Fresh from its victory over Nicosia and the surrender of Kyrenia, the Ottoman army approached Famagusta in confident mood in September 1570. Before them lay a small garrison of Venetians, no match it would seem for thousands of battle-hardened Turkish troops. Having blockaded the port (thus preventing relief from the Venetian navy), the Ottoman commander Mustafa Paşa ordered his artillery to pound the city while his engineers built trenches and a huge earth ramp to scale the walls. The Venetian defenders, hopelessly outnumbered, put up a gutsy resistance under the command of Marcantonio Bragadin and his lieutenant Lorenzo Tiepolo, cunningly moving soldiers about so that the invaders were tricked into thinking them a far more formidable force. The Venetians managed to hold out for ten months before the citadel was breached in July 1571. Bragadin agreed to a negotiated surrender where all civilians could leave the city and his soldiers could sail for Crete.

Things went largely to plan until during the hand-over ceremony when Mustafa Paşa, up until then courteous towards his opponent, suddenly exploded with rage, killing several Venetian officers and cutting off Bragadin’s ears and nose. A massacre of the remaining Christians in the city followed. Bragadin, after several weeks’ imprisonment, was publicly executed, his body quartered, and his skin, stuffed with straw, sent riding on an ox through the town before being sent to the sultan in Constantinople. The treatment of Bragadin so incensed the Venetians that it was said to inspire their forces at the Battle of Lepanto a couple of months later, halting Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean. Bragadin’s flailed skin was rescued from Constantinople in 1596 and returned to Venice, where it still rests in the Basilica di San Zanipolo.

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