“Obelisk for 1716” in Corfu

The Corfu Heritage Foundation under the auspices of the Region of the Ionian Islands and the Municipality of Corfu organises the future unveiling of the monumental Obelisk that is to be erected at the new junction of the Corfu Port Authority.

The initiative for the construction of the Obelisk for 1716 was taken by Count Spiro Flamburiari, President of the Corfu Heritage Foundation. According to Count Flamburiari, “The monumental Obelisk honours the Corfiots, Ionians and other Europeans who successfully fought against the invasion of the Ottoman Turks in 1716. The victory of the troops that fought against the Turks resulted in Europe remaining independent and tolerant. Any other outcome of the battles would turn Europe into part of the Ottoman Empire”.

The Obelisk honours the victorious result in favour of the Christian forces rescuing the city of Corfu from the Ottoman Turks in the summer of 1716. This is an extremely important event, as the victory of the Christians within the walls of Corfu marks the end of the Ottoman advance in Europe, the development of the Age of Enlightenment and the birth of modern civil Democracy.

It is worth noting that, in addition to the thousands who fought heroically during the Ottoman invasion of 1716 under the command of Saxon Count Johann Mattias von der Schulenburg, Corfiots and Ionians were joined by many European fighters from countries forming today the united Europe, thus giving a special dimension to the concept of the Bastion of Europe, which was given after the victorious result in Corfu.

It is this great event in European History that the Corfu Heritage Foundation wanted to highlight with the construction of a monument, which was approved by the Central Archaeological Council of the Ministry of Culture.

It should be noted that the Obelisk, 8 metres high, was designed by Mr Periklis Lascari, a Corfiot architect, and made of marble in the workshops of the Pitardi Cavamonti company in Lecce, Italy. It consists of 17 pieces and weighs a total of 15 tons. Its heavy weight obliged the Civil Engineer Mr Thanasis Makris to construct a special foundation. The place where the Obelisk is placed was indicated by the Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Corfu Ms Diamado Rigakou. The English engineer-designer Mr Alan Barrett created a wonderful model at a scale of 1:10 courtesy of the Corfu Heritage Foundation.

Figure 1. – Frontal Aspect of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu” with relevant proportions.
Figure 2. – Views of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu” with the dedicatory text in four languages ​​- Greek, Italian, Russian and English.
Figure 3. – Model at a scale of 1:10 of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu”, created by engineer-designer Mr Alan Barrett in 2021. Acrylic on wood, 80 x 34 x 34 cm. Courtesy of the Corfu Heritage Foundation, Corfu. 
Figure 4. – First maquette of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu”, designed by the architect-engineer Mr Dimitris Moumouris in 2021. Digital printing on paper, 25 x 50 cm. Courtesy of the Corfu Heritage Foundation, Corfu.
Figure 5. – Second maquette of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu”, designed by the architect-engineer Mr Dimitris Moumouris in 2021. Digital printing on paper, 25 x 50 cm. Courtesy of the Corfu Heritage Foundation, Corfu.
Figure 6. – Photorealistic illustration composing the Obelisk (8 metres high) at the new junction (30 metres in diameter) accompanied by the human scale by the architect Maria Dry.  
Figure 7. – Satellite view of the area surrounding the site of the “Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu” at the new junction of OLKE (location marked in red colour).

The Obelisk for 1716: A Monument for the Prevalence of the West in Corfu

By Megakles Rogakos, MA MA PhD – Art Historian

The Obelisk for 1716 in Corfu commemorates the central position of the Corfiots in the military operation mounted by the Ottoman Empire against Corfu under the Venetian rule.

In the context of the 7th Venetian-Ottoman war, after the occupation of the Venetian possessions in the Peloponnese, the Ottomans wished to conquer the Ionian Islands and through those Venice. The decision to attack Corfu was taken at an extraordinary meeting of the Ottoman military and political leaders in the spring of 1715 in Constantinople. The meeting was to address the common European front against the Ottoman Empire consisting of the Venetian Republic, the German Empire and the Catholic Church. Corfu held a strategic position in the Adriatic. The operation of Corfu was assigned to Canım Hoca Kapudan Paşa (1640-1735) and Kara Mustafa Serasker Paşa (-1737). Topal Osman Paşa (1663-1733), commander of Trikala, were ordered to organise the movement of the army to the coastal areas of mainland Greece. The Saxon Baron Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661-1747), one of the best generals of the time, was recruited as a Commander of the Venetian military forces. In addition, Andrea Pisani (1662-1718) was appointed Commander of the fleet. The Ottoman force consisted of 71 large ships and an army of 30,000 men. Venice allocated in the operation 27 ships and an army of 3,097 men and one fort with 144 guns and four mortars.

With his arrival in Corfu in February 1716, Schulenburg ordered the repair of worn parts of the fortress. The siege lasted from 8 July until 22 August. The Ottomans were preparing to attack since the end of June. They threatened the Zakynthians not to resist in exchange for their lives, while in Kefalonia Ottoman soldiers terrorised the population. Units of the Venetian fleet that rushed to the area of Zakynthos were immobilised due to apnea. On the 5 July the Ottoman army concentrated on the shores of Epirus and the fleet anchored at Butrint, while a few ships were sent to southern Italy to prevent allied naval aid. On the morning of the 8th of July, the first Ottoman forces landed at Ypsos, 10 kilometers north of Corfu Town. That evening the naval clash between Venetians and Ottomans began with more losses suffered by the former. The local population of Corfu was in a chaotic situation. Schulenburg recruited as many civilians as were able to fight or help. On 12 July Ottoman troops gradually landed. On 18 July Venetian aid of 1500 men, grain and money arrived. On 22 July a naval squadron from Malta with five ships arrived. The Ottoman forces encamped in the area of Gouvia, 6 km north of the town. On 24 July the Ottomans attempted an assault on Avraam hill but were repelled. The next day they attacked Mantouki. On 27 July Venetian forces attacked the Ottomans in Gouvia but failed. The Ottomans constantly bombarded the city and the fleet that docked nearby. Having as a strategic goal the occupation of the two hills of Avraam and Sotiras, which are located in front of the fortifications of the city, the Ottomans launched successive attacks and finally captured them on 3 August. The Ottoman military leaders sent ultimatums on 5 August to the besieged for surrender to avoid mass slaughter. But the Venetian leadership ignored them. On 7 August the Ottoman artillery held successive attacks. On 18 August the defenders attempted an exodus with two battalions with a view to destabilise the plans of the besiegers. The battle was chaotic with heavy casualties on both sides. On the morning of the 19th of August, an attack of 3,000 Janissaries caused a disorderly retreat of the Venetians. The largest part of the exterior fortifications was abandoned by the defending forces and was occupied by the Ottomans. The defenders inside the castle, including civilians, fought back and made the Ottomans flee in disorder with a final loss of 2,000 men.

On 20 August and while the Venetians were about to clash with the Ottoman fleet a powerful storm broke out – a fact so unusual at this time as to be considered a miraculous intervention of St Spyridon – causing damage to both fleets and the entrenched positions of the Ottomans. In the period between 21 and 22 August the Ottoman forces left Corfu and moved opposite, in Epirus. The Venetians captured a large amount of ordnance and several soldiers, who, owing to the confusion, were abandoned on the island during the withdrawal. The casualties of the defenders numbered 800 dead and 700 wounded. From the Ottoman side the number of losses ranged between 4,000 and 6,500 men. The professional jealousy of the two leaders of the hostile forces, the Serasker and the Kapoudan Paşa, could be added to the factors of failure of the Ottoman invasion. The Ottoman forces were more numerous and stronger, but they were exposed and without military capabilities and discipline. Moreover, the collapse of the Ottoman army in St Petersburg by the army of Prince Eugene of Savoy on 5 August contributed to the disorderly evacuation of Corfu.

The first known artistic representation of the victory of the Republic of Venice against the Ottomans during the siege of Corfu is the oratorio of Antonio Vivaldi “Judith triumphant over the barbarians of Holofernes”, which the composer created and presented to the Ospedale della Pietà in November 1716. The Latin libretto was written by Jacopo Cassetti, based on the relevant parable in the Old Testament. The composer referred to the Venetian victory, which then dominated the public debates in Venice, through a series of allegorical reductions: the beautiful heroine, Juditha (Venice), saved her homeland, Jewish Bethulia (Christian Corfu) from the barbarians of Assyria (Ottomans) of Holofernes (Sultan), thanks to her courage and intelligence, but also to her faithful maid Abra (faith in God), towards the triumphant finale: “Hail, beautiful, invincible Judith! / Glory of our country and hope of our salvation / May you be glorified, forever in the world. / The barbarian of Thrace was defeated / the Queen of the Seas triumphed!” The defense of Corfu in 1716 is depicted in a painting by the Italian philhellene, painter Giuseppe-Lorenzo Gatteri (1829-1884), which became known from an engraving around 1860. The central figure leading the Venetian forces, in front of the banner with the symbol of St Mark, could be of Commander Schulenburg.

Undoubtedly, the credit for the solution of the siege goes to Commander von der Schulenburg and to all his fighters. Nevertheless, the struggle and sacrifice of the citizens Corfu, representing not only the Most Serene Venetian Republic, but the whole enlightened Europe, must be recognised. In his historical study on the siege, Lavrentios Vrokinis reports 3,054 Corfiots and 541 Zakynthians, who faced the Ottoman expansionism selflessly. With that in mind, the Corfu Heritage Foundation created in 2021 a monumental obelisk, bearing the following inscription: “In memory of the Corfiots who fought heroically against the Ottoman invasion of 1716”. The inscription is written in four languages, one on each side of the obelisk and in the following order from its south aspect, clockwise: Greek, Italian, Russian and English.

The Obelisk for 1716 honours Corfu as a bastion of Europe limiting Ottoman expansionism in the West. It commemorates the leading role of the Corfiots in the victorious outcome of the Ottoman siege. In addition, it is a monument honouring the principles, values and ideals of Europe. Intellectually, it celebrates human effort to abolish slavery and establish liberty. Ultimately, as a symbol of liberty, it relates to the Greek struggle against the Ottomans during the Greek Revolution of 1821.

(text from the Corfu Heritage Foundation’s album entitled “Hymn to Liberty” of 2021)

Figure 8. – Panagiotis Doxaras (1662-1729). Portrait of Count Mattias von der Schulenburg, 1719. Courtesy of the Koutlidis Collection, Athens.
Figure 9. – View of the city of Corfu on the arrival of Andrea Pisani, Captain General of the Sea, in its port in 1715.
Figure 10. – The Miracle of Saint Spyridon in the Siege of Corfu on the 11th of August 1716. Detail from a fresco, mid 18th century, in the Chapel of Aixoni, Glyfada.
Figure 11. – Antonio Balestra (1666-1740). A votive painting depicting Doge Giovanni II Corner thanking the Virgin Mary and Saints Mark and Spyridon for the withdrawal of the Ottomans from Corfu in 1716, 1727. Courtesy of the Doge’s Palace, Venice.
Figure 12. – Domenico Ciuffetti. Vera, e distinta relatione della totale disfatta dell’Armata Terrestre Turca sotto Corfù, con aver persotutto il Bagaglio & il Cannone, Il Giorno delli 22 Agosto 1716. In Ferrara nella Stampa del Filoni 1716 con Licenza de Superiori.
Figure 13. – Antonio Vivaldi (Italy, 1678-1741). Frontispiece of the libretto of the oratorio “Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie”, 1716 Venice.
Figure 14. – Giuseppe-Lorenzo Gatteri (1829-1884). La difesa di Corfù anno 1716, c. 1860. Etching on paper, 21 x 33 cm. Courtesy of Giorgos Ch. Sourtzinos Collection, Corfu.
Figure 15. – Bernard Picart (1673-1733). Commander Johann Mattias von der Schulenburg Coat of Arms, 1728.
“About the Obelisk” by Ioannis Kontos. Episimanseis tis Kyriakis – Notes of Sunday, 23 May 2021, p. 18.

“About the Obelisk”

By Ioannis Kontos, Lawyer

After a lot of talk lately for and against the Obelisk, which the Corfu Heritage Foundation of Count Spiro Flamburiari offered to donate to Corfu for the fallen Corfiots of the siege of 1716, the Architecture Council of Corfu finally gave a negative opinion (!!!), that is against the placement, with its minutes no. 10/13-05-2021, citing a series of arguments.

But what is really impressive is one of the arguments that the anachronistic character of the obelisk (word for word!) does not harmonise with the area of ​​new port that is framed by contemporary architectural buildings, including the Passenger Terminal with a pleated shell of the eminent Corfiot architect Pericles Sakellarios!

That is, as if to say that the Obelisk will “offend” architecturally and will not harmonise with this architectural “masterpiece”, the Passenger Terminal!

For those who did not understand, by talking about Sakellarios, we mean the architect who “adorned” Corfu with the “masterpieces” of the new Prefecture, the Customs, the Central Branch of the National Bank in the Annunziata and mainly (!!!) with an architectural masterpiece called the new Municipal Theatre!

I am not an architect and I cannot judge how outstanding Pericles Sakellarios was (otherwise designated Commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix!). But I believe that he probably exhausted his charisma outside Corfu. And so it is that the Obelisk does not harmonise with one of his “jewels in the crown”! The Passenger Terminal…

I reiterate that I am not an architect, but I would really like to know how the 4,000-year-old ancient Egyptian Obelisk was harmonised with the buildings of St Peter’s Square in the Vatican when it was placed there in 1586, that is, during the Renaissance.

I believe that the situation is now a challenge for the municipal authority and it should proceed on its own with the placement of the Obelisk, making a clear political decision.

[Episimanseis tis Kyriakis – Notes of Sunday, 23 May 2021, p. 18]

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