December 8, 2023


By Ismail Veli……..

The list of foreign rule in Cyprus is long and full of endless debate, hate, and no doubt nostalgia is part of most Cypriots thoughts about their history.

The most debated are probably the Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman and British period of rule. In one way or another their legacy and historical remains are a constant physical reminder of our past. But what of the Genoese period. Strictly speaking there was no official rule by Genoa, and yet from the years 1372-1464 they were for all intents and purposes the de-facto rulers of the Island.

True it’s never on the list of official rule by historians, but they were the supreme lords and masters over the Lusignan House in Cyprus. The powerful Visconti family from Milano (now Milan, Italy) played a strong role. The marriage of Eleanor of Aragon to Peter the First of Cyprus on 5th April 1360 gave her the title of Queen Consort of Cyprus. Her husband’s infidelities and numerous mistresses put a strain on their relationship. When Peter embarked on a crusade against Alexandria he declared Eleanor – Regent of Cyprus. On his return however he found that his wife was accused of adultery, after a court trial the charges were dismissed. While having an affair himself King Peter was murdered, suspicions were that his own brothers, John and James, were the organisers of his murder. Eleanor ruled as regent on behalf of her son but with the support of her dead husband’s brothers effectively took control of Cyprus.

Queen Eleanor of Aragon and King Peter I of Cyprus

Her brother-in-laws however were not trusted by Eleanor. She secretly invited the Genoese to invade Cyprus, James was murdered in 1374 and Eleanor’s son Peter was eventually pressured to marry Valentina Visconti in 1378. Valentina was the daughter of the powerful Milano family of Barnabo Visconti. It was a political marriage of convenience that was to change Cypriot destiny towards Genoese and finally to Venetian rule. Eleanor was not on the best of terms with her daughter-in-law Valentina but could not risk rocking the boat, so she decided to return to Catalonia in Spain to avoid any serious disturbance. Sadly for Valentina her husband died in 1382 and with their only daughter dying the same year at the age of 2 simply meant that Valentina could not rule as regent. Valentina died soon thereafter in 1393. Valentina’s sister Anglesia Visconti became queen consort of Cyprus as wife of Janus from 1401 to 1407.

The Visconti family’s influence in Cyprus at that time cannot be discounted. Their dominance of North Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries meant that the Genoese and Venetians respected their power which eventually declined, to pave way for the Venetian conquest of Cyprus in 1489 until the Ottoman conquest of 1571.

Bernabò Visconti and the Visconti coat of arms


Perhaps one incident that brought Genoa to the point of controlling Cyprus occurred in 1372. The Lusignan kings’ custom was that they received the crown of Cyprus at the Cathedral of Nicosia and that of Jerusalem at St Nicholas Cathedral of Famagusta. The established tradition and protocol was that the King would ride to the Cathedral on a horse led by representatives of Genoa and Venice. Genoa had the honour of holding the right hand reign and Venice the left. As the new King Peter II appeared for his coronation, the Venetian representative tried to seize the right hand rein, The Genoese representative resisted strongly and the obvious bickering led to a riot in which many Genoese were killed. The Loggia of the Genoese was pillaged. The insult was totally unacceptable to the proud Genoese and the insult could not go unanswered, their fleet under the command of Admiral Fregoso was sent to Cyprus. They ravaged, pillaged and laid destruction to Cyprus. In effect they became the masters of the island until King James II drove them out in 1464. Lusignan power was also in decline however and the Venetians finally had the last word by bringing Cyprus under their control in 1489, this finally put the nail in the coffin for both the Lusignans and the unofficial control that Genoa originally had.

During Venetian rule Cyprus was divided into Contradas (districts) The area around Nicosia, including my own village of Lurucina (Lorthina at the time) was in the ”Contrada di Visconti”, (district of Visconti) proof that the Visconti family’s influence ran deep. So while the records show Lusignan rule from 1192-1489 for all intents and purposes the de-facto rulers for the later period of Lusignan rule was in fact Genoa. Medieval history is not as clear cut as some of us imagine. Alliances through marriage to different powerful lords of Europe often shifted the balance of power in unpredictable directions. So while we read the records of Lusignan and Venetian rules at a particular time in history the reality on the ground could be changed by alliances, intrigue, murder and marriages. I guess in that respect today’s alliances though slightly different do reflect the shifting patterns of international alliances in unpredictable directions. So goes the infinite interests of the powerful instinct to rule or dominate one’s own sphere of influence.

4 thoughts on “The forgotten Genoese rule in Cyprus

  1. Ismail: Very Interesting? Certainly a part of Cypriot history I have never heard of before, Well done. Bob Scott.

    1. Thank you Bob, you probably realise by now that I enjoy digging for aspects of history that in my view played an important part but is not so well known. Glad you enjoyed the article

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