Insubrica Historica researches local history with a great enthusiasm. A fascinating fact is that common people acquire outstanding regional noteworthiness if their story is explained through community context. Today we would like to write about Bernardino Checco (approx. 1540-1611). He was a native of Locarno and a valiant “capitano“ (in English: captain) of Venetians during the 16th century.
According to Leonardo Brolliet, the family name Checco comes originally from the family Cadassie from Cevio in the Valle Maggia. There were two branches: the first Checco stayed mostly in the Valle Maggia and the second Cadassie resided in Locarno, taking also the family name Checco. According to Brolliet, the latter is the family about which we have at present little information. It seems that the family Checco did not have a particular influence in Locarno, yet a prominent and valiant captain, Bernardino Checco, existed.
We know at present that Bernardino was military serving with Venice: an interesting aspect is that Venetians, together with French, defeated the Swiss troops during the battle of Marignano in 1515.
Bernardino defended Famagusta on the Cyprus island against Turkish attacks. Venetians conquered Famagusta in 1489 from Genovese. Venetians transformed Famagusta into a thriving place where merchants and ship owners led luxury lives. A common belief at that time was that people’s wealth could be measured by luxury churches they had built in various styles – the same phenomena was observed in the Insubrica region with Campanilismo. These churches, remaining still at present in that part of the Cyprus island, created “a district of churches”. The development of Famagusta was focused on social lives of wealthy people and was centered upon the Lusignan palace, the Cathedral, the Square and the harbor.
Famagusta was in 1571 the last Cypriot port to fall into Turkish hands after a long siege, which costed lives at least of 50’000 Turkish soldiers. As a matter of fact, promised reinforcements to the city did not come from Venice, but the strenuous estate of the stronghold was instrumental keeping Turks occupied and allowing Venetians to win the naval battle of Lepanto. We don’t know exactly which was the real role and position of Bernardino Checco during the siege, but he managed somehow to survive the captivity. Other Venetians, notably Commander Marcantonio Bragadin, were brutally tortured, mutilated and flayed alive by the Turkish army.
Bernardino Checco was brought to Costantinople, today Istanbul, managing to escape and to return to Venice. His valiant behavior in the battle of Famagusta kept him for a very long time at service of Venetians. He was thus named the military governor and the city holder (in German: Statthalter) of Cephalonia. The island had been captured by a Spanish-Venetian army from the Turkish army in 1500, making it a rare Venetian success in the Second Ottoman–Venetian War. From that time, Cephalonia remained part of the “Stato da Mar” of the Venetian Republic, following the fate of the Ionian islands, completed by the capture of Lefkas from Turks in 1684.
Bernardino Checco died in 1611, and it is unknown where, most likely in Cephalonia. The family name disappeared rapidly from Locarno and can be considered as extinguished today. Bernardino remains however one of the most brilliant military men of Ticino and the Insubrica region.
- Leonardo Brolliet, A cavallo delle Alpi. Ascese, declini e collaborazioni dei ceti dirigenti tra Ticino e Svizzera centrale (1400-1600), FrancoAngeli, 2014, pages 422-423