Corfu Island - Sieges of Corfu in 1537 and 1716
There are two major dates that determine the destiny of Corfu: The sieges of the Turks in 1537 and 1716. Under the command of Hayreddin Barbarossa 25,000 Turks disembark on 25th August 1537 at the bay of Gouvia. At that time the city did not have walls and the whole defences of Corfu were covered only by the Old Fortress.
Influential people and their families of that era found refuge there at the Old Fortress, together with the garrison which consisted of 2,000 Venetians and 2,000 Corfiots. 3,000 people found refuge at Angelokastro, other townsfolk and country folk suffered at the hands of the invaders.
The siege lasted until 11th of September, the Turks faced with the determined resistance of the besieged departed and there followed the complete abandonment of the Corfiot landside. 20,000 inhabitants were captured and Barbarossa took them aboard his ships and the captives were later sold as slaves in Africa and Asia. According to the historians of that era the population of Corfu decreased to 14,000 inhabitants, it is the lowest level of inhabitation which has been recorded in Corfu's history. Two whole centuries pass before the population is restored with an influx of refugees from Peloponnesus, Crete and Epirus who mix progressively with the population.
After the siege in 1537 the Corfiot community sent ambassadors to Venice to ask permission for the building of walls around the city in order to strengthen its defences. The community succeeded, permission was granted and in the middle of 16th century the building of the walls of the New Fortress commenced.
The second wave of attacks for occupation by the Turks occurs in June 1716. The occupation of Crete and Peloponnesus prelude and the Turks at the zenith of their power wanted to try another final strike against the only enemy that stood in their way, Venice which had started to decrease in their strength after the last long bloody war against the Ottomans. So on 24th of June 1716 an infantry of 30,000 men, a cavalry of 3,000 men, supported by a huge naval fleet appeared off the coast of Epirus opposite to Corfu. On 8th of July the disembarkation started at the bays of Gouvia and Ipsos, which was completed by the 18th of July. Meanwhile the Venetian navy was on its way from Venice to bring reinforcements and supplies, they succeeded to undertake control of the narrow straight and the supplies arrived in the city.
On 11th of August Venetians sent patrols to scout and they realised that the Turks had left. There was a rumour spread that night that a monk (believed to have been St Spyridon) had appeared up in the clouds holding in one hand a lighted candle and in the other hand a cross, he was believed to be the judge of a legion of angels who were chasing after the non believers. The panic of the Turks was so tremendous that they are said to have killed each other to be the first to get aboard their ships. 15,000 Turks were wounded, killed or captured. They also abandoned 64 cannons which they left on the Corfiot land. The casualties of the Corfiot garrison was estimated at 1,500 dead or wounded. On 19th of March 1717 they decided to parade St Spyridon the Patron Saint and keeper of Corfu through the city and every year on 11th of August in remembrance of the salvation of the island.
Apart from the procession on 11th of August there are three more parades for the remains of St Spyridon keeper of the island since1456, when his remains were transferred from Constantinople to Corfu. These parades were determined in the period of Venetian control by the decrees of the governing body of Venice.
The first procession takes place on Palm Sunday which was established on 21st of June 1630 in remembrance of the salvation of the island from the plague which for the second time in the same year almost eradicated the population of the island. The second and the oldest procession is held on Holy Saturday. It was established in 1550 in remembrance of salvation from famine, which Corfu suffered for weeks due to delays in supplies of wheat.
On Holy Saturday of that year ships full of wheat came into harbour, Corfu was not their original destination but according to the legend the Captains told that St Spyridon had appeared to them in a dream and led them to the island. The third procession on 11th of August and the fourth and last of the year takes place on the 1st Sunday of November, it was established on 29th of October 1673 because Corfu was saved once again from the plague.
The procession of the remains of St Spyridon are considered significant ceremonies and continued to take place even when Corfu was bombarded during WW2 in 1940-41. It is noted that the remains of St Spyridon since the early 16th century till 1925 were the property of the Voulgaris family in which that property was titled due to a dowry. Nowadays the remains are the property of the church which was built in the late 16th century under the surveillance of the Metropolis of Corfu and Paxos.