(1900 Times Atlas of the World)
1200-1479 A possession of the Orsini / Del Tocco families.
1479-1485 Part of the Ottoman Empire.
1485-1699 Formally part of the Ottoman Empire, but leased to the Venetians.
1699-1797 Direct Venetian possession.
1797-1814 Occupied by the French, then by the Russians, then by the French again and finally by the British.
Its now time to pursue our Voyage to Zant; where we arrived the Twenty-fourth of July Old (1675), and the fourth of August, New Stile (Gregorian Calendar). Zant is but a little Island (I believe not above Thirty miles about); But to make amends, is one of the most fruitful and pleasant places I ever saw. It lieth in 36 degrees, 30 minutes of Northern Latitude, South from Cephalonia, about ten miles and more, off the Morea near thirty miles East, and hath the Gulph of Lepanto N. E. In old time it was called Zacynthos, as I have seen on several Medals. (..) The Greeks still call it Zacynthos, the Italians Zanté, and we Zant.
A journey into Greece by George Wheler, Esq., in company of Dr. Spon of Lyons - 1682
We sailed from Chiarenza on Sunday the twentieth of July, 1766; and the same evening entered the harbour of Zante, in which a squadron of Venetian ships of war under admiral Emo lay at anchor, waiting, as we were informed, for orders to proceed against the Dey of Algiers.
Richard Chandler - An account of a tour in Greece made at the expense of the Society of dilettanti - 1775
The town and the south-eastern part of Zante with Mount Skopos seen from the Venetian fortress
(Telemachus to disguised Athena): .. for the chiefs from all our islands, Dulichium, Same, and the woodland island of Zacynthus, as also all the principal men of Ithaca itself, are eating up my house under the pretext of paying their court to my mother.
The Odyssey by Homer - Book I - Prose translation by Samuel Butler.
This quotation from the Odyssey is almost the only reference to Zante one can find in ancient literature.
It hath been called by Boterus (Giovanni Botero 1544-1617, an Italian thinker and diplomat) the Golden Island; which it well deserves, because of the fruitfulness and pleasantness of its soil and abode. But it now more truly merits that name from the Venetians, who draw so much Gold, by the Curran-Trade, from hence and Cephalonia, as beareth the ordinary charge of their Armada at Sea. It is governed by a Venetian Proveditor, and hath one good Port, though it lieth a little bleak to the North-East Wind; and another on the South-side; but is dangerous to those that are strangers to it. Between these two Ports runneth a long Promontory Eastwards, on which is a high Mountain, called Madonna di Scoppo, from a Church there (Panagia Scopiotissa); where there is a Picture, that they perswade themselves works Miracles. Wheler
The Town is backt towards the West with a Fort, situated upon a steep hill; which casteth such a reflexion of the Sun upon it, as maketh it extreme hot in Summer, and almost an English Summer in the coldest Winter. This Hill abounds with many Springs of excellent
good fresh Water. Wheler
About nine, on the morning of the 12th (August 1813), we saw Zante, and at three p. M. cast anchor in the bay. Hitherto all the islands of the Archipelago had borne the same appearance at a distance, that of high rocky land, with little verdure, and perhaps it was the comparison that heightened in my eyes the beauty of Zante; high mountains covered with heath, and adorned with rich gardens (though few trees), as they shelve down to the sea, with now and then a neat country house of white stone, are the prominent objects that strike the eye as it approaches the island.
William Turner - Journal of a Tour in the Levant - 1820
A medieval castle and eventually a large fortress were built on the site of the acropolis of the ancient town.
Venetian fortress: (left) Bastione Grimani; (right) a stretch of the walls
Zante is a small island belonging to the Venetians,
full of villages and people; it consists of two or three not very ample vallies, sheltered by
high bare mountains, well cultivated, and rich in their produce
as well as pleasant to the eye; the soil suiting the vine and the
olive, orange, lemon and citron-trees. Its wines and oil are
deservedly extolled. Chandler
The history of Zante was strictly associated with that of mainland Greece until the end of the XIth century when the Norman kings of Southern Italy turned their attention towards the Byzantine Empire. In 1185 a Norman fleet led by Margarito da Brindisi seized Zante and nearby Cefalonia and Ithaca. The three islands became a personal possession of Margarito and eventually they were acquired by Riccardo Orsini, a member of an important Roman family, who married Margarito's daughter.
After the 1204 conquest of Constantinople by the Frank knights of the Fourth Crusade, the Orsini managed to expand their possessions in mainland Greece by acquiring the town of Arta. The Orsini fiefdoms were inherited by Leonardo I Tocco who belonged to a noble family of Neapolitan origin and who enlarged them to include Ioanina.
(left) Main entrance; (right) second gate of the main entrance
The Tocco managed to retain their possessions until Sultan Mehmet II, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and of most of mainland Greece in the following years, decided to invade Italy. In 1479 in order to achieve his ultimate goal, he seized Zante and Cefalonia to protect his back; he then captured Otranto, an important port in Apulia, which he planned to use as the starting point of a large campaign. In May 1481 however he died, perhaps poisoned, and his successor Beyazit II, who was involved in a dynastic quarrel with his brother Cem, withdrew from Otranto. The new sultan was interested in establishing peaceful relations with the Venetians and the latter were interested in acquiring new bases for their trade routes; as a result in 1485 Zante was "leased" to the Venetians in return for a yearly payment.
1692 Map of the fortress
On the 27th they reached Zante, where they landed. It was also at that time occupied by Venice, and they met with two galleys which had left home a month before them on a Turkish embassy, "and they carried with them riches and pleasures, as cloth of gold, and crimson velvet, and other things more than I know." Our pilgrim complains of Zante, not we must suppose without cause, "there is the greatest wines and strongest that ever I drank in my life." He visited the castle, where the captain made him good cheer, and showed him the walls, "sore brused and broken" by an earthquake in the previous April.
Ye oldest diarie of Englysshe travell: being the hitherto unpublished narrative of the pilgrimage of Sir Richard Torkington to Jerusalem in 1517 - 1884
In 1571 Kilic Ali Pacha, an Ottoman corsair of Italian origin (you may wish to see the mosque he built at Constantinople), briefly seized Zante taking advantage of its poor fortifications. The Venetians decided to upgrade them, similar to what they had done in many other places, e.g. Candia and Verona.
Third gate of the main entrance
The 1699 Peace of Carlowitz gave the Venetians full rights over Zante, but they continued to strengthen the fortress by adding new bastions and by protecting its main entrance with a series of gates placed at different angles. In 1716 Zante was on the brink of falling into the hands of the Ottomans, but their failed attempt to seize Corfu eventually led to the Peace of Passarowitz which in 1718 confirmed the Venetian possession of Zante. This situation lasted until 1797 when the Republic of Venice surrendered to Napoleon and its territories were shared between France and Austria.
(left) Winged lion and Venetian coats of arms above the third gate of the main entrance; (right) 1696 Southern Gate
The castle, which has been much strengthened by the English, is very formidable towards the town, and is on no side commanded by the surrounding mountains. Turner
Additions to the fortress such as new bastions and gates were celebrated with reliefs portraying a winged lion, the symbol of St. Mark and of the Republic of Venice; the Provveditori (governors) added inscriptions and their coats of arms to the lion and this helps in understanding the development of the fortress.
The symbol of Venice can be seen also in some modern shop signs. The lion shown in the image which appears in the background of this page below the word "Benetzianika" (Venetian) is not the Lion of the Republic of Venice. It is the lion of the Eptanese Republic, the first modern Greek (semi)autonomous government which ruled over the Ionian Islands in 1802-1814. Eptanese means Seven Islands (Corfù, Paxi, Santa Maura, Cefalonia, Itaca, Zante and Cerigo) and this lion holds seven arrows, whereas the Venetian lion held the inscription Pax tibi, Marce Evangelista meus. The fact that the Eptanese Republic adopted a flag very similar to that of Venice is evidence of strong links between the upper classes of the Ionian Islands and Venice. In October 1809 a British fleet defeated a French one near Zante and conquered the island.
View towards the northern part of the island and towards Mt. Aenos on Cefalonia (right side of the image)
This is now the chief Island from whence the Currans come, whereof we make so many pleasant dishes here in England. They borrowed their name from Corinth, the famous City near the Isthmus of Morea, and are therefore called in Latin Uvae Corinthiacae, or Grapes of Corinth. But none of them now grow there; being (perhaps) neglected, because they have no Vend for them; the Turkish jealousie permitting no great Ships to enter into that Gulph. They grow not upon Bushes, like our red and white Currans, as is vulgarly thought: but upon Vines, like other Grapes; only their leaf is something bigger, and the Grape much smaller than others: They are also without stones; and in those parts are only red, or rather black. (..) They grow in a most pleasant Plain, behind the Castle, encompassed about with Mountains and Hills, which hemm in the Island. This Plain is divided into Vineyards, mixed with Olive, Cypress-trees, and Summer-houses of pleasure: All which from the Castle make a most pleasant Prospect. In August, when they are ripe, they are laid thin on the ground, until they are dry: then are they gathered together, cleaned, brought into the Town, and put into Ware-houses. (..) They are worth here about Twelve Dollers the Thousand, or little more or less; and pay as much to the State of Venice for Custom. Wheler
The fortress was located in a position which allowed control of the whole eastern coast of the island and of the channel which separated it from Cefalonia.
Stone pine trees inside the fortress
Unlike other Venetian fortresses in Greece, that of Zante is very well kept. There are explanations near the most important buildings, which help the visitor to understand how the fortress was structured and to identify the changes made during the British rule (1809-1863: new barracks and a sports ground) and during the German occupation (1943-1945: site for anti-aircraft gunnery).
In 1953 Zante was struck by a major earthquake; the gunpowder magazine is one of the few Venetian buildings which is still intact owing to its wide walls and solid construction technique; it was located in a sort of niche excavated into the rock to limit the impact of the explosion of the ammunitions.
The Republic of Venice had a long expertise in cannon casting and it is reported that the Venetians used cannon during a siege as early as 1380. Elaborately designed bronze guns can be seen at some other former Venetian fortresses and in particular at Nauplia.
(above) Remains of a church; (below) Venetian prison
the town is a steep round hill, crowned with a castle, the antient
citadel. The governor now lives below, but
the summit is inhabited, and some religious houses stand on it. Chandler
The fortress housed some buildings of the Venetian administration and at least five churches and a monastery.
Move to page two: the town
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754 (the Italian text is accompanied by an English summary) or you may wish to read excerpts (in Italian) from Memorie Istoriografiche del Regno della Morea Riacquistato dall'armi della Sereniss. Repubblica di Venezia printed in Venice in 1692 and related to this page.
Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses in Greece
List of the fortresses
|Geographic area||Location||Ionian Islands||Corfù (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)||Greek Mainland||Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)||Peloponnese (Morea)||Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà Mistrà Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)||Aegean Islands||Negroponte (Chalcis) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea)||Crete||Grambusa (Granvousa) Castello (Kasteli/Kissamos) La Canea (Xania) Souda Candia (Iraklion) Rettimo (Rethymno) Spinalonga and Castel Mirabello Castles on the southern coast Sittia and Paleocastro|