History of Corfu
The cosmopolitan island of Corfu is probably the most well known island of the Ionian complex and one of the most popular in the whole Mediterranean. It is a pole of attraction for hundreds of thousands visitors every year as well as source of inspiration for all kinds of art, carrying a huge cultural heritage and disposing special splendor which combined with its natural beauty, marvelous climate, beaches and interesting sights, makes the island one of the top destinations for Greek and foreign travelers. Its area covers a surface of 591 km2 and its coasts stretch 217 km.
Corfu (Kerkira) was named after a woman. According to mythology, Poseidon fell in love with the daughter of Aesopos, Korkira, and brought her to this island naming it after her. The offspring of this love was a little boy, named Faiakas. He was to establish later the Kingdom of Faiakes, which according to Homer was the last stop of Ulysses before he returned to Ithaca.
The international name of Corfu was given to the island due to the two citadels (perched on two different tops) which can be found in the town of Corfu. Another ancient name that we can meet is Drepanon (scythe), which was attributed to the island because of its shape.
Corfu defines the Hellenic sea borders with Italy and Albania. This strategic position is responsible for the many conquests the island has undergone, influencing its culture, mores and customs. The Venetians, the French and the English passed on to the island many strong cultural elements resulting in the integration of the western culture to the Greek identity. Corfu joined Greece in 1864. The island has made a significant contribution to education, literature, arts and politics. The first governor of modern Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, the authors Andreas Moustoksidis and Iakovos Polilas, Nikolaos Mantzaros, who wrote the music for the Greek National Anthem, and the Theotokis family, which gave birth to many significant politicians and authors, come from Corfu. In 1824 the first Greek university known as Ionian Academy, was founded on the island. In 1840 the first philharmonic orchestra of Greece was established. It is not an accidental fact that today Corfu numbers 18 philharmonic orchestras.
The island's population is the one third of the total of the whole Corfu prefecture – nearly 30,000 residents (Corfu, Paxoi, Adipaxoi, Othoni, Ereikoussa and Mathraki). It is divided to the old town (Ksopoli, as it is named by the locals, between the old and the new fort) and to three new suburbs: Madouki at the northwest, Sarroco situated between the hills Avrami and Sotiros, and Garitsa, which starts from the Douglas Column at the southern seaside. The historical centre is situated in the old town, where the surrounding walls did not allow the extension of the town, resulting in a special architecture, with high multi-store buildings, narrow roads (kadounia) with hanging laundry and small squares. It is the biggest preserved medieval town in Greece and one of the most beautiful in the whole Mediterranean.
The earliest mention of Corfu we meet already with Homer. Odysseus last stop was Corfu, or island of the Faiacs, where he was washed ashore after his ship had sunk. Later, in the 8th century BC the island was colonized by the Corinthians.
# The Venetians ruled the island from 1386 to 1797, then fell into French hands and for a few years it was occupied by Russian-Turkish forces.
In 1815 the British were the regents of Corfu and they stayed for almost 50 years. The Italians occupied the island in 1923 and 1941.
Corfu was bombarded by the Germans and the Allies during World War IIThe island was never conquered by the Turks. In stead, the Venetians ruled here, which of course has influenced both the culture, architecture and language. The island became part of Greece in 1864 after being ruled by other nations as well: French, Russian and British.
Churches of Corfu
The inhabitants of Corfu are deeply religious. There are many churches across the island and Easter is celebrated traditionally with exceptional glory. The patron-saint of the island is Aghios Spyridon, who according to the tradition, in 1629 saved the inhabitants from the plague. The church of Aghios Spyridon is the religious point of reference for the island inhabitants and definitely worth a visit. It has the highest belfry of the town and you will have the chance to observe its marble templon, frescos, heirlooms and religious offerings. The shrine of Aghios Spyridon is kept in a silver plated reliquary and on Palm Sunday it is carried in a procession around the town. The procession is accompanied by the 18 philharmonic orchestras of Corfu.
Panaghia Antivouniotisa: It is also situated in Mouragia and is of special interest, due to the “painted” upholstery on the walls and the coffer, which are decorated with gold plated fretworks. The Byzantine Museum is situated here, hosting a significant collection of portable icons of the Cretan School.- Panaghia Spiliotisa (1577) located at the port of Corfu. The three-aisled basilica is known for the two sided picture of Panagia Dimosiana dating back to the 15th century.- Panaghia ton Ksenon. It was built by monk Nikodimos in the early 18th century.
Aghios Ionanis Prodromos (St John the Baptist - 16th century), in Sternes. A single aisled basilica with wooden roof and remarkable frescos.- Pantokratoras, a church well known for its beautiful marble templon.- Aghios Nikolaos ton Gerodon(16th century) in Kampielo. Its wood carved chancel is one of the oldest in town.-Panaghia Kremasti. It has a marble-carved templon and fascinating religious icons. A beautiful Venetian well decorates the courtyard.- There are also, three catholic churches in Corfu: the church of Saint Jacob and Saint Christopher, the catholic monastery of Saint Francesco and the church of Panaghia Tenedou. Near the new Venetian fort and the historical centre of the town you can also see the building of the Jewish Synagogue.
Panagia Palaiokastritsa monastery
Panagia monastery was built in 1225. The building that visitors see nowadays is of 16th - 18th centuries.
The first buildings must have been parts of an old fortification. This is probably why it was given the name "Palaiokastrita” (Old Castle). The monastery was destroyed by Genoans in 1403. It was rebuilt in 1469 and destroyed for the second time in 1537 by the Turks. It was reconstructed in 1572 and is preserved up to now with many repairs and additions, such as its north entrance (1722).
The Platipera monastery is located at one of the city entrances (on the way from the north). It was built in 1743 and destroyed in 1798, later on rebuilt in 1801 and in 1864 it was completed by annexing a castellated bell tower. It is dedicated to Panagia, Aghios Chrisanthos and Aghia Daria.
The monastery houses an interesting collection of post Byzantine icons made by remarkable painters such as G. Klontzas, Nik Koutouzis and Sp. Ventouras. It has a fine wood carved chancel which is covered with golden and silver layers.
The graves of first governor of the Greek state Ioannis Kapodistrias, as well as of some of Corfu bishops are in this monastery.
Artemis Gorgos temple
It is a temple constructed in 6th century B.C. in Kanoni area on the boarders with Palaiopoli. Its unique stone pediment has been transferred to the Archeological Museum of Corfu.
Here visitors have the chance to see the well preserved Dorian temple and the large altar.
Menectratis monument is located in Geritsa area close to ancient Corfu cemetery opposite Alkinoos port mouth.
It is a circular tomb built in the 6th century B.C. with amazing archaic inscription which is considered to be one of the oldest in Greece.
Palaiopoli and Mon Repo archeological site consists of the Corfu city market area as it evolved from antiquity up to the 6th century A.D. The most remarkable monuments of the site are: the market, Kardakios Dorian temple, the Roman baths and the arched building built in the pro Hellenistic period and turned into a Christian church during the first Christian era.
Trypa tou Pelaou
THE CAVE OF "TRYPA TOU PELAOU" (Hole of the sea). The cave located on Mount Mattheos, 500 m away from the Monastery, dates back to the Paleolithic Period. According to legend, it leads to the sea.
“Grava Gardikiou” is a cave, where after research scientists found inhabitation signs from the Superior Paleolithic Era (20.000 B.C.). They found tools made of firestone, animal bones etc.
It is located in Aghios Mattheos community, 22km away from the southwest side of the city and very close to the Byzantine fortress of Gardikiou. The cave has an amazing view of south Corfu.
Aggelokastro was the west fortress of Byzantine Empire and Epirus Domain to which Corfu belonged until 1267.
It was built in the beginning of 12th century after the transfer of Palaiokastro (todays Palaiokastritsa monastery) in a better fortified location. During the period of its flourishing, in case of an emergency, it could protect the whole population of the area (4000 people).
Nobody knows when Kasiopi fortress was built.
Venetians, knowing that it is difficult to defend the castle and the port, blew up parts of the castle and abandoned the settlement. From that glorious past only few parts of the castle still remain preserved.
It is a monument of European significance since here were buried the Latin Nobles who died in the Sea Battle of Nafpaktos (1571). This battle gave an end to the Turkish naval threat. Few years later the overall effort of Turks to expand to the West was terminated for good.
The well known Achillio palace dominates in one of the highest spots of Gastouri village. Gastouri became famous in the end of the 19th century when Empress of Austria Elisabeth (known as Sissy) was so much excited by the island that she decided to built there Achillio Palace.
Sissy was mesmerized by ancient Greek mythology and particularly by Achilles to whom she dedicated the palace. The statue of dead Achilles and other statues depicting gods and heroes from Greek mythology decorate the garden of the palace.
Neo Frourio (New Fortress)
It is an imposing building rising up in the west side of the city between the New and the Old Port. It was constructed from 1576 to 1645 by engineer F. Vitelli and is an artificial hill which was delimited by opening large perimetrical fosses and raised by gathering the material from the fosses.
Built on a rocky peninsula with two characteristic hills (Corifes), it is the eastern edge of the city. Its population and fortification began after the 6th century following the destruction of the ancient city (Palaiopoli). It was the capital of Corfu island (Corifo, Corfu) from 11th up to 15th century.
Gardiki castle was built in 13th century by the overlord of Epirus Michail Aggelos the Second (same person who built Aggelokastro). It has the octagon shape with towers in each corner. Interesting are the ruins of ancient walls in its interior, as well as the ruins of ancient temples built in the walls.
The Museum of Olive
The Museum of Olive is very interesting to visitors. It is housed in an old oil press where people can see the proceedings of olive elaboration. It is located in Kionapiastes village which is famous for its good drinking water, for the three aisled Panagia basilica church with its unique architecture and its hagiographies made by people of the Eptanisian School (18th century) and for Aghia Paraskevi monastery (17th century).