Pirates of the Ionian

Pirates of the Ionian in Santa Maura Castle

Pirates of Ionian Santa Maura Castle
Santa Maura Castle

The Santa Maura Castle which was built around 1300 by John Orsini is the first tourist attraction the visitor of Lefkada sees. In particular, the remnants of the stone buildings inside the castle were the houses of Santa Maura, the capital of the island until 1684. It derived its name from the church of Santa Maura ( Agia Mavra in Greek) inside the castle. During the Ottoman occupation of Lefkada from 1503 to 1684, Santa Maura was a west and remote border of the Empire. A last frontier of the Ottoman Empire. Only a small garrison of around 200 men was defending the castle during that period. However, at that time the castle was also a home port of the Pirates of the Ionian and the whole Adriatic Sea in general!

Looting Ships and Castles in Mediterranean

Fusta the pirates' ship

During the 16th century, piracy in the Mediterranean was a quite common activity not only by Muslims but by Christian adventurers as well. Even badly paid soldiers from border garrisons of the Ottoman Empire took part in the looting of the ‘Frengistan’, the so-called that time territory of the West. The real enemy of the Ottoman Empire except the French Kings. Even the frigate of Barbarossa, the greatest pirate in the Mediterranean that time, had a port call in Preveza just beside Santa Maura. For almost a century pirates so-called ‘levents’ at that time, used to assault with their Fusta-type ships at Italian ports and territories occupied by Venice like Corfu, Cephalonia, and Zante bringing their loot to Santa Maura Castle. For this reason, according to historical sources the Castle resembled Algieri as it had a lot of taverns where the pirates were spending their money from the loot. In other words, Santa Maura was a perfect pirates’ hideout that time.

Finally, in 1684 the Doge of Venice Francesco Morosini occupied Santa Maura and gave an end to the piracy in the Ionian Sea.

So, whenever you visit Lefkada do not forget to walk in the Castle of Santa Maura trying to feel like a pirate. But be careful. Maybe Lefkada has stolen your heart when you are back home!

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