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Corfu

Corfu the island of grace and politeness is the north-most island in the Ionian Sea. It lies opposite the coast of Epirus mainland and it is separated from Albania in the north by a narrow strait of 1.5 sea miles.

Corfu is the capital of the seven Ionian Islands with an area of 592 square kilometres, it is the second largest island of the Ionian Islands. With a beautiful coastline of 217 km and the first in population with over 110,000 inhabitants.  Corfu is also the greenest island of all Greece. The impressive vegetation of the island consisting mainly of olive and cypress trees, about 4 million olive trees were planted by the Venetians between the 13th – 18th centuries. The highest mountain on the island is the mountain of Pantokrator, with its peak at 906 metres. The climate of Corfu is mild and humid. The economy of Corfu is based on agriculture but mostly on tourism. Olive oil is the leading product of the island and is considered to be among the best in Greece. Other products are milk, butter, cheese, white wine and processed meat.

A very famous product that is produced only on this island and nowhere else in Europe is the Kumquat. A small orange that Marco Polo introduced to the Island from China in the 13th century. Corfiots make liquor and dry sweets from it. The capital of the island is called also Corfu, in Greek Kerkyra, and is famous for its Venetian style. The historical centre of the town also consists of French and British elements. The most impressive monuments of the Venetian period are:

  • The two fortresses, the old one which was built in the beginning of the 16th century and it was called “Castelo dal Mare”, (today Paleofrourion) and the new one which was built also in the 16th century (1576) called “Castelo da Tera” and it was dedicated to Saint Marcus.
  • The most significant Catholic Cathedral, built in the in the 14th century, dedicated to Saint Giacomo.
  • The Town Hall which was the old “Loggia Nobilei” (the nobles Arcade) built between 1663-1693 in a Baroc and Renaissance style. This building is the only monument of the town with sculptured Sinion stone.

From the French period is the Royal palace of Corfu (today museum of Asiatic Arts). Unique in its Georgian style, it is built of stone from Malta between 1819-1824 by Sir G. Whitmore and it is dedicated to Saint George and Saint Michael, and housed the first High Commissioner of Corfu, Sir Thomas Maitland. Also from the French period are:

  • The Arcades of “Liston” which are a miniature of those in “Rue de Rivoli” in Paris, built by the famous French architect Lesseps
  • The most significant work of the French period was the Ionian Academy in 1808, the first University of modern Greece.

Another characteristic of Corfu’s old historical centre is it’s churches, most of them are built during the Venetian period. The most famous of them are: 1) The Greek orthodox church of Saint Spyridon, which is the islands patron saint, built in 1590. Saint Spyridon’s relics are laying in rest in a pure silver casket. 2) The Greek orthodox Cathedral, the Basilica, which is dedicated to Blessed Virgin, built in 1577. In the church lay the relics of the Byzantine Empress Saint Theodora Augusta and Saint Vlassios.
In the town are also five Museums: the Museum of Asiatic Arts, Solomos Museum, the Money Museum, the Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine Museum. Only 5 km away from the town of Corfu, in the picturesque traditional village of Gastouri, is the palace of the charming and graceful Empress Elizabeth of Austria, “Sissy”. The Achileion Palace, which is built in a combination of Pompeian and Neoclassicism style by the Italian architects Raphaelo Cardilo and Antonio Landi between 1890-1892.

 

HISTORY

Corfu was inhabited in the Palaeolithic Era, 70.000-40.000 B.C. According to the mythology, the island took its name from the nymph Corcyra, a daughter of the river god Asopos. Poseidon, god of the sea, fell in love with her, kidnapped her and took her to the island.

From their union Phaeacas was born, founder of the Phaeacians. Therefore, Corfu is called, even today, the island of the Phaeacians.

According to Homer in the bay of Ermones, on the northwest side of the island Nausica, the daughter of King Alcinoos, found the shipwrecked Odysseus.

Because of its geographical position between East and West, Corfu Island has been conquered by many nations. The first of them were the Eritreans during the period 775-750 BC, then the Corinthians 734-602 BC and finally the Romans from 229 BC until 337 AD. The protection of the Byzantine period lasted on Corfu for fourteen centuries from the year 337 AD until the year 1267 AD and was part of the Byzantine Empire. For about five centuries Corfu was under the protection of Venice 1386-1797 AD. In between those centuries the Turks tried five times to conquer Corfu without success (1431-1537-1571-1573-1716). Just before the beginning of the 19th century the French Republicans, led by Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Corfu. After the French were defeated and Napoleon fell in 1814, Corfu and all the other Ionian Islands were occupied by the British for 50 years (1814-1864). Finally in May 21st 1864 Corfu and all the other Ionian Islands were united with Greece. On this day the Greek flag was raised at the old Fortress the “Castelo da Mare”.