Corfu (Greek: Κέρκυρα, Kérkyra, [ˈcercira]; Ancient Greek: Κέρκυρα or Κόρκυρα; Latin: Corcyra; Italian: Corfù) is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian Islands. The island is part of the Corfu peripheral unit, and is administrated as a single municipality. The municipality includes the island Corfu and the smaller islands Ereikoussa, Mathraki and Othonoi. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality (pop. 33,886) is also named Corfu. Corfu is home to the Ionian University.
The island is connected to the history of Greece from the beginning of Greek mythology. Its Greek name, Kerkyra or Korkyra, is related 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. Poseidon brought Korkyra to the hitherto unnamed island and, in marital bliss, offered her name to the place: Korkyra, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra (Doric). Together, they had a child they called Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named: Phaiakes. This term was transliterated via Latin to Phaeacians.
The island's history is laden with battles and conquests. The legacy of these struggles is visible in the form of castles punctuating strategic locations across the island. Two of these castles enclose its capital, which is the only city in Greece to be surrounded in such a way. As a result, Corfu's capital has been officially declared a Kastropolis ("castle city") by the Greek government. Corfu was long controlled by Venice, which repulsed several Turkish sieges, before falling under British rule following the Napoleonic Wars. Corfu was eventually ceded by the British Empire along with the remaining islands of the United States of the Ionian Islands, and unification with modern Greece was concluded in 1864 under the Treaty of London.
In 2007, the city's old town was designated for the UNESCO World Heritage List, following a recommendation by ICOMOS
According to Ancient Greek Mythology, the name of Corfu Greece (Kerkyra in Greek) comes from the Nymph Korkira, daughter of the Assopos River. The myth counts that Poseidon, god of the sea, fell in love with the nymph, kidnapped her and brought her on the island which took her name. Homer’s “Odyssey” relates the island to one of the adventures of Ulysses. It seems to be the island where he met Nausica, the daughter of the King Alcinoos.
According to Corfu history, and to some findings and excavations, the island has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Era (70.00-40.000 B.C). The first Greek settlers were Eretreans from Euboia in the 8th Century. Later, a group of refugees from Corinth came on the island and founded a colony. The town, trading with all the towns of the Adriatic Sea, became rapidly an important commercial centre with a powerful navy. It also developed an important colonial activity and became independent from Corinth. The two towns became competitors and many conflicts took place between them. During an important battle, Corfu asked the Athenians for help.
The Athenian support to Corfu was one more reason for the rise of the Peloponnesian Wars. The alliance between the two towns lasted for almost a century when the Macedonians, under Philip II, won a decisive battle in 338 B.C. The Macedonian conquered Corfu and placed it under their protection. The island, from 300 B.C., was attacked and conquered successively by Spartans, Illyrians and then by Romans. The Romans ruled on the island from 229B.C. until 337 A.D. During their rule, the island had a little autonomy and in return, Corfu had to allow the Romans to use the town’s port and ships.
Around 40 B.C., two Christian disciples of Saint Paul, Jasonas and Sossipatros brought Christianity on the island, built the first Christian church which was dedicated to Saint Stefanos and preached Christianity.
The Roman Empire was divided into the Western and Eastern Empires. The Eastern Roman Empire became later the Byzantine Empire and included the island of Corfu. The Byzantine period lasted until 1267 A.D. During this period, the island was constantly attacked by pirates, barbarians, Goths, Saracens and no constant peace could be established.
The island also fell for a short period under the rule of the Normans and then the Venetians. Half a century of peace followed the Venetian rule when a new threat from Sicily arose. In 1267, Charles of Angou, the French King of Sicily, conquered the island of Corfu and attempted to replace the Orthodox religion by the Catholic. The Angevins dynasty persecuted the Christians Orthodox and all the churches were converted to Catholicism. The attempt of converting the people to Catholicism failed and the island of Corfu fell again in 1386 under the Venetian rule. The Venetians were on the island from 1386 until 1797 while the rest of Greece was under Turkish rule. During that period, the island was the victim of numerous pirates’ attacks.
The island had a feudal organisation and was divided into three classes: the nobles, the bourgeoisie and the commoners. The nobles’ exploitation of the majority led to constant insurrections which were all severely suppressed.
In 1797, after Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice and after the treaty of Kamboformio was signed, Corfu became part of the French State. Napoleon Bonaparte came on the island as a liberator and burnt publicly the “Libro d’Oro”, the book enumerating the Noble’s privileges. Two years later, in 1799, the fleet of the alliance of the Turks, the Russians and the English defeated the French and disembarked on Corfu.
On March 1800, the “Ionian State” was established in Constantinople in order to create the Septinsular Republic but the attempt failed in 1807 when the island was ceded to France again. It was a period of prosperity with agricultural improvements. The Ionian Academy was founded, schools were built and the public services reorganised.
During this time, the English started occupying other Ionians Islands and finally occupied Corfu in 1815. The occupation was made officially after the Treaty of Paris in 1815. During their occupation, the Greek language became official, new roads were built, the water supply of the town was organised and the education system improved with the founding of the first Greek University in 1824.
Although the island of Corfu was never controlled by the Turks, the inhabitants offered financial help to the rest of Greece which was still under the Turkish rule and helped them to make the Greek Revolution for Independence. The Ionians Islands were finally unified to the newly built Greek State in the 21 May 1864.
In the 20th century, the island participated as the rest of Greece in the two World Wars. The island supported great damages and the Ionian Academy, the Library, and the Municipal Theatre were burnt down.
The main town of Corfu Greece which has the island’s same name must be one of the most beautiful, most impressive and most interesting cities in Greece. Corfu Town is also the principal port and largest town in the Ionian Islands. The town was built during the Venetian rule, between two fortresses.
The town’s architecture is influenced by all the major civilizations that once occupied the island, such as the Sicilians, the Venetians, the French and the British.
Today, the town houses a population of approximately 30.000 inhabitants. It is an organised town with elegant buildings, mansions, palaces and monuments lined in narrow paved streets with stone steps, beautiful and large French-designed squares full of trees and flowers, impressive Venetian castles, some Byzantine and post Byzantine churches…
The town has an unique beauty, charm, character and atmosphere that can only be found in towns such as Naples, in Italy. It is the kind of town that takes you back in other times…
The central square Spiniada or Esplanade is the most significant monument of the town. It is said that it is the largest square in the Balkans.The Esplanade was turned into a public square by the French. They designed the square following the French style and planted it with trees and flowers. The area, before the 19th century, was empty and was used for strategic and defensive purposes. Today, the Esplanade Square is the central square of Corfu Town. The Square welcomes cricket games and is the only place in Greece where this sport is played. It is one of the heritages from the English occupation.
The Ionion Academy. The Ionion Academy is located in the south side of the Esplanade and is the first University ever founded in Greece. It was founded in 1808 by Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of the newly built Greek State. The building was destroyed in 1943 during an Italian air raid but has been restored since.
The Palace of Saint Michael and Georges. It is located at the northern end of the Esplanade and is one of the most elegant monuments of the island of Corfu. It was built in 1824 during the English occupation in a Georgian architectural style. It was used as the official residence of the Commissioner. The Palace has also been used for a while as the residence of the Greek Royal family and is today hosting the European Leaders Summit Conference.
The Liston. The Liston is a building situated in the western side of the Esplanade.The Liston terrace houses some of the finest cafés and restaurants of the island. It is a terrace with beautiful arches, especially by night when the lights create beautiful shadows. Liston was built during the imperial French occupation, in 1807 and has many similarities with the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, in the 1er Arrondissement. The name Liston must probably comes from a Venetian world that used to describe the main street of a town.
The Town Hall Square. The Town Hall Square was, during the Venetian occupation, the meeting place of the nobles of the island. It was used in 1720 as a lyrical theatre and took the name of Theatre San Giacomo, borrowing its name to the Catholic Church Agios Iakovos. The building was then used as a town hall and is today housing the National Bank of Greece.
The Ionian Parliament. The Ionian Parliament is situated in Moustoxidi Street. It is an important monument that was built in 1855. The main entrance is surrounded by inscription commemorating the vote for the unification of the Ionian Island with the newly built democratic State.
The Square of the Saint. Three of the most important churches of Corfu are located around the square: the church of St.Spiridon, the church of the Blessed Virgin of Strangers and the Church of St.John. The neighbourhood of Mandouki: It is an historic neighbourhood, since its inhabitants organised a resistance in 1799 against the French Conquerors. Today, the area is a pretty suburb of the Town with a charming central street lined by many old houses, shops, kafenion and tavernas.
The Kanoni Peninsula. The Kanoni Peninsula is the area where the first city of Corfu was built. The area has many archaeological sites. Kanoni took it name from the circular terrace which is located on the edge of the Peninsula, and the canon (kanoni in Greek) that was there once. The terrace offers a beautiful view over the bay and the famous islet of Pontikonisi. Today, the area has many luxurious hotels.
Mt Pantokrator dominates the Northern part of the Island and is over 1000 meters high. During the winter months, it is occasionally 'snow capped'. There are several villages to stop and see on the way such as Strinilas, which are well worth a visit.
Perithia is a deserted village. It is located high up, off the main road between Kassiopi and Acharavi. It is strange driving in the mountains, coming across this deserted village with a few sheep and a couple of Tavernas in the middle
The Acchileon Palace is definitely a place to take your camera. This beautiful building in picturesque gardens overlooking the sea and Corfu town is one of Corfu's top attractions.
Paleokastritsa is famous for being the islands most treasured beauty spot, and becomes busy with day trippers throughout the season. Luxury yachts sail in to admire the back drop of the beautiful green hills, while coaches clog up the narrow roads leading into town!