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E + 17 : Green Banner over San Angelo?

Yesterday was a new first – except for the crew going shopping in Gallipoli, we did not set foot on land the whole day. The idea was to catch the Scirocco after lunch that could carry us all the way to our destination, the Apulian town of Castro.

The AFAET at anchor in the Bay of Castro - we took this photo with our drone


In summer, the wind in the Mediterranean usually blows from Northwest to East. We noticed this during the first week when facing strong head winds on the eastern side of Sicily. The Mistral could be felt as far south as Malta. Yesterday though, the winds turned. The heat over Tunisia caused a big blob of air to rise. A little depression zone formed which sucked in air from the outside. Due to the Coriolis force, the inflowing air formed a small cyclone. Thus, over Italy, the. wind blew north. We had a Scirocco! Imagine how excited Roman sailors were 2’000 years ago when they could catch a Scirocco and sail straight back from Alexandria instead of hopping with thermal winds along the coasts of the Levant and Anatolia. A Scirocco shortens the trip back to Rome from 6 weeks to 10 days!

A Scirocco reverses the usual wind pattern over the Mediterranean


Once we had rounded the southern tip of Apulia, we could set sail. Without engine, we glided with 6 or 7 knots north and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the moment.


Catching a Scirocco!


By 17.00 h we arrived in Castro – an 3'000 year old Illyrian town and once an important site with a temple for Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy. The history of the town was undistinguished until 1537, when an Ottoman invasion force landed on its beaches. With its defences neglected, the town was an easy pray for Barbarossa, the Ottoman Admiral. His advance force had arrived. Beyond the Straits of Messina, in Albanian Vlore, waited a 200’000 men strong Turkish Army ready to cross the Adriatic and march on Rome. It was part of the invasion that the French King Francis I and the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent had planed the year before. Suleyman knew fully well that he had to divide the Spanish and the Pope in order to win his war against the Habsburg. The combined financial power of the silver from Bolivia and 10% of all church revenues was too strong an obstacle for his plans of a "Turkish" Roman Empire.

Wikipedia was kind enough to combine the portraits of Francis I & Suleyman the Magnificent


Europe 1537 - France and Turkey wanted to remove the Pope from their war with Habsburg


The plan to conquer Italy in a pincer movement from the north (French) and the south (Turks) came to naught. The French King got tied down in northern Germany where he supported the Protestant Princes against Charles V. He could not free up his troops. The clever statesman Suleyman knew that he needed a catholic ally for his plans. Had he attacked alone, he might have been able to march on Rome and take it but he would have triggered a religious war which he could not win. But with France, Christian Europe would be divided and the Green Banner could have been raised over Fort San Angelo – the dome of the St Peter’s basilica was not finished yet.

Castro is now strongly fortified - but this happened after the tragic events of 1537


When Suleyman realized that the French were not coming, he ordered his Admiral, the Corsair Barbarossa, to abandon the bridgehead and to return to Albania. He would now attack the Venetian fortress of Corfu which was always a thorn in his side. Its capture would give him complete control over the entrance of the Adriatic Sea and thus a way to economically strangle Venice. Suleyman did not take into account the skills of Venetian engineers. For years they studied Ottoman siege and artillery tactics and adjusted their fortifications accordingly. Corfu had learned the lessons from 1522 in Rhodes and was a far more difficult fortress to take. The 2 months left for Suleyman in the campaign season 1537 were thus not enough time – he abandoned the siege before winter. It remained Venetian.

This map is from a later siege of Corfu (1716) but still illustrate well what happened in 1537


For the people of Castro and the surrounding villagers, the Venetian victory was of little consolation. Barbarossa rounded up 10’000 innocent civilians and sold them in the slave markets in North Africa. The Ottoman – French Alliance could not win militarily so they took it out on civilians. Disgusting way of warfare! Wonder how Francis I slept at night having lent his hand to such atrocities. Under the Geneva convention such behaviour is now a war crime and occasionally a perpetrator is incarcerated for life by the courts in the Hague. But these atrocities still occur as we learned when ISIS took over large parts of Syria and Iraq. I guess as humanitarians we will have to fight for the protection of civilians all our life. It is important that we do not forget these stories. Sadly, Wikipedia makes no mention of it in its entry on Castro. All life matter.


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