The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage
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For six centuries, the Republic of Venice was a maritime empire, its sovereign power extending throughout much of the eastern Mediterranean - an empire of coasts, islands and isolated fortresses by which, as Wordsworth wrote, the mercantile Venetians 'held the gorgeous east in fee'. Jan Morris reconstructs the whole of this glittering dominion in the form of a sea-voyage, travelling along the historic Venetian trade routes from Venice itself to Greece, Crete and Cyprus. It is a traveller's book, geographically arranged but wandering at will from the past to the present, evoking not only contemporary landscapes and sensations but also the characters, the emotions and the tumultuous events of the past. The first such work ever written about the Venetian 'Stato da Mar', it is an invaluable historical companion for visitors to Venice itself and for travellers through the lands the Doges once ruled.
all, but bounds the whole horizon like another country, while from north to south the strait narrows almost ridiculously into the funnel of the Euripos far below. Though Khalkis is no longer a great port, its southern roadstead is crowded with laid-up shipping, row after row of rusty freighter and abandoned tanker, and this gives to the prospect even now a spurious sense of consequence, and enables the modern traveller to see, if only through half-closed eyes, the view that Mohammed saw that day
the Campanile in the Piazza San Marco. The Aegean was almost all theirs, and so was Cyprus. But they had been thwarted in their attempts to gain complete sea-control of the Mediterranean. In 1537 they had failed to take Corfu. In 1565 they had been driven away from Malta. In 1571 they were beaten by the Christian fleet in the great sea-battle of Lepanto. They came to see the island of Crete, lying there massively athwart the sea-routes from Constantinople, as a maddening obstacle to their
far higher up the rock the Venetians made their stronghold. A steep zigzag track leads there, and halfway up a huge iron-studded door, bullet-pocked, marks the entrance to the Kastro. Up this track, through this door, everything had to pass into the Venetian fortress: there is no other way. Through the dark gatehouse you must go, past the guard-post, and there as you emerge into the sunshine and follow the track to the crest of the rock, a scene of magnificent dereliction unfolds. Wherever you
predecessors, had the courtesy to acknowledge a line of descent. The Venetians were allotted Corfu at the division of the Byzantine empire, but they failed to keep it for long and it fell into the successive hands of the Despots of Epirus, the King of Sicily and the Angevins of France until 1386. By then the local administration was so awful that the Corfiotes themselves appealed for Venetian protection, sending a delegation of local worthies to Venice to plead their case. The Venetians needed
Dominican monasteries. During the Uskoks’ heyday, in the sixteenth century, they enjoyed the protection of the Hapsburg dukedom in Austria, and sold their captured goods in the great international market of Trieste, from where they were distributed throughout the Hapsburg possessions. This was particularly infuriating to the Venetians, who fought the rascals with ever-increasing anger both at sea and on land – after one victory over them, they displayed the heads of luckless Uskoks on stakes all