With thriving businesses and the glorious past of the Porta D’Oriente, is Otranto town the protagonist of an intricate network of trade. In Salentino jargon exists the phrase: ‘Nienti era Lecce nanzi Otrantu’, literally ‘Lecce was nothing against Otranto’, evidence of the primary role played by the ‘Pearl of the South’ in past times, when the sea was the main platform of transporting freight. A
glorious past which came to an abrupt halt in the occurrence of the most bloody event recorded in ‘Italian’ medieval history. The year was 1480: 150 Turkish galleys carrying 18,000 men started their assault on the city. The purpose is one of the most serious and the most ignored by history: invading Italian soil and bring the Islamic Army to San Pietro. But the plan was never completed, for both the unexpected resistance of the people of Otranto and the sudden death of Sultan Mehmet II. What happened? It was one of the most dramatic events in medieval history, the capture of the city by the Turkish Army, with the martyrdom of 800 citizens, guilty of not to bow to worship a God who was`t christian. Modern history has ignored or treated the question superficially. In fact, it was one horrible religious massacre and clash, the bloodiest in history, and the same design, which had led the Turks to take the city as part of a wider project to conquer the peninsula and the seat of the papacy.
We know that the Turkish Empire, led by Sultan Mehmed II (known as ‘the Conqueror’) had moved to the conquest of the Byzantine Empire, causing, after more than 1000 years of history, the final fall in 1453. The incident had aroused deep sensation and dismay especially in the papacy seat (failing the last Christian stronghold in the East). Muhammad himself II, never hid its expansion intentions, they would have wanted him conqueror the West with the secret dream to bring their own horses to the Vatican. To achieve its purpose they carried out a pincer movement: on one hand he went up along the Balkan Peninsula until reaching to undermine first the possessions of Venice and then the city itself. On the other hand starting from the Mediterranean across the Aegean Channel to come to Italy through Puglia. The Turkish engaged in a long war with the Venetian Republic, which in 1478 was forced to peace, and therefore focused on the second line of the pincer, on the southern slope planning a landing in Apulia. In the spring of 1480 began to departure in the port of Vlora (only 70 km from Otranto) a large amount of men and ships. The choice of the period for the attack was not random. In fact, the political context in Italy was dominated by the constant wars between the various principles. In particular, the King of Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon had set siege to the city of Siena, leaving unguarded militarily the eastern part of his kingdom. Venice, close ally of Florence, in spite of the defeats suffered by the Turks still had the dominance on the sea. The Adriatic could be considered as a kind of the Gulf of Venice and the line Otranto – The Venetians, by the way, they hoped to divert the King of Naples from military operations against Florence. A short-sighted policy, contrasted with the Venetian diplomatic traditions; the enemy Napoletano would come to replace a larger and much more formidable enemy: the Turkish.
But to prevail was the strong resentment nurtured against Ferdinand I of Aragon testified, among other things. In a passage of Machiavelli remembering the events he writes: “But God gave birth to an unexpected accident, which gave the King and the Pope more thoughts than those of Tuscany. ” Military operations in the port of Vlora did not go unnoticed, but the Turks were able to disguise and mislead everyone by first believing that the goal was Rhodes or Ragusa. The same King of Naples underestimated the danger leaving Otranto poorly defended with just 400 soldiers and the command to two captains Francesco Zurlo and Giovanni Antonio Delli Falconi. On the morning of July 28, 1480, a terrifying sight appeared on the horizon of Otranto: a fleet of 150 ships with 18,000 men on board was moving towards the city. The troops landed in an area called Frassanito (also a beach that took the name in memory of this event: Baia dei Turchi), and immediately they looted the surrounding Casali, thus creating a security zone. then they moved to the city where they raided the village just outside the walls.
Taken Otranto, they executed 800 inhabitants, not willing to worship ‘Allah’. The incident halted the development of Otranto, which in truth was already in decline, following the Byzantine empire’s fate. During the Byzantine era, in fact, the arts and literature flourished in the city and the city became a center of cultural radiation,. The Basilian Monastery of San Nicola di Casole, which was a real university provided a vast library, largest of the South, and a scriptorium for copying texts in greek and latin.