Plaza Turcha

In the citadel of Mategosa, there is a lovely cafe that sits atop a tunnel. While the tunnel is part of a recent traffic-control effort, the plaza has been there since the 15th Century. It is known as “Plaza Turcha” and it is where the Ottoman Empire arrived – and departed – from Mategosa.

As Sultan Mehmed II stormed through the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople, the citizens of Mategosa prepared for the day that the sultan’s shadow would fall across their island. The city council had no love for the Venetians: none would seek to find shelter behind Venetian galleys, as that meant financial entanglements entirely opposed to Mategosan interests.

Neither did the Mategosans seek aid under the Croatian flag. The seemingly unstoppable Turkish hosts would swallow up Croatia, it seemed, and no part of that nation would escape the onslaught from the East. Flying a Hapsburg banner was equally distasteful to the Mategosans. The only way to survive would be, as it so frequently is the case in Mategosan history, to go it alone.

Mategosa called up no soldiers for its defense: dying on the field of battle would be a noble, but futile gesture for an island as small as Mategosa. The might of Mategosa lay instead in its ability to call to service the infamous istražitelji, the crack financial investigators of the island. The istražitelji were known far and wide in banking circles – and feared wherever they were known.

The first move of the istražitelji was a distraction: it is now known today that a Mategosan agent was behind the incident that led to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1463-1479. A cell of istražitelji agents in Athens identified an Albanian slave in the household of the local Turkish commander whose daily activities left him unsupervised near the gates of the city. After the agents provided the slave with 100,000 silver coins and instructions on how to get to the nearest Venetian fortress, the slave was only too happy to run for his freedom. With the Turks occupied in a war with Venice, the istražitelji would enjoy years of preparing their next defense.

Not to say that all istražitelji were engaged against the Ottomans: more than a few kept track of the 100,000 coins and followed them through the accounts of the Venetians. When the Venetians sued for peace with Mehmed II at their gates, it was a ledger provided to the Sultan’s entourage by the Mategosans that guided the negotiations on what sort of financial indemnity the Venetians could afford to pay. This monetary blow to Venice, scholars agree, kept the Venetians from ever again being able to assert themselves over Mategosa. Continued Mategosan interference in Venetian monetary matters is frequently cited as an underlying reason behind Venice always coming up short of funds whenever it considered a punitive expedition against Mategosa.

As Venice lay prostrate before the Ottomans, the istražitelji worked to convince the Ottoman councils of invading Italy. In 1480, Mehmed II sent an army to attack Otranto. With Turks so close to home, the Pope demanded a Crusade – just as the Mategosans had hoped for – and powers from outside the region dealt a blow to the Turks that halted their advance in the Adriatic.

After Mehmed II passed away, his successor Bayezid II initially wanted to continue his father’s empire-building in the Adriatic region. Prior to the launching of the battle-fleets, however, the Mategosans issued an invitation to the Sultan to be their guest for discussions about the status of the island.

We know that Bayezid II traveled to Mategosa – the Ottoman Empire Archives contain documentation of the clandestine visit. That the visit was kept so secret has mystified scholars until recently. With the discovery of the so-called “Gizli Odalar” (hidden rooms) section of the Ottoman Archives in 2018, researchers have uncovered the papers that must certainly have compelled Bayezid II to quietly arrive at Mategosa. The papers were financial records implying that Bayezid II had been a victim of embezzlement – and only the wily istražitelji could provide recovery of the funds and apprehension of the thieves.

And so, on 27 October 1481, Bayezid II and his closest advisors met with Mategosan financial experts on the Plaza Turcha. There, the masters of the istražitelji guild laid out their case against secret supporters of the Ottoman pretender Cem, offering up incredible details regarding their financial transactions and stores of wealth.

Impressed with the fiscal discretion with which the istražitelji conducted themselves, Bayezid II agreed to a secret treaty, a copy of which was found in the Gizli Odalar. In the treaty, Bayezid II pledged to leave Mategosa unmolested in exchange for the istražitelji‘s continued watchfulness over the imperial treasury. It was an agreement honored in perpetuity by the Ottomans for centuries – and the maintenance of the istražitelji effort a constant source of clandestine wealth for the Isle of Mategosa.

And so, the Plaza Turcha is a special spot in the hearts of all true sons and daughters of Mategosa, as it is where more than freedom was secured for Mategosa – security and safety were bought there, as well. When the sottocollina road improvements were proposed in the late 1950s, it looked for a moment that Plaza Turcha would have to be sacrificed in the name of better traffic flow. But, through the patriotic genius of the civil engineers of Mategosa, innovative tunneling techniques allowed the plaza to be preserved and the traffic to flow smoothly underneath the place where the Sultan and the istražitelji guild-masters struck their bargain.

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