Venetian Period (1489 - 1571)
By all accounts the Venetian Period on Cyprus was a short-lived affair. It began after the invasion of Famagusta - the world's richest city at the time - by the Genoese. The Venetians, who by now were a major trading & military force in Europe, followed the Genoese into Famagusta and liberated the city at the blessing of the failing Lusignan rulers. Shortly afterwards Cyprus was annexed by Venice when the island's full potential was realised from a trade and military perspective. It was a peaceful hand over, the last Queen of Cyprus - Catherine Kornaro - abdicating and ceding ownership of the island to Venice.
During Venetian rule the Italians bought peace and security to the island of the likes not seen since Roman times. Cyprus was used as a maritime trading station and as a naval base for the Venetian war fleet. For the ordinary Cypriot this was good news. After years of living in fear of raids under the inept military guidance of the Lusignans, they could now enjoy a much more peaceful existence.
The Venetians too introduced a socio-economic system that was much less harsh than in Frankish times. Taxes imposed on the Cypriots were frozen, while privileges awarded to the nobility and clergy under Frankish rule were maintained and not revoked as many landowners had originally feared. Importantly, the Pope decreed that the Orthodox Church should be persecuted no longer, bringing a new found religious tolerance to Cyprus for the first time in centuries.
Trouble though was brewing in the Eastern Mediterranean that would curtail the peace and tranquillity of Cyprus once more. In Turkey the great Ottoman Empire was expanding out in all directions. They had already captured Constantinople, the nearby island of Rhodes, Syria and Egypt, effectively surrounding an increasingly isolated Cyprus. It soon became apparent to the Venetians and the Cypriot people that they would have to defend Cyprus with military power if they wanted to prevent the island falling into Ottoman hands…and so the great medieval fortification of Cyprus began!
Famagusta and Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus were extensively fortified against the inevitable Ottoman invasion. The great Venetian military engineer - Guilio Savorgnano - was dispatched to the island to oversee the preparation of Nicosia (Lefkosia) for war. He designed a ditch and wall defence featuring eleven heart-shaped bastions to encircle the city in a three-mile long circuit. Today, Savorgnano's work can still be seen around the old city. The ditch, which is now elegantly planted as a garden, and the original wall are major tourist attractions in the Cypriot capital and serve as a poignant reminder of a very uncertain time in the island's history.
The Venetian Period ended abruptly. 1st July 1570 saw an invasion force from the Ottoman Empire rout Nicosia. By August 1572 Cyprus was under Ottoman rule.