Probably the most romantic of all the conquerors of Cyprus – and there have been many – the Venetians ruled the island from 1489 until 1571. But they came to power with one of the most infamous dynastic coups in early modern history: the marriage and abdication of Caterina Cornaro.
Caterina was a 14-year-old Venetian, born to a rich trading family, who in 1468 married James II of Cyprus, a Lusignan noble known as “James the Bastard”. It was an odd wedding, to say the least: she was in Venice, he in Cyprus, and the marriage took place by proxy. She didn’t meet him for another four years – at which point he conveniently died and Caterina was installed as Regent of Cyprus and, on the further convenient death of her child, titular queen. Although popular in Cyprus, she never exercised full control: 15 years later she was herself forced to abdicate, and to hand over Cyprus to Venice.
The traces of the Venetians are everywhere in Cyprus – the Venetian bridges in the Paphos district (pictured) are particularly fine – but they were most notably responsible for the colossal city walls of Nicosia and Famagusta. Both cities were to fall in the Ottoman invasion of 1570 and 1571; while Nicosia fell in seven weeks, Famagusta – no doubt the Venetian “seaport in Cyprus” where Shakespeare set Othello – held out for 11 months. Venetian Cyprus came to its end with the fall of Famagusta in 1571: as a final indignity, the commander of the citadel, Marcantonio Bragadino, was publicly flayed alive.