Corfu (ancient and modern Greek: Κέρκυρα, Kérkyra, Latin Corcyra; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is an island of Greece, in the Ionian Sea. It lies off the coast of Albania, from which it is separated by a strait varying in breadth from less than 3 to about 23 km (2 to 15 mi) including one near Albania 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.
Appropriately enough, this being an island after all, its name 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 beautiful nymph Korkyra daughter of Asopos and river nymph Metope and kidnapped her, as was the custom among gods of that era starting with Zeus that himself was a serial offender, and brought her to the hitherto unnamed island and, being in marital bliss, offered her name to the place. Together they had a child they called Phaiax after whom the inhabitants of the island were named: Phaiakes, that was then transliterated to Phaeacians that originates from Latin.
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 ambience of the place. In another famous adventure featuring lots of sea travel, Odyssey by Homer, Kerkyra is the island of the Phaeacians (Phaiakes) where Odysseus (Ulysses) meets Nausica the daughter of King Alkinoos.
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 two castles that enclose the city. It is the only city in Greece to be surrounded by castles this way. As a result it has officially been declared as Kastropolis (Castle city) by the Greek Government.
Since 2007 : Old Town of Corfu (Greece), on the Island of Corfu, with its three Venetian forts and neo-classical housing was inscribed as a fortified Mediterranean port town of high integrity and authenticity included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Geography and urban landscape
The name Corfu is an Italian corruption of the Byzantine Κορυφώ (Koryphō), which is derived from the Greek Κορυφαί (Koryphai), meaning "Crests," denoting the two peaks of the fortresses that surround 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 turned towards the Albanian coast. Its extreme length is about 40 miles (60 km). and its greatest breadth 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 of 3300 ft (1000 m) 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 prospects 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 and its beaches is about 217 km which includes capes and points. The highest point is Mount Pantokrator, the second is Stravoskiadi (849 m). Capes and end of land points include Agia Aikaterini, and Drastis to the north, Lefkimmi and Asprokavos to the southeast and Megachoro to the south. Another island is located in the middle of Gouvia Bay which covers the eastern part of the island; it is called Ptychia. Campgrounds can be found in Palaiokastritsa, Agrillos, two in the northern part, Pyrgi, Gouvia and Messonghi.
Homer names, as adorning the garden of Alcinous, seven plants only – 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 well and are accompanied by 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 is 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 might be largely increased.
The town of Corfu stands on the broad part of a peninsula, whose termination in the Venetian citadel (Παλαιό Φρούριο in Greek) is cut from it by an artificial fosse formed in a natural gully, with a salt-water ditch at the bottom, that serves also as a type of marina. The old city having grown up within fortifications, where every foot of ground was precious, is a labyrinth of narrow streets, paved with cobblestones sometimes tortuous but mostly comfortable, colourful and sparkling clean. These streets are called "kantounia" (καντούνια in Greek) and the older ones sometimes follow the gentle irregularities of the ground while many of them are too narrow for vehicular traffic. There is also a handsome esplanade between the town and the citadel called "Liston" (Λιστόν in Greek) where upscale restaurants and european style bistros abound, and a promenade by the seashore towards the bay of Garitsa (Γαρίτσα). The name Liston came from the english "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 eroding and falling in the surrounding 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 town of Corfu seen from the sea, south of the harbor. The new citadel at the right of the photo
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 force in the area. 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 Venetian 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. The open book symbolizes 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 are also two large squares, "Ano Plateia" and "Kato Plateia" (Ανω Πλατεία and Κάτω Πλατεία in Greek) replete with green spaces and interesting structures such as a Roman style rotunda from the time of the British administration, called the Maitland monument and an ornate music pavilion where the local "Philharmoniki" (Philharmonic Orchestra) (Φιλαρμονική) plays choice pieces of classical music coming from a 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 looking 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. Cricket is unique to Corfu from all of Greece, 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 buldings 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 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" after a dip in the local sea baths (Μπάνια τ' Αλέκου) at the foot of the fortifications that surround the gardens. 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 port (Νέο Λιμάνι), sometimes announcing their arrival by blowing their horn. High speed ferries from Igoumenitsa with retractable airfoils that enable them to hover above the water at high speed impatiently leave their frothy wake on the blue Ionian sea (Ιόνιον Πέλαγος) to remind the visitors of 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 refer to the splendid old Royal Gardens now as the "Garden of the People" (Ο Κήπος του Λαού).
Echoes of Venice and Pontikonisi
Pontikonisi Island in the background with the Vlaheraina Monastery in the foreground. The shuttle boats that ferry people to and from Pontikonisi can be seen moored in the marina near the Monastery. Pontikonisi is home of the monastery of Pantokrator (Μοναστήρι του Παντοκράτορος). It is the white stone staircase of the Monastery of Pantokrator that when viewed from afar gives the impression of a (mouse) tail that gave the island its name: Mouse island. The trees at the lower left of the picture are from the hills of Kanoni. The hilltops at the upper right corner is the southern part of the island with Perama, Kaiser's Bridge, Benitses and Mesonghi forming an arc of popular beaches and tourist attractions as one gazes southbound from Kanoni. Farthest south is Lefkimmi and cape Kavos.
In several parts of the old city may be found houses of the Venetian time. 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 inside lies the preserved body of the patron saint of the island; 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 island of Corfu. The villages at the southern part and on the Paxoi islands have names ending with -atika as well as -eika, notably Gramateika.
The Corfu Lion, or "Lion of Menecrates" (near his Cenotaph) end of 7th century BC
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 base for supplies; 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 armament, but in spite of the devastation of its flourishing countryside held out successfully until relief was at hand. 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 built fortifications of the island was also 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 and tried to invade the castle but were repulsed. Raiding of the surrounding area also took place at that time.
The Siege of 1537
This is the first great siege by the Turks. It started on the 29th August 1537 with the Turkish fleet carrying 25,000 soldiers landing and pillaging the island and taking 20,000 hostages as slaves. Despite the destruction wreaked on the countryside the castle remained steadfast in spite of repeated attempts over twelve days to overtake it and the Turks left the island unsuccessful because of poor logistics and an epidemic that decimated their ranks.
The Siege of 1571
More than three decades later the Turks were up to their familiar plans again and in their favourite invasion month August in 1571, having conquered Parga and Mourtos from the Greek mainland side, they first attacked the Paxi islands killing, looting and burning as usual. Subsequently they landed on Corfu's southeast flank and established a large beachhead all the way from the southern tip of the island at Lefkimi to Ipsos in Corfu's midsection. These areas were thoroughly pillaged and burnt. Despite that the fortifications of the castle stood firm, a testament to the Corfiot-Venetian steadfastness as well as the Venetian castle-building engineering skills. It is also worth mentioning that another castle, Angelokastro on the northwest coast, a tourist attraction today, also stood firm.
The Siege of 1573
Two years later the Turks came for a repeat performance. Coming from Africa after a victorious campaign they landed in Corfu and following their well established mode of operation they wreaked havoc on the countryside again. Their troops however were not particularly noted for their discipline. Consequently after a counterattack by the Venetian -Corfiote 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. From the Venetian-Corfiote collaboration one can also glimpse from the distant past the seeds of a future European Union, not to forget, naturally, the assistance of Count Schulenburg.
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. During their stay, a large portion of Serbian soldiers died from exhaustion, food shortage, and different diseases. Most of their remains were buried at the 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).
World War II
In the Second World War, the Italian Army bombarded the city devastating most of the area. During this time, allegedly with the cooperation of the local leadership, the Gestapo rounded up the 1,650 Jews of the city and sent them to Auschwitz, according to a survivor interviewed in the film "Shoah". However no mention of this alleged collaboration with the Nazis is made in the official Jewish Council of Greece historical website. In fact it is mentioned that two hundred managed to flee. Many among the local population at the time provided shelter and refuge to those 200 Jews that managed to escape the Nazis. As well a prominent section of the old town is to this day called Evraiki (Εβραική) meaning Jewish suburb in recognition of the Jewish contribution and continued presence in Corfu city. An active Synagogue (Συναγωγή) is an integral part of Evraiki today.
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 1 1/2 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.
The old Theatre of Corfu prior to the Luftwaffe bombardmentExamples 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 of the famous Roman style Theatre (Θέατρον) of the city that was later replaced by a nondescript modern box-type building. There are plans currently to demolish this modern building and replace it with a replica of the old theatre. The building of the Ionian Academy has been rebuilt to its former glory.
Beauty, Power and Tragedy: The Achilleion
Empress of Austria Elisabeth of Bavaria also known as Sissi, was a woman obsessed with beauty and very powerful but she was tragically vulnerable since the loss of her only son 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 but tragically vulnerable at his heel mythical hero Achilles, considered the most handsome of the heroes assembled at Troy, as its central theme.
Corfu is an island associated with beauty that historically proved to be a very powerfully defended place, 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 and the classic Greek statues that envelop 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 sitting on top of a hill provide a majestic view of the surrounding green hill crests and valleys as the Ionian sea gleams in the background.
In the same gardens an imposing marble statue on a high pedestal of a 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 is the centerpiece.
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' 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 a grieving Empress trying to recuperate 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 a triumphant Achilles full of pride, dressed in full ancient Greek 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 age 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 tourist attraction; 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), that enabled him to access the beach without having to cross the road that is also the island's main road 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, monument to imperial vanity as well as impracticality, are an important landmark of this highway. The bridge's central section, not surprisingly, had to be demolished to allow for the free movement of vehicles as the traffic in the island grew increasingly motorized.
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 tne 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 Baracks 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 (καντάδες), impromptu choral songs in two, three or four voices, usually accompanied by a guitar. The music bands (Philharmonic orchestras, Φιλαρμονικές) that also provide free instruction in music are still popular and they 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 professional singers mainly as tourist attractions. Corfu Town is home to three famous, top notch marching brass 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 and partake in the yearly Holy Week ceramonies.
There is considerable but friendly rivalry among them, and their respective repertoires are rigorously adhered to. On Holy Friday the philarmonics accompany the epitaph of the town's churches from the early noon separated in squads. Late in the afternoon the squads gather together to form the whole of the band in order to acompany 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.
In Holy Saturday morning the three bands of the town take part in the epitaph (Epitaphios Επιτάφιος) of the St. Spyridon Cathedral is corteged along with the Saint's relics. At this time the bands play funeral marches with Mantzaros playing Miccheli's Calde Lacrime, the Palia playing Marcia Funebre from Faccio's opera Amleto, and the Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica. The custom dates from the 19th century, when the British banned the traditional Holy Friday Epitaphios 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 Corfiote celebration by far, the "Early Resurrection". Balconies in the old town are decked in bright red cloths, and Corfiotes throw large clay pots (the botides μπότηδες) full of water down, so that they smash on the street pavement. This is done in anticipation of the Resurrection of Jesus (Ανάσταση του Κυρίου), which is to be celebrated that same night.
During Venetian rule, the Corfiotes developed a fervent appreciation for Italian opera. The Corfu Opera House 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 refined and discriminating musical taste of its inhabitants..
Saint Spyridon the Keeper of the City
The bell tower of the church of St. Spyridon can be seen in the background among the busy kantounia of the city centre. On top of the stores are apartments with balconies. It is from these balconies that Corfiots throw the clay pots botides to celebrate the Resurrection during Easter festivities
Saint Spyridon the Thaumaturgist (Miracle-worker, Greek: Ο Θαυματουργός), also referred to as Αγιος Σπυρίδων ο πολιούχος translated 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 (πανώλη) from the island among many other miracles attributed to him. It is believed by the faithful that the plague on its way out of the island scratched one of the fortification stones of the old citadel to indicate its fury for 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 on the victorious outcome of the battle honoured Schulenburg and the Corfiots for successfuly defending the island. Recognizing St. Spyridon's role in the defence of the island Venice legislated the establishment of the litany (λιτανεία) 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 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. As well the Casino scene was 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. Also the Greek Wedding scene was filmed at the Bouas-Danilia traditional Village (Μπούας Δανίλια παραδοσιακό χωριό) in Corfu.
Corfu was also used by the BBC to shoot both a TV series (1987) and a movie (2005) version of Gerald Durrell's book "My Family and Other Animals," based on his childhood experiences in Corfu in the late 1930's.
On the island
The island is linked by two highways, GR-24 in the northwest and GR-25 in the south.
- Greek National Road 24, Cen., NW, Corfu - Palaiokastritsa
- Greek National Road 25, Cen., S, SE, Corfu - Lefkimi
Corfu has ferry services both by traditional ferries to Gaios in the island of Paxoi and as far as Patras and both traditional type ferries and advanced technology Russian made retractable airfoil, hydrodynamic flow, high speed ferries called Flying Dolphins to Igoumenitsa. There is also a small port in Lefkimmi at the southern tip of the island in cape Kavos that offers ferry boat service to the mainland.
See Corfu International Airport, "Ioannis Kapodistrias"
Corfu now also has a university named University of Corfu. The city is covered with hills while the west is covered with hills. Capes and points include Agia Aikaterini, and Draptis to the north, Lefkimmi and Asprokavos to the southeast and Megachoro to the south. Another island is in the middle of Gouva Bay which covers the eastern part of the island; it is called Ptychia. Campgrounds are founded in Palaiokastro, Agrillos, two in the northern part, Pyrgi, Gouvia and Messonghi.
The town of Corfu stands on the broad part of a peninsula, whose termination in the citadel is cut from it by an artificial fosse formed in a natural gully, with a salt-water ditch at the bottom. Having grown up within fortifications, where every foot of ground was precious, it is mostly, in spite of recent improvements, a labyrinth of narrow, tortuous, up-and-down streets, accommodating themselves to the irregularities of the ground, few of them fit for wheel carriages. There is, however, a handsome esplanade between the town and the citadel, and a promenade by the seashore towards Castrades. In several parts of the town may be found houses of the Venetian time, with some traces of past splendour, but they are few, and are giving place to structures in the modern and more convenient French style. The town is as mundane as Rome, looks like Venice and has the flair of Cuba. Of the thirty-seven Greek churches the most important are the cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of the Cave (ἡ Παναγία Σπηλιώτισσα (hē Panagia Spēliōtissa)); St Spiridion's, with the tomb of the patron saint of the island; and the suburban church of St Jason and St Sosipater, reputed the oldest in the island. The nearby island named Pontikonisi (Greek meaning "mouse island") has only three trees and the grasslands is to the west, the highest point is about 2 m.
11. Archaeological Museum, 12. Corfu Cathedral, 13. Esplanade, 15. New Fort, 16. Old Fort
17. Ag. Spyridon Church , 27. Catholic Cathedral, 28. Holy Trinity Anglican Church, 29. Jewish Synagogue
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Persons from Corfu
- John Capodistria
- Nikolaos Chalikiopoulos Mantzaros (Νικόλαος Χαλικιόπουλος Μάντζαρος) (26.10.1795 Corfu – 1872 ), Greek National Anthem
- Achilleas Apergis (1909 Corfu – 23.3.1986 Athens) Artist (Info)
- Paul Prosalentis (or Prossalentis) (Παύλος Προσαλέντης) (1784 Corfu -1837) sculptor, painter studied in Canova's workshop (Rome)
- Vicky Leandros ( August 23, 1952),
- Rena Vlachopoulou (1923 - July 29, 2004 in Athens)
- Theodore Stephanides
- Gerald Durrell and Lawrence Durrell lived in Corfu for some years and Gerald wrote several books about his upbringing on the island.
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