and went to Bicorna2, which is a fortification outside the mouth of Suda Bay on the left side. A very good fortress in bad condition, but to some extent better than Milopotamo; in truth one could without much expense have an angaria of villani3 in this area to put it in such a condition that it would not be captured by an attack from the sea, and would also be strong enough to withstand a number of shots from bombards. On the right bank of this fortress, not far away, are two streams of most abundant water, and anyone who wants to take water from these streams can be attacked from the castle. 

Then I went to Suda Bay and made the whole circuit and went to the rock of S. Nicolò which is at the mouth, guarded now and then. This island is 300 passa long and about a mile around. This island is about 275 passa from the land of the right side, 850 passa and more from the land on the left side. 4 On this island, in the middle, is a church with some other dwellings, and it is flat and open to all, and it is a steep place where many people could stay, I say a large number. If one wanted to block the entrance to Suda with the island, it is necessary to build two fortresses on it, one at the right bank and the other on the left, and build them low facing the sea . . . and nevertheless it would defend from the sea where one would have to put the bombards, because the sirocco and levanta5 batter from the sea against all. Then the middle area of the island is a spacious area, like the terraferma. . Behind Suda there is not enough drinking water for a large fleet. 
 
Then I traveled from the end of the bay of Suda to Chania by land, which is a completely flat area and really beautiful territory, about 3 miles, where I stayed two full days. I wanted to see the whole area of Chania and all the borgo, which is completely walled and seems as if it were a strong site, I found the place badly fortified, both the wall of the terra and the borgo, as well as the trenches, as all who have seen the place can well testify. I found Chania, both the terra and the borgo, very well populated and to be land well situated to be able to fortify both the terra and the borgo, . . . it is a place having value for many reasons that they can tell you. 
 
In Chania I found a man who seems to me to have great ability and great authority, by the name of Conte Franzon, who from what I have learned is a provisionato of Your Sublimity, who went everywhere with me both at Suda and the island, then we toured all of Chania, and I also took him to Bicorna. Speaking a good deal together, he seems to have a concern for its good condition and apparently has sent Your Signoria a modello of Chania.6 He has been most useful.

Then I went to Chisamo, a fortification very near Cape Spada7, a place in worse condition than the others and in a place more dangerous that, by the true God, Most Serene Prince, besides such a place could enter into the hand of the enemy to cause real harm to Your Sublimity's state. It seems to me, speaking always with my customary respect and submission toward you, that seeing this island of so great importance to your state, seeing these places in such a condition, seems to me a great shame. I inform you that I have learned from him [Franzon] that last year at Chania there was the captain of His Majesty, the King of France, at Suda, incognito, and he wanted to see the whole thing and learned such details, saying with his own mouth, “The Signoria of Venice has little care for this great island to have these places so desolate and in such bad condition, which all need to be completely fortified.” I do not enlarge beyond what was said to me. 
 
Because the Most Serene Signoria commands me in your letter that I should look well into the whole matter of Suda and also tell them my feelings and thoughts, I think I have said reasonably discreetly what I think, nor do I want to say anything else about this, but I will send in another letter a detailed account of what I think are the needs, and I will do also with good and loyal advice, and I will draw a map, so that Your Serenity will be able to make the best decision, both for Suda and for the other places . . . I will not refrainfrom telling Your Most Illustrious Signoria these few other words: the area of Sitia is of great importance because there is a good port and it is at a cape on the eastern end.

 Outside the mouth of Suda is a place most suitable for mounting arms named [- - - -8] that has an island in front which forms almost a port and is a spacious place. And on this same route which goes from Suda to Chania9 one goes by the place of Marathonisi10 at Chania, of which I have the opinion that there is no more apt place than Suda to be able to load and unload from this island I think you do not know it, because [ - - - - 11] Spinalonga12 is a spacious port for landing and so too is Sitia. It is true that the island is mountainous and in several places there are a number of quite narrow mountain passes for going from one place to another, but there is no other way to be able to pass. So as to not diminish the truth some people have the opinion that the villani could stand strong at the passes, but in my judgement they can have the opinion that pleases them, but every day one sees through experience that when they hear the name Turks they take to the mountains. But if there were a good number of people, equipped and practiced in such exercise, they could manage a good number of villani with them. I have not thought it inappropriate to say these few words and Your most illustrious Signoria will make your own most wise judgement.


1    Milopotamo is the present Panormas, between Candia and Rethymno. There is nothing to be seen of the fortification now.
2    Bicorno is a small fortification on Suda Bay.
3    Angaria of villani = required labor from paroichi, serfs.
4    275 passa is about 1512 feet, and 850 passa is about 4674 feet.
5    Sirocco: a wind out of the Sahara desert which can reach hurricane force. It leaves a coating of fine red dust in its wake. Levanta, or levanter, is a strong north-east wind often bringing rain.
6   Modello: a wooden model.
7   Chissamo, a fortified town, is the present Kissamos, at the base of the gulf formed by Capes Spada and Gramvousa, capes west of Chania.
The name is left blank in the manuscript, but Minio is probably referring to the small island of Souda    
      Nisida towards the mouth of the bay.
9   Suda and Chania are on opposite sides of the neck of a head-shaped peninsula that bends eastward to form
     Suda Bay.
10 Marathonisi ("fennel island"): now Marathi, a small bay and peninsula at the opening of Suda Bay.
11A short space is left in the manuscript but more than a little is missing, as the text switches abruptly from the western  
      end of Crete to the eastern end.
12 Spinalonga: a long peninsula with many inlets and outlets toward the eastern end of Crete, north of Ag. Nikolaos on Mirabella Bay; not as far east as Sitia.




For more of Bartolomeo Minio:


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