Corfu Travel Guide
How to get to Corfu
Athens - Igoumenitsa 500 km (9hrs).
Patras - Igoumenitsa 349 km ( 5hrs).
Thessalonica - Igoumenitsa 500 km ( 9hrs).
Athens (Bus Station Tel. +30 2105129443), bus stops, Korinth, Patras, Agrinio and Arta.
Thessalonica ( Bus station el. +30 210510110), bus stops, Larisa and Ioannina.
Ferry Boats ( Domestic Lines)
From Igoumenitsa departures are 6 am upto 10pm. In the summer season departures are on average every quarter of an hour and the duration is approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.
International Lines to and from ITALY (Patra, Bari, Brindezi, Ancona, Venice):
Departures from Patra to Italy visit the ports of Corfu or Igoumenitsa accordingly, as well as in the opposite journey Italy to Patra.
Information is given by the port authorities of Greece, Corfu (+30 266103265) Igoumenitsa (+30 2665022235) and Patras (+30 2610341002).
Corfu Airport is connected by chater flights to most european cities.
Domestic Flights are available by OLIMPIC and AEGEAN Airlines from Athens
Flight Informations :
Athens OLYMPIC AIRWAYS Τel. +30 2109616161 or from Olympic Airways Site
Corfu OLYMPIC AIRWAYS Tel. +30 2661038694
Corfu Airport " Ioannis Kapodistrias" Tel.+30 2661030180
For Airport Destination Code select the following:
CFU AIROPORT CODE FOR CORFU
ATH AIROPORT CODE FOR ATHENS
SKG AIROPORT CODE FOR THEASSALONIKI
Corfu lies off the coast of Albania, from which it is separated by straits varying in breadth from 3 to 23 km (2 to 15 mi), including one near Butrint and a longer one west of Thesprotia. The island is part of the Corfu Prefecture. The principal town of the island is also named Corfu, or Kerkyra in Greek. Corfu is home to the Ionian University. The island is steeped in history and it is perennially connected to the history of Greece starting from Greek mythology.
Its Greek name, Kerkyra, is connected to two powerful water symbols: Poseidon, god of the sea and Asopos, an important Greek mainland river. According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Korkyra, daughter of Asopus and river nymph Metope, and abducted her, as was the custom among gods of that era's myths - Zeus himself was a serial offender. Poseidon brought her to the hitherto unnamed island and, being in marital bliss, offered her name to the place: Korkyra, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra. Together, they had a child they called Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named: Phaiakes, that was then transliterated via Latin to Phaeacians.
This myth, with its themes of romance between a powerful god and a beautiful nymph, with a trace of adventure, centred around the element of water, is suggestive of the special ambiance of the place.
The island's history is full of battles and conquests, indicative of Corfu's turbulent position in a historical vortex that lasted until modern times, when after the unification with modern Greece in 1864 the history of the island became one with the mainland's, with no more foreign intervention. The legacy of these struggles remains in the form of castles that exist in strategic locations all over the island. Two of these castles enclose the city. It is the only city in Greece to be surrounded by castles this way and as a result has officially been declared as a Kastropolis (Castle city) by the Greek Government.
Geography and urban landscape
The name Corfu is an Italian corruption of the Byzantine Κορυφώ (Koryphō), meaning city of the peaks, which is derived from the Greek Κορυφαί (Koryphai), meaning Crests or Peaks, denoting the two peaks of the fortresses that enclose the city. In shape it is not unlike the sickle (drepanē, δρεπάνι), to which it was compared by the ancients, the hollow side, with the town and harbour of Corfu in the centre, being towards the Albanian coast. It is about 40 miles (60 km) long, and its greatest breadth is about 20 miles (30 km). The area is estimated at 227 sq miles (580 km²). Two high and well-defined ranges divide the island into three districts, of which the northern is mountainous, the central undulating and the southern low-lying. The most important of the two ranges is that of San Salvador (Αγιος Σωτήρας), probably the ancient Istone, which stretches east and west from Cape St. Angelo to Cape St. Stefano, and attains its greatest elevation in the summit from which it takes its name. The second culminates in the mountain of Santi Jeca, or Santa Decca, as it is called by misinterpretation of the Greek designation Άγιοι Δέκα (Hagioi Deka), or the Ten Saints.
The whole island, composed as it is of various limestone formations, presents great diversity of surface, and the views from the more elevated spots are magnificent. Beaches are found in Agii Gordi, the Korissi lagoon, Agios Georgios, Marathia, Kassiopi, Sidari, Roda, Palaiokastritsa and many others.
Coastline and beaches
The coastline is about 217 km including capes. The highest point is Mount Pantokrator (906m); the second is Stravoskiadi (849 m). Capes and promentories include Agia Aikaterini, and Drastis to the north, Lefkimmi and Asprokavos to the southeast and Megachoro to the south. There is an island in the middle of Gouvia Bay which extends across much of the eastern shore of the island; it is called Ptychia. Camping grounds can be found in Palaiokastritsa, Agrillos, four in the northern part, Pyrgi, Roda, Gouvia and Messonghi.
Homer names, as adorning the garden of Alcinous, only seven plants – wild olive, oil olive, pear, pomegranate, apple, fig and vine. Of these the apple and the pear are now very inferior in Corfu; the others thrive, together with all the fruit trees known in southern Europe, with addition of the kumquat, loquat and prickly pear and, in some spots, the banana. When undisturbed by cultivation, the myrtle, arbutus, bay and ilex form a rich brushwood and the minor flora of the island are extensive.
The island has again become an important port of call and has a considerable trade in olive oil; under a more careful system of tillage the value of its agricultural products could be substantially increased.
The town of Corfu stands on the broad part of a peninsula, whose termination in the Venetian citadel (Greek: Παλαιό Φρούριο) is cut off from it by an artificial fosse formed in a natural gully, with a salt-water ditch at the bottom, that serves also as a kind of marina. The old city having grown up within fortifications, where every metre of ground was precious, is a labyrinth of narrow streets paved with cobblestones, sometimes tortuous but mostly pleasant, colourful and sparkling clean. These streets are called "kantounia" (Greek: καντούνια) and the older ones sometimes follow the gentle irregularities of the ground while many of them are too narrow for vehicular traffic. There is promenade by the seashore towards the bay of Garitsa (Γαρίτσα), and also a handsome esplanade between the town and the citadel called "Liston" (Greek: Λιστόν) where upscale restaurants and European style bistros abound. The name Liston came from the American "List on" meaning the list of the vendors' fare, in other words the menu.
The old citadel (Palaio Frourio literally: Old Fortress (Παλαιό Φρούριο)) is an old Venetian fortress built on an islet with fortifications surrounding its entire perimeter, although some sections especially on the east side are slowly being eroded and falling into the sea. Nonetheless the interior has been restored and maintained and it is used for cultural events such as concerts (συναυλίες) and Sound and Light Productions (Ηχος και Φως) whereby historical events are recreated using sound and light special effects. The ambience of the place is dramatic as one is surrounded by ancient fortifications while the surrounding Ionian sea glimmers in the background. In the middle of all this the central high point of the citadel rises like a giant natural obelisk complete with a military observation post at the top, with a giant cross at its apex. At the foot of the observatory, St. George's church, in classical Greek architectural style with six Doric colummns, as opposed to the Byzantine architectural style of most Eastern Orthodox churches, is quite an imposing sight. Taking in a concert or other event at night in such a place under the moonlight while surrounded by the sea, immersed in this history steeped environment with all its diverse and unexpected architectural elements, is an experience that even the most discriminating connoisseur of life would appreciate.
The new citadel or Neo Frourio (Νέο Φρούριο) meaning New Fortress is a huge complex of fortifications that dominates the northeastern part of the city. The huge walls of the fortress dominate the landscape as one makes the trip from Neo Limani (Νέο Λιμάνι meaning New Port) to the town, taking the road that passes through the fishmarket (ψαραγορά). The new citadel was until recently a restricted area due to the presence of a naval garrison. However, the old restrictions have been lifted and it is now open to the public, and tours can be taken through the maze of medieval corridors and fortifications. The winged lion, the symbol of Venice, can be seen at regular intervals adorning the fortifications. It is worth noting that at the feet of the lion lies an open book, symbolizing that the Venetians came to Corfu not to conquer but to defend.
Ano and Kato Plateia and music under the stars
Near the old Venetian Citadel is also a large square divided by a street in two parts: "Ano Plateia" and "Kato Plateia" (Ανω Πλατεία and Κάτω Πλατεία in Greek). It is officialy the biggest square in the Balkans and is replete with green spaces and interesting structures such as a Roman style rotunda from the time of the British administration, called the Maitland monument. There is also an ornate music pavilion where the local "Philharmoniki" (Philharmonic Orchestra) (Φιλαρμονική) plays choice pieces of classical music coming from the rich tradition of music and arts for which the island is famous. Listening to classical music overtures in "Ano Plateia" (literally: "Upper square") at night, while gazing at the old Venetian citadel bathed in light that is in turn reflected upon the bay of Garitsa, is an enchanting experience. "Kato Plateia" (literally: "Lower square") also serves as a place where cricket matches are held from time to time. Out of all of Greece, Cricket is unique to Corfu, since it used to be a British protectorate.
Palaia Anaktora and Gardens
Just to the North of "Kato Plateia" exist the "Palaia Anaktora" (Παλαιά Ανάκτορα: literally "Old Palaces") which is a large complex of Roman architecture buildings used in the past to house the King of Greece. Today they are open to the public and they form a complex of halls and buildings housing art exhibits including a Museum of Chinese Art unique in Southern Europe in its scope and richness of Chinese and Asian exhibits. The lavish Gardens of the Palaces complete with old Venetian stone aquariums, exotic trees and flowers and overseeing the bay through old Venetian fortifications and turrets are a place where anyone can have an "espresso" or "frappé" or even Greek coffee with "ouzo" at the garden café after a dip in the local sea baths (Μπάνια τ' Αλέκου) at the foot of the fortifications that surround the gardens. The palace café comes with its own art gallery where one can take in exhibits of local and international artists and it is aptly called Art Café. At the same time and from the same place one can gaze at the majestic cruise ships passing through the narrow channel of historic Vido island (Νησί Βίδου) to the north, on their way to Corfu harbour (Νέο Λιμάνι), sometimes announcing their arrival by blowing their horn. High speed retractable aerofoil ferries from Igoumenitsa, hovering above the water at high speed, impatiently leave their frothy wake on the blue Ionian sea (Ιόνιον Πέλαγος), to remind visitors to the Gardens that this is the 21st century. There is also a beautiful wrought iron aerial staircase, closed to garden visitors, that descends to the sea from the gardens and was used by royalty as a shortcut to the baths. Rewriting history, the locals now refer to the splendid old Royal Gardens as the "Garden of the People" (Ο Κήπος του Λαού).
Echoes of Venice and Pontikonisi
In several parts of the old city may be found houses from the Venetian times. The old city architecture is strongly influenced by the Venetian style as it was under Venetian occupation for a long time. The small and ancient sidestreets and the style of the old buildings with their trademark Venetian arches are strongly reminiscent of Venice. Of the thirty-seven Greek churches, the most important are the city's cathedral, the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Cave (ἡ Παναγία Σπηλιώτισσα (hē Panagia Spēliōtissa)); Saint Spyridon church, where lies the preserved body of the patron saint of the island; and finally the suburban church of St Jason and St Sosipater (Αγιοι Ιάσων και Σωσίπατρος), reputed the oldest in the island, named after the two saints who were probably the first to preach Christianity to the Corfiots.
The nearby island named Pontikonisi (Greek meaning "mouse island") although small is very green with many trees, and the highest natural point, (not counting the trees or man made structures such as the monastery), is about 2 m. Pontikonisi is home of the monastery of Pantokrator (Μοναστήρι του Παντοκράτορος). It is the white stone staircase of the Monastery that when viewed from afar gives the impression of a (mouse) tail that gave the island its name: Mouse island.
Othoni and Erikoussa
Othoni (Οθωνοί) is the westernmost settlement and island in all of Greece. Erikoussa is the northernmost of the Ionian Islands. All areas lie below the 40° N. About a quarter of the villages names end with -ades, while there are some villages outside Corfu whose names also end in -ades, especially in the prefecture of Ioannina on mainland Greece exactly opposite the southern end of Corfu. The villages at the southern part and on the Paxoi islands have names ending with -atika as well as -eika, notably Gramateika.
Museums and Libraries
Kerkyra has always been a cultural centre of distinction. The museums and libraries are full of irreplaceable books and artifacts. The most notable of the museums and libraries are located in the city and are:
- The Archaeological Museum located at Armeni Vraila 1 was inaugurated in 1967. It was constructed to house the exhibit of the huge Gorgon pediment of the Artemis temple that was excavated at Palaiopolis in early 20th century. In 1994 two more halls were added to the museum, where new discoveries from the excavations of the ancient town and the Garitsa cemetery are exhibited.
- The Public Library of Corfu located at the old English Barracks in Palaio Frourio.
- Solomos Museum and the Corfiot Studies Society share the same building at 1 Arseniou Str.
- The Reading Society of Corfu in Capodistriou Str. has an extensive library of old Corfu manuscripts and rare books.
- The Museum of Asian Art located at the Palaia Anaktora (mainly Chinese and Japanese Arts) and its unique collection is housed in 15 rooms and includes over 12,000 artifacts including a Greek Buddhist collection that shows the influence of Alexander the Great on Buddhist culture as far as Pakistan.
- The Serbian Museum 19 Moustoxydou St. houses rare exhibits about the Serbian soldiers' tragic fate during the First World War. The remnants of the Serbian Army of about 150,000 soldiers together with their government in exile, found refuge and shelter in Corfu, following the collapse of the Serbian Front as a result of the Austro-Hungarian attack of the 6th October 1915. Exhibits include photographs from the three years stay of the Serbians in Corfu, together with other exhibits such as uniforms, arms and ammunition of the Serbian army, Serbian regimental flags, religious artefacts, surgical tools used in triage by Serbian doctors on Vido island in 1916, war medals and other decorations of the Kingdom of Serbia etc.
Music and festivities
Corfiots are great lovers of music. In the past, people used to join in the singing of the cantades, impromptu choral songs in two, three or four voices, usually accompanied by a guitar. The bands (Philharmonic societies), which also provide free instruction in music, are still popular and still attract young recruits. Nowadays, given the rigours of modern life that has not spared Corfu society, cantades (deriving from the Italian cantare meaning to sing) are only performed by semi-professional or amateur singers, mainly as tourist attractions. Corfu Town is home to three famous, top notch marching wind bands, the dark red-uniformed Philharmonic Society of Corfu or Old Philharmonic or Palia, the blue-uniformed Mantzaros Philharmonic and the bright red and black-uniformed Capodistria Philharmonic. The bands give regular weekend promenade concerts during summer and take part in the yearly Holy Week ceremonies.
There is considerable but friendly rivalry between them, and they rigorously adhere to their respective repertoires.
On Holy Friday from the early afternoon the bands of the philharmonic societies, separated into squads, accompany the epitaphs of the town's churches. Late in the afternoon the squads come together to form the whole band in order to accompany the epitaph of the metropolitan church. The funeral marches that the bands play differ depending on the band. The Old Philharmonic plays Albinoni's Adagio, the Mantzaros plays Verdi's Marcia Funebre from Don Carlo, and the Capodistria plays Chopin's Funeral March and Mariani's Sventura. On Holy Saturday morning the three town bands take part in the epitaph (Epitaphios) of St. Spyridon Cathedral in procession with the Saint's relics. This time the bands play different funeral marches, with Mantzaros playing de Miccheli's Calde Lacrime, the Palia playing Marcia Funebre from Faccio's opera Amleto, while the Kapodistria Philharmonic plays the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica. The custom dates from the 19th century, when the British banned the participation of the garrison's band in the traditional Holy Friday funeral cortege. The defiant Corfiotes held the litany the following morning, and paraded the relics of St. Spyridon as well, so that the British would not dare intervene.
The litany is followed by the most spectacular Corfiot celebration by far, the "Early Resurrection". Balconies in the old town are decked in bright red cloth, and Corfiotes throw down large clay pots full of water to smash on the street pavement, especially in wider areas of Liston and in an organised fashion. This is done in anticipation of the Resurrection of Jesus, which is to be celebrated that same night.
Teatro di San Giacomo and a night at the opera of yesteryear
During Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, which was the real source of the extraordinary (given the conditions in the mainland of Greece) musical development of the island during that era. The opera house of Corfu during 18th and 19th century was the Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo, named after the neighbouring catholic cathedral, but later the theatre was converted into the Town Hall. Many local composers, such as Nikolaos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros, Spiridon Xindas, Antonio Liberali, Domenico Padovani, the Zakynthian Pavlos Karrer, the Lambelets', Spiros Samaras and others, connected their career with this theatre. San Giacomo's place was taken by the so-called New Municipal Theatre (1901), which held the operatic tradition vivid until its destruction during World War II (namely, in 1943 as a result of a German air raid). The incapability during the post-war years to rebuild it was the main cause that led to the island's continuous crisis in regard to music. In any case, the first opera to be performed in the San Giacomo Theatre was in 1733 ("Gerone, tiranno di Siracusa") and from 1771 until 1943 nearly all the operatic compositions by the most (or less) famous Italians, as well as some of the local and French, composers were performed at the stage of the San Giacomo theatre. This sweet era, a distant reminiscence of the glorious musical past, was until recently reflected in the mythology that supported that the opera theatre of Corfu was a fixture in famous opera singers' itineraries, and those who were successful there were given the title of distinction "applaudito in Corfu", meaning "applauded in Corfu" as a reflection of the discriminating musical taste of its inhabitants.
Ionian University and musical tradition
Since the early 1990s a new factor in the musical reality of Corfu is the Music Department of the Ionian University, which has placed new standards. Apart from the academic activities, its concerts in Corfu and abroad and its musicological research in the field of the so-called Neo-Hellenic Music, the Department organizes every summer an international music academy, which gathers international students and music professors in brass, strings, singing, jazz and musicology.
Another great Corfu tradition is the Carnival or Ta Karnavalia. Venetian in origin, the festivities include a parade featuring the main attraction of Karnavalos, a rather grotesque figure with a large head and a smiling face that leads a procession of many colourful floats. Corfiots, young and old, dress up in colourful costumes and follow the parade. They even spill into the narrow streets (kantounia), and spread the fun all over the city dancing and frolicking. At night, in more sophisticated social circles, dance and costume parties brighten up the nightlife.
Saint Spyridon the Keeper of the City
Saint Spyridon the Thaumaturgist (Miracle-worker), also referred to as Saint Spyridon - the Keeper of the City, is the patron saint of the island. St. Spyridon is revered for the miracle of expelling the plague from the island, amongst many other miracles attributed to him. It is believed by the faithful that on its way out of the island the plague scratched one of the fortification stones of the old citadel to indicate its fury at being expelled. St. Spyridon is also believed to have saved the island at the second great siege of Corfu which took place in 1716. There were rumours spreading among the Turks that some of their soldiers saw St. Spyridon as a monk approaching them menacingly with a flaming torch in one hand and a cross in the other, and that helped increase their panic. This miracle is one of the earliest successful examples of psychological operations in warfare, (psyops). This victory over the Turks, therefore, was attributed not only to the leadership of Count Schulenburg who commanded the stubborn defence of the island against the Turks, but also to the miraculous intervention of St. Spyridon. Venice honoured von der Schulenburg and the Corfiots for successfully defending the island. Recognizing St. Spyridon's role in the defence of the island Venice legislated the establishment of the litan of St Spyridon on the 11th of August as a commemoration of the miraculous event, starting a tradition that continues to this day.
Corfu in myth
It is in Corfu that Hercules, just before embarking on his ten labours, slept with the Naiad Melite and she bore him Hyllus, the leader of the Heraclids.
Corfu is also reported to be the place where the Argonauts found refuge from the avenging Colchic fleet after they had seized the Golden Fleece.
In another famous sea adventure Homer's Odyssey, Kerkyra is the island of the Phaeacians (Phaiakes) where Odysseus (Ulysses) meets Nausica the daughter of King Alkinoos.
The bay of Palaiokastritsa is considered to be the place where Odysseus disembarked and met Nausicaa for the first time.
Corfu in film
Several movies have been filmed in Corfu, including the 1981 James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. The most memorable Corfu related scene of the film is of the underwater ancient Greek temple, with a huge turtle swimming in front of the camera; the Casino scene was also filmed at the Achilleion. Additional scenes from the same movie, filmed on the island, include Melina and James walking through the town streets and Melina being greeted by Bond at Pontikonisi island, and the Greek Wedding scene was filmed at the Bouas-Danilia traditional Village.
Area (Corfu island): 591 km² (641 km² (Prefecture total area, including Paxoi and Antipaxoi islands and the islands of Othonoi, Mathraki and Ereikousa)
Population of Prefecture: 111,975 (2001 census)
Population of capital city of Corfu: 38,185
Postal codes: 49100 (city) , 49080-49081-49082-49083-49084 (rural)
Area codes: 26610 (city and central Corfu), 26620 (south), 26630 (north)
Quite apart from their more malevolent invaders, the Corfiotes have a long history of hospitality to foreign residents and visitors, typified in the twentienth century by Gerald Durrell's childhood reminiscence My Family and Other Animals. Some Italian culture and cookery have been absorbed, and are particularly evident during August when Italian holidaymakers visit en masse. The North East coast has largely been developed by a few British holiday companies, with large expensive holiday villas which are used as homes during the two-thirds of the year out of season. The north and east coasts have most of the package holiday resorts, and with some exceptions the interior has relatively little tourist trade. This had had the effect of a massive transfer of resources, because traditionally the best farmland was away from the rocky shore, the salt and the pirates, but from the 1970s the inferior seaside land suddenly became the most desirable and highly valuable holiday property sites. Many Corfiotes now make more from the frantic four month holiday season than from their traditional agriculture. At the other end of the market, and also the other end of the island, the southern resort of Kavos provides the notoriously robust facilities particularly attractive to young holidaymakers, along similar lines to resorts such as Faliraki in Rhodes.
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|Low temperatures [°C]||13||13||14||15||18||22||23||24||23||21||17||14|
In late-2002 and early-2003, heavy rains ravaged the island several times including one which caused a mudslide near Messonghi Beach. During the Holiday Season of 2006, the weather was exceptionally hot in May, with greater rainfall during the month of June. August received a heatwave and temperatures reached a high of 45 degrees Celsius in the North of the Island.
The History of Corfu
According to the local tradition Corcyra (Κόρκυρα) was the Homeric island of Scheria (Σχερία), and its earliest inhabitants the Phaeacians (Φαίακες). At a date no doubt previous to the foundation of Syracuse it was peopled by settlers from Corinth, but it appears to have previously received a stream of emigrants from Eretria. The splendid commercial position of Corcyra on the highway between Greece and the West favoured its rapid growth and, influenced perhaps by the presence of non-Corinthian settlers, its people, quite contrary to the usual practice of Corinthian colonies, maintained an independent and even hostile attitude towards the mother city. This opposition came to a head in the early part of the 7th century, when their fleets fought the first naval battle recorded in Greek history (about 664 BC). These hostilities ended in the conquest of Corcyra by the Corinthian tyrant Periander (Περίανδρος) who induced his new subjects to join in the colonization of Apollonia and Anactorium. The island soon regained its independence and henceforth devoted itself to a purely mercantile policy. During the Persian invasion of 480 BC it manned the second largest Greek fleet (60 ships), but took no active part in the war. In 435 BC it was again involved in a quarrel with Corinth and sought assistance from Athens (see Battle of Sybota). This new alliance was one of the chief immediate causes of the Peloponnesian War, in which Corcyra was of considerable use to the Athenians as a naval station, but did not render much assistance with its fleet. The island was nearly lost to Athens by two attempts of the oligarchic faction to effect a revolution; on each occasion the popular party ultimately won the day and took a most bloody revenge on its opponents (427 BC and 425 BC). During the Sicilian campaigns of Athens Corcyra served as a supply base; after a third abortive rising of the oligarchs in 410 BC it practically withdrew from the war. In 375 BC it again joined the Athenian alliance; two years later it was besieged by a Lacedaemonian force, but in spite of the devastation of its flourishing countryside held out successfully until relieved. In the Hellenistic period Corcyra was exposed to attack from several sides.
In 303 BC after a vain siege by Cassander, the island was occupied for a short time by the Lacedaemonian general Cleonymos, then regained its independence and later it was attacked and conquered by Agathocles. He offered Corfu as dowry to his daughter Lanassa on her marriage to Pyrrhus, King of Epirus. The island then became a member of the Epirotic alliance. It was then perhaps that the settlement of Cassiope was founded to serve as a base for the King of Epirus' expeditions. The island remained in the Epirotic alliance until 255 BC when it became independent after the death of Alexander, last King of Epirus. It subsequently fell into the hands of Illyrian corsairs, until in 229 BC it was delivered by the Romans, who retained it as a naval station and gave it the rank of a free state. In 31 BC it served Octavian (Augustus) as a base against Mark Antony.
Eclipsed by the foundation of Nicopolis, Kerkyra for a long time passed out of notice. With the rise of the Norman kingdom in Sicily and the Italian naval powers, it again became a frequent object of attack. In 1081-1085 it was held by Robert Guiscard, in 1147-1154 by Roger II of Sicily. During the break-up of the Later Roman Empire it was occupied by Genoese privateers (1197-1207) who in turn were expelled by the Venetians. In 1214-1259 it passed to the Greek despots of Epirus, and in 1267 became a possession of the Neapolitan house of Anjou. Under the latter's weak rule the island suffered considerably from the inroads of various adventurers; hence in 1386 it placed itself under the protection of Venice, which in 1401 acquired formal sovereignty over it.
Turks at the Gates of the City
Kerkyra remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the Venetian fortifications of the island as well as the strength of the Byzantine fortifications of Angelokastro, Kassiopi, Gardiki and others, was another great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek civilization after the fall of Constantinople.
There were many attempts by the Turks to take the island starting as early as 1431 when Turkish troops under Ali Bey landed on the island, tried to take the castle and raided the surrounding area, but were repulsed.
The Siege of 1537
This was the first great siege by the Turks. It started on the 29th August 1537 with 25,000 soldiers from the Turkish fleet landing and pillaging the island and taking 20,000 hostages as slaves. Despite the destruction wrought on the countryside, the city castle held out in spite of repeated attempts over twelve days to take it, and the Turks left the island unsuccessful because of poor logistics and an epidemic that decimated their ranks.
The Siege of 1571
Thirty four years later in August of 1571 the Turks returned for yet another attempt at conquering the island. Having seized Parga and Mourtos from the Greek mainland side they attacked the Paxi islands, killing, looting and burning. Subsequently they landed on Corfu's southeast shore and established a large beachhead all the way from the southern tip of the island at Lefkimi to Ipsos in Corfu's eastern midsection. These areas were thoroughly pillaged and burnt as in past encounters. Nevertheless the city castle stood firm again, a testament to Corfiot-Venetian steadfastness as well as the Venetian castle-building engineering skills. It is also worth mentioning that another castle, Angelokastro (Greek: Αγγελόκαστρο meaning Angelo's Castle and named for its Byzantine owner Angelos Komnenos), situated on the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa (Greek: Παλαιοκαστρίτσα meaning Old Castle place) and located on particularly steep and rocky terrain, a tourist attraction today, also held out.
These Turkish defeats in the East and the West of the island proved decisive and the Turks abandoned their siege and departed.
The Siege of 1573
Two years later the Turks repeated their attempt. Coming from Africa after a victorious campaign, they landed in Corfu and wreaked havoc on the countryside yet again. Their troops however were not particularly noted for their discipline, so after a counterattack by the Venetian-Corfiot forces they were forced to leave the city by way of the sea.
The Siege of 1716
This is the second great siege of Corfu which took place in 1716. At that time the Turkish army and naval force led by the great Sultan Achmet III appeared in Butrinto opposite Corfu. On the 8th of July the Turkish fleet carrying 33,000 men sailed to Corfu from Butrinto and established a beachhead in Ipsos. The same day the Venetian fleet encountered the Turkish fleet off the channel of Corfu and defeated it in the ensuing naval battle. On the 19th of July the Turkish army reached the hills of the town and laid siege to the city. After repeated failed attempts and heavy fighting, the Turks were forced to raise the siege which had lasted 22 days. The 5000 Venetians and other nationals and 3000 Corfiotes under the leadership of Count Schulenburg who commanded the defence of the island against the Turks loomed tall and victorious once again. Venetian castle engineering had prevailed once more against considerable odds. It can be said that at the time Corfu was the most heavily fortified city in the whole of Europe and provided the model to the rest of Europe, time after time, on how to stem the Ottoman tide. This role that Corfu played as a bastion of Western civilization during Medieval times and beyond is often relatively unknown or ignored. The successful Venetian-Corfiote collaboration under the leadership of Austrian Count Schulenburg provides an early example of multi-ethnic cooperation in Europe.
The Venetian feudal families pursued a mild but somewhat enervating policy towards the natives, who began to merge their nationality in that of the Latins and adopted for the island the new name of Corfu. The Corfiotes were encouraged to enrich themselves by the cultivation of the olive, but were debarred from entering into commercial competition with Venice. The island served as a refuge for Greek scholars, and in 1732 became the home of the first academy of modern Greece, but no serious impulse to Greek thought came from this quarter.
By the Treaty of Campo Formio, Corfu was ceded to the French, who occupied it for two years, until they were expelled by the Russian squadron under Admiral Ushakov. For a short time it became the capital of a self-governing federation of the Hephtanesos ("Seven Islands"); in 1807 its faction-ridden government was again replaced by a French administration, and in 1809 it was vainly besieged by a British fleet. When, by the Treaty of Paris of November 5, 1815, the Ionian Islands became a protectorate of the United Kingdom, Corfu became the seat of the British high commissioner. The British commissioners, who were practically autocrats in spite of the retention of the native senate and assembly, introduced a strict method of government which brought about a decided improvement in the material prosperity of the island, but by its very strictness displeased the natives. In 1864 it was, with the other Ionian Islands, ceded to the kingdom of Greece, in accordance with the fervent wishes of the Corfiotes.
World War I
During the First World War, the island served as a refuge for the Serbian army that retreated there by the allied forces ships from the homeland occupied by the Austrians and Bulgarians. During their stay, a large portion of Serbian soldiers died from exhaustion, food shortage, and different diseases. Most of their remains were buried at sea near the island of Vido, a small island at the mouth of Corfu port, and a monument of thanks to the Greek Nation has been erected at Vido by the grateful Serbs; consequently, the waters around Vido island are known by the Serbian people as the Blue Graveyard (in Serbian, Plava Grobnica), after a poem written by Milutin Bojic after WWI.
World War II and Resistance
Student protests and German bombardments
During the Second World War the 10th infantry regiment of the Greek Army, comprised mainly of Corfiot soldiers, was assigned with the task of defending Corfu. The regiment took part in Operation Latzides, which was a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stem the forces of the Axis. After Greece's surrender to the Germans, the Italians dispatched an occupying force to the island. On the first Sunday of November 1941, High School students from all over Corfu took part in student protests against the occupying Italian army. The student protests of Corfu were the first act of overt popular Resistance in occupied Greece and a rare phenomenon even by wartime European standards. Subsequently many Corfiots escaped to Epirus in mainland Greece and enlisted as partisans in ELAS and EDES in order to join the Resistance Movement of the mainland. On 14th September 1943 Corfu was bombarded by Luftwaffe using napalm-type incendiary bombs. The incendiary bombs destroyed churches, homes, whole city blocks, especially in the Jewish quarter Evraiki, and many important buildings such as the Ionian Parliament, the Municipal Theatre, the Municipal Library and others. The Germans eventually departed from Corfu on 9th October 1944, but not before sending about 2000 Jewish Corfiots to concentration camps such as Auschwitz.
Italian bombardments and the Nazi occupation
The Italian Army also bombarded the city during the Second World War, devastating most of the area. After the Battle of Greece was over, Corfu came under Italian control. Upon the fall of Italian fascism in 1943, the Nazis took control of the island. Corfu's mayor at the time, Kollas, was a known collaborator and various anti-semitic laws were passed by the Nazis that now formed the occupation government of the island. In early June 1944, while the Allies bombed Corfu as a diversion from the Normandy landings, the Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city, temporarily incarcerated them at the old fort (Palaio Frourio), and on the 10th of June sent them to Auschwitz where very few survived. Approximately two hundred out of a total population of 1900 escaped. Many among the local population at the time provided shelter and refuge to those 200 Jews that managed to escape the Nazis. A prominent section of the old town is to this day called Evraiki (Εβραική, meaning Jewish quarter) in recognition of the Jewish contribution and continued presence in Corfu city. An active Synagogue (Συναγωγή) with about 65 members is an integral part of Evraiki currently.
Corfu was liberated by British troops, specifically the 40th Royal Marine Commando, landing in Corfu on 14 October 1944 and this landing caused the evacuation of the Germans. Corfu then became a place for rest and refit for the British forces, during the tail end of the war. The Royal Navy swept the Corfu Channel for mines in 1944 and 1945, and found it to be free of mines. A large minefield was laid there shortly afterwards by the newly-communist Albania.
Archaeology and architecture
An architectural overview: From classical to modern
Corfu contains a few very important remains of antiquity. The site of the ancient city of Corcyra (Kerkyra) is well ascertained, about 1½ miles (2 km) to the south-east of Corfu, upon the narrow piece of ground between the sea-lake of Halikiopoulo and the Bay of Castrades, in each of which it had a port. The circular tomb of Menekrates, with its well-known inscription, is on the Bay of Castrades. Under the hill of Ascension are the remains of a temple, popularly called of Poseidon, a very simple dome structure, which still in its mutilated state presents some peculiarities of architecture. Of Cassiope, the only other city of ancient importance, the name is still preserved by the village of Cassiopi, and there are some rude remains of building on the site; but the temple of Zeus Cassius for which it was celebrated has totally disappeared. Throughout the island there are numerous monasteries and other buildings of Venetian erection, of which the best known are Paleokastritsa, San Salvador and Peleka. The Achilleion is a palace commissioned by Elisabeth of Austria and purchased in 1907 by Wilhelm II of Germany; it is now a popular tourist attraction.
Corfu Town is famous for its Italianate architecture, most notably the Liston, an arched colonnade lined with cafes on the edge of the Spianada (Esplanade), the vast main plaza and park which incorporates a cricket field and several pavilions. Also notable are the Venetian-Roman style City Hall, the Old and New castles, the recently restored Palace of Sts. Michael and George, formerly the residence of the British governor and the seat of the Ionian Senate, and the summer Palace of Mon Repos, formerly the property of the Greek royal family and birthplace of the Duke of Edinburgh. The Park of Mon Repos is adjacent to the Palaiopolis of Kerkyra, where excavations were conducted by the Greek Archaeological Service in collaboration with the University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium and Brown University in the United States.
Examples of the finds can be found in the Museum of the Palace of Mon Repos.
Architectural catastrophies of WWII
During the second world war the island was bombed by the German airforce which resulted in the destruction of most of the buildings in the town including the market (αγορά) and the Hotel Bella Venezia. The worst architectural losses due to the bombardment of Hitler's Luftwaffe were the splendid buildings of the Ionian Academy (Ιόνιος Ακαδημία) that used to house the Ionian Islands' Parliament and Library and the famous Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo, the Roman style Theatre (Θέατρον) of the city that was later replaced by a nondescript modern box-type building. There have been discussions and plans at the local government level (on and off) about demolishing this modern building and replacing it with a replica of the old theatre. In contrast, the Ionian Academy has been rebuilt to its former glory.
Beauty, Power and Tragedy: The Achilleion
Empress (German: Kaiserin) of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sissi, was a woman obsessed with beauty and very powerful but tragically vulnerable since the loss of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria in the Mayerling affair in 1889. A year later in 1890 she built a summer palace in the region of Gastouri (Γαστούρι) to the south of the city, with the powerful mythical hero Achilles as its central theme. Achilles was considered the most handsome of the heroes assembled at Troy, but he was tragically vulnerable at his heel.
Corfu is an island associated with beauty that historically proved to be very powerfully defended, mainly against the Turks, an enemy the Austrians faced many times in their past also. Corfu was tragically vulnerable as well since the local population outside its fortified walls was decimated and repeatedly suffered many hardships during the numerous invasions. The island therefore, on many levels, provided the perfect ambience match to the Empress and her Hero.
The palace, with the classic Greek statues that surround it, is a monument to platonic romanticism as well as escapism and was, naturally, named after Achilles: Achilleion (Αχίλλειον). This elegant structure abounds with paintings and statues of Achilles, both in the main hall and in the lavish gardens depicting the heroic and tragic scenes of the Trojan war.
The Imperial gardens on top of the hill provide a majestic view of the surrounding green hill crests and valleys as the Ionian sea gleams in the background.
The centerpiece of the gardens is an imposing marble statue on a high pedestal, of the mortally wounded Achilles (Achilleas Thniskon Αχιλλεύς θνήσκων translated as dying Achilles) without hubris and wearing only a simple cloth and an ancient Greek hoplite helmet. This statue was created by distinguished German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter.
The hero is presented devoid of any accoutrements of rank or status and thus seems very human although heroic as he is forever trying to pull Paris's arrow from his heel, with pain and agony etched on his classic face. He is also gazing skyward as if to seek help from Olympus. According to Greek mythology, his mother Thetis was a goddess.
The parallels to the grieving Empress recuperating from the painful loss of her only son by trying to extract it from her memory, but never quite being able to do so, are compelling.
In contrast, a giant painting of the triumphant Achilles full of pride, dressed in full royal military regalia on his racing chariot, pulling the lifeless body of Hector of Troy and parading it in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the Trojan citadel, greets the visitor at the top of the great staircase of the main hall.
In 1898 Empress Sissi was assassinated in Geneva, Switzerland, at the age of 60. After her death the palace was sold to the Kaiser of Germany and eventually it was acquired by the Greek State. The Achilleion was used until recently as a Casino but currently it is used as a museum; the myth however lives on.
German Kaiser Wilhelm II was also fond of vacationing in Corfu. Having purchased Achilleion in 1907 after Sissi's death, he built a bridge named by the locals after him: "Kaiser's bridge" (Greek: η γέφυρα του Κάιζερ transliterated as: i yefyra tou Kaizer), to access the beach without having to cross the road that is the island's main artery to the south. The bridge, arching over the road, spanned the distance between the lower gardens of Achilleion and the nearby beach. The ruins of that great bridge, a monument to imperial vanity as well as impracticality, are an important landmark of this highway. Ironically, the bridge's central section was demolished by Wehrmacht during the German occupation in WWII to allow for the free movement of its vehicles.