At the Edge of Empire

Venetian architecture in Famagusta, Cyprus.

During the medieval and renaissance periods, when cities were usually fortified, Venice's main islands were distinctive in their openness. Once through the straits between the outer islands, which were defended by a series of forts—the Malamocco, San Pietro della Volta, San Nicoló, and Sant' Andrea — no battlements or towers marred the distinctive panorama of the city's architectural jewels. Only the Arsenale was immured and this may have been as much to keep the industry hidden from the gaze of potential spies as it was truly defensive. The Palazzo Ducale, free of the defensive architectural vocabulary that marked its terra firma counterparts, was boldly placed at the waterfront, with the high domes of St. Mark's hovering beyond. Venice's confidence was thus expressed in the architectural facades that also made up the facade of her self-image.

Urban visages were less accommodating farther afield in Venice's maritime empire where the defensive architecture tended to be sternly monumental and decidedly utilitarian. Manifold perils awaited Venetian traders and navy ships beyond the more secure waters of the northern Adriatic, including pirates, belligerent Genoese, and Venice's principal adversaries, the Ottoman Turks. The ramparts of Corfu, Nafplion in thePeloponese, and the seaport fortifications of Candia (Herakleion), Chania, and Rethymnonon Crete, among many others, give us some indication of the types of massive coastal defenses Venetians erected to protect their strategic ports. 

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Author: Allan Langdale

Article and Image Source: allansartworlds.sites.ucsc.edu

Keywords: Famagusta, Venice, Cyprus, spolia, Sanmichele, fortifications, St. Nicholas Cathedral, Lusignan,
Salamis, Crete




Allan Langdale

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