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433rd Anniversary of Lepanto

Some people care about Pearl Harbor, remembering the US defeat the hands of the Japanese surprise attack. I prefer to remember the first defeat of the previously invincible Ottoman Turks, at the naval battle of Lepanto on October 7th, 1571.

The attacking fleet of the Holy League consisted primarily of the Venetian navy allied with Spain and Papal forces (yes, the Pope had a navy). Led by Don Juan, the Bastard of Austria, the Venetians sank a large force of Turkish galleys under Uluç Ali Pasha at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras, near the Venetian stronghold of Lepanto. Churches all over Europe still have chapels and paintings celebrating the victory, and it marked the end of Muslim hopes to dominate the Mediterranean. Lepanto was also the last major naval battle to feature a large number of war galleys.

Lepanto is remembered for another, more literary reason. Among the Allied wounded was Miguel de Cervantes. He lost the use of his left hand at Lepanto, but he was extremely proud of his role in the famous victory and of the nickname he earned there, el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto). He recuperated in Messina, Siciliy, and continued his military career. In later life he was captured by pirates and enslaved for five years, was freed, married a woman 18 years his junior, became a tax collector, separated, went bankrupt, was jailed, and finally published Don Quixote in 1605 (sometimes called the first modern novel).

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