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What to see in italy: La Marinella di Palmi and the historical events linked to the pirate Dragut

2020-07-03 18:30

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History of the corsair Dragut: the 'Avenging Sword of Islam'.

What to see in Calabria: La Marinella di Palmi and the historical events linked to the pirate Dragut


immagine: Turghud Alì, o Dragut, Turghut Reis, Darghout Rais, Turhud Rais, Dargut (Bodrum, 1485 – Gozo, 25 giugno 1565)

Turghud Ali, or Dragut, was an Ottoman admiral and corsair.
Successor to Khayr al-Din Barbarossa, Viceroy of Algiers and Lord of Tripoli and al-Mahdiyya, Dragut was often the ruthless protagonist of popular beliefs, novels and films and is remembered as one of the greatest admirals (Kapudanpaşa in Turkish) of Turkish ethnicity in the service of the Sultan.

At the age of twelve, while grazing his flock, he was spotted by a chief of the sultan's bombers on his way to Cairo.

In fact, this encounter changed his life; no one could have imagined that this humble boy would become the terror of the Mediterranean. The concept of meritocracy in the Ottoman Empire was therefore felt much more than in the rest of the world, where even the best cabin boy could not hope to rise above the rank of boatswain's mate and where all ship captains and admirals, like Andrea Doria, necessarily came from noble families. Even today, in many countries, access to high ranks is not allowed to everyone and often only grows within family or political lobbies.

Her father and mother give their consent for her to join the Ottoman militia, which is forbidden to Turks, and her mother is passed off as a Greek Christian. In Cairo he learned the use of artillery. On the death of his protector he moved to Alexandria (Al Iskanderiyah); he embarked on a Barbary vessel and soon acquired a reputation as a good pilot and an excellent gunner. He sailed under the orders of Sinan and the Lame. After a number of raids he became the owner of a quarter of a brig which, in a few racing voyages, would be all his. He armed a galley and with it he sailed the eastern waters of the Mediterranean along the route linking Venice with the Aegean ports. His subordinates feared him more than death.

He waged a running war with Barbarossa. The latter took him with him to Constantinople (Istanbul) and gave him command of 12 galleys.



Image: Khayr al-Dīn Barbarossa, known in Italic circles as Ariadeno Barbarossa, also known as Haradin, Kaireddin and Cair Heddin, (Mytilene, 1478 - Constantinople, 1546), was an Ottoman corsair and admiral, Bey of Algiers and Tlemcen, and commander of the Ottoman fleet.

Dragut was one of the most skilful, daring and ferocious pirates. The violence of Dragut's raids on Mediterranean cities was so unprecedented that in 1538 he took part in the naval battle of Prevesa against Andrea Doria alongside Barbarossa and became so feared that Charles V himself ordered the Dorias to capture him at all costs.

Also in September of the same year, the Ottoman and Christian fleets meet in the waters of Prevesa; the adversaries are defeated.

 In the battle he is in command of 20 galleys and 10 galleys; at the head of 2 galleys he conquers the papal galley commanded by the knight Giambattista Dovizi, abbot of Bibbiena. He was taken prisoner at sunset after a bloody fight. After the battle, some of his galleys cannonade the enemy fleet, which has stopped at anchor in the bay of Arta (Amvrakikos). Barbarossa left him with 25 galleys and a good number of galleys and whales to infest the corridor between the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea. He carried out his task with particular diligence, harassing the Venetian naval forces that he beat on several occasions. On the contrary, he did not succeed in prevailing over the Knights of Malta who were the only ones able to stand up to him.


In 1540, returning from a raid on Capraia, he was surrounded and defeated in the bay of Girolata in Corsica by Giannettino Doria. After his capture, he was handed over to Andrea Doria, who had him chained as a convict to the oars of his flagship for four years and then sold as a slave.

Jean Parisot de la Vallette, visiting Doria, wanted to see him in Toulon and, contemptuously, told him that this was the way to deal with the defeated. Later on de la Vallette will fall prisoner of the Lame in the shallows of Kerkenna and will be forced to row: Dragut, already freed, will visit him and will not fail to point out how changeable fortune is. As a consequence of the victory of Girolata the Genoese coined a medal in which on one side there is the profile of Andrea Doria, bareheaded and with the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece around his neck; on the reverse side there is the effigy of Dragut. Around his head there are four chains linked by four handles; on his shoulders there is a corsair galley-slave with a club and stocks. The corsair was eventually sold as a slave to a rich merchant from Genoa who belonged to the Lomellino family.

With the withdrawal of Barbarossa, he is given command of all privateer vessels in the western Mediterranean. Soon he is given the title of 'The bare sword of Islam' or 'The avenging sword of Islam' by the Muslims.

In August 1549 he captured more than 300 people in Calabria.

In an assault on Palmi some corsairs of his crews fall asleep near a spring in an olive grove. They are surprised by the citizens while they are sleeping: many of them are killed. Only a few manage to escape to the beach to swim to the canals from which they had previously disembarked. Apart from this unfortunate event Dragut manages to return to Djerba not without having evaded, once again, the surveillance of the Christian squadrons, in this case the Maltese one.

 In 1552 he returned to Palmi and took bloody revenge for the defeat he had suffered three years earlier. He attacked the island of Elba in 1553 and 1555. He attacked and almost destroyed the port city of Terranova (now Olbia) in Sardinia in 1553.

In contrada Acqualive, near the place where the Saracen pirates were killed, there is a small shrine with a niche in which an image of the Madonna del Carmine with the souls in purgatory is painted. This shrine is called the 'cross of the dead' by the locals, in memory of the massacre of the Turks and some of the inhabitants of Palmi. In fact, the 'dragon stone' was located about two hundred metres south of the aedicule mentioned above.


Picture: Marinella di Palmi, site of the landing of the corsair Dragut


Image: Dragut's stone near Contrada Acqualive in Palmi. During an assault on Palmi some corsairs of his crews fall asleep at a spring in an olive grove. They are surprised by the citizens while they are sleeping. The Palmians, mistakenly thinking they had captured Dragut, beheaded him on this stone. The victim was one of his subordinates. In 1552 he returned to Palmi and took bloody revenge for the snub he had suffered three years earlier.

Nel luglio del 1554 assediò per una settimana circa la città di Vieste, all'estrema punta del Gargano, incendiandola e devastandola. Decapitò circa 5000 persone sulla roccia ai piedi della Cattedrale detta "Chianca Amara" ancora oggi ben visibile e opportunamente conservata. Deportò giovani e donne da destinare al mercato degli schiavi.


Immagine: Vieste - Lapide sul Monumento “La Chianca Amara” Nell'anno 1554 del mese di Luglio per sette giorni assediata da Dragut con settanta Galere

Nel maggio del 1565 Dragut si rivolse contro Malta, assediando il forte Sant'Elmo e cannoneggiandolo ripetutamente. Proprio durante uno di questi scontri il 18 maggio Dragut morì, ferito alla fronte da una scheggia di pietra. Gli succedette quindi Uluch Alì (‘Ulūj ‘Alī, chiamato dai cristiani Occhialì o Uccialì) che, conquistato il forte, volle vendicare Dragut massacrando tutti i superstiti. Il corpo di Dragut fu traslato a Tripoli e fu sepolto nella moschea che venne chiamata Sarāy Dragut.


Image: Malta - La velletta - Fort St Elmo

Dragut: the pirate and the cat

In front of Doria, the real central figure of the painting, is a huge cat, the one that the aristocrat possessed and named Dragut in recorded history.

It is said that Andrea Doria had such respect for Dragut that he named his cat after him.




Andrea Doria was one of the central characters in the history of Genoa. Together with Guglielmo Embriaco he had the merit of allowing Genoa to make an exponential leap in quality, in terms of economy and power. From being a great city, already important for its centrality in the commercial hubs of the Middle Ages and rich for its fortunate expansion in the period of the Crusades, Genoa, thanks to Andrea Doria, became an aristocratic Republic that expanded its influence and power over much of Western Europe and the Middle East.

Doria was already familiar with Dragut, having faced him in battle, and it was a great challenge between admirals that took place in the Mediterranean. In the end, it was Giannettino Doria, the heir grandson, who captured the pirate and brought him to Genoa.


Dragut was a figure at the antipodes of Doria, a histrionic and instinctive intelligence, devoid of inhibitions and calculations. He too, like Doria, was capable of extraordinary feats, even if each time his exploits cost death and suffering. In Genoa, Dragut surpassed himself. Considered a guest of honour, being admiral of the Sultan, Dragut lived his experience as a prisoner in a very relaxed way. Legend has it that he was a passionate lover and that his flattery did not find the wife of Giannettino, the same man who had captured him, indifferent.

Dragut's "boarding" took place according to his style, without much ado, and the outrage was perpetuated because no one expected such reprisals and such an unusual battlefield. Who notices the misdeed? Not Giannettino, but Andrea Doria, who then took the Saracen and chained him to a galley. Dragut is undaunted, the ransom will arrive and he will go back to roaming the sea and the Ligurian coast to plunder and kidnap girls.


So what does the painting represent? Perhaps Doria, lucid and intelligent as he was, saw something familiar in Dragut's exuberance, an aspect that brought him back to his early years as a soldier of fortune, to his old comrades and at the same time to the mocking adversary, indomitable to the end, capable of carrying the offence to the last, desecrating the flesh and the dearest family affections. We venture to think that Andrea Doria, the impassive statesman, laughed when he heard of his nephew's marital misadventures and that, in his heart, he saw in Dragut the archetype of the rebel that he himself was in his youth.

We imagine him calling the enormous tabby and at the same time repeating his very personal Mantra of a life lived to the fullest, caressing him while he is snuggled up on his lap, squinting his eyes and faintly feeling the thrill of youth and the ardours quenched by old age, the fury of time and the violence of men. (source:

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