Ottoman Crete

Crete came under repeated threats of incursion by the Turks in the last few decades of Venetian rule.

The full invasion began in 1645, with the attack on Chania. 60,000 Ottoman soldiers landed close to it: rapidly the beautiful city fell into their grasp. Proceeding eastwards, the Turks moved on their next target, Rethymnon, which they in the next year.

By 1648 all the island is under Turkish control, with the exception of Candia, which seems impregnable thanks to its excellent defenses and the Koule (harbour fort).

Siege of Candia by the Turks. History of Crete

Nevertheless the besieged Venetians and Cretans are in dire straits. Assistance and provisions entering the town via the port keep the defenders of the Megalo Kastro (another term of Candia) alive: counter-attacking suddenly they cause great damage to the enemy. After 18 years of siege, the Sultan finally lost his patience: recalling the Commander General from Crete, he had him beheaded – in his place he sent Ahmed Köprülü, his most capable Grand Vizier.

The Christians, Catholic and Orthodox alike, are united in their struggle against the renewed Muslim threat. But with the help of the military commander Andrea Barozzi – who knew every inch of the Candia fortifications, the Turks gain a strategic advantage. Thus – after a siege of 21 years, the Megalo Kastro surrendered.

This was the second-longest siege in world history: the years-long fighting for the city claimed the lives of 117,000 Turks and 30,000 Greeks and Venetians.

The population on the island plummeted to less than half its original numbers. The capture of the city was followed by extensive damage to property: churches, monasteries and entire villages were flattened, while the roads and fortifications of the island gradually slipped into disrepair.

Ottoman Rule. Architecture and monuments of Ottoman Rule on Crete

Ottoman rule brought a great impoverishment to the whole island, largely because of the lack of commercial trade.

The raising of cereal crops, the main produce of Crete in this period, was kept in the hands of the Turks, who used the produce exclusively for the provisioning of their troops. The rearing of livestock was also greatly curtailed: surviving largely in the mountainous areas and similar remote settings. The Turks, in accordance with their standard practice, eliminated all privileges and quashed any social organization or power outside their own.

Crete was a separate department (Eyalet, later a Vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire: the Pasha’s seat was at Candia still. The Turks maintained their control by placing an Aga in power in the most prosperous villages in every province (or sanjak): these Agas were most often harsh and on many occasions unjust in the exercise of their power.

History of Crete. Ottoman Rule, Arkadi holocaust

These conditions of slavery and subjugation resulted in a continuous resistance against Turkish government.

Many young men, desirous of escape and longing for vengeance and to live as free men, took to the mountains and became andartes (brigands/resistance fighters - depending on your point of view). With sudden raids against the Turks, they took their revenge and so gave hope and strength to the oppressed Christian population. These youngsters, generally known as Chaïnides (=fugitive rebels), became a source of fear and terror to the Turks.

Gradually the resistance on the island began to become more organized and larger. Ioannis Daskaloyiannis led the first major uprising in 1770, which enjoyed success at the outset, but was eventually crushed by the Turks.

Crete took part in the Greek Revolution of 1821. Its geographical position did not assist in these efforts: cut off from the rest of Greece, it eventually passed into the tender mercies of the Pasha of Egypt, with whose assistance the Turks sought to suppress the revolt in Crete. This the Pasha, Muhammed Ali, through his son achieved in a barbaric but decisive manner. As a result, Crete was not part of the Greek state set up in 1832, but remained in Egyptian control.

Nevertheless efforts for independence continued with an even greater industry and determination: in 1866 the ‘Great Cretan Revolt’ exploded. The holocaust at the Arkadi Monastery in 1866 was the symbol of the Cretan struggle for freedom and independence.

History of Crete. Ottoman Rule, Arkadi holocaust

The entire island remained in a constant revolutionary fervour: finally in 1898, after lengthy efforts and pressures, the Great powers of the day (Britain, France, Italy and Russia) determined to bring to and end the control and possession of Crete by the Ottomans.

In that year, Turkish troops withdrew from the island: Crete, under international occupation, became an independent state under Ottoman suzerainty.

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