THE GREEK ISLAND WITH VENETIAN CHARME
The island of Corfu (known as Kerkyra, Κέρκυρα) is located in western Greece and is the most northern of the Ionian Islands, which also include Zakynthos and Kefalonia. It is the seventh-largest island in Greece with an area of around 585 km2 and only 2 km away from Albania in the northeast. The island was formed about 9,000 years ago when it was separated from the mainland by rising sea levels and archaeologists believe that it was inhabited since 4,000 B.C. by the so-called Phaiacs.
The ancient city of Kerkyra was founded in 734 BC on the Analipsis Peninsula by the early settlers who were driven from the mainland of Corinth and is now part of Corfu Town. The history of Corfu is undoubtedly full of events that have left their mark, both the city and the island are dotted with sights from different historical eras. Beginning with the Greeks, then Romans and even pirates used the island and its advantageous location for their purposes.
From 445 AD Corfu was then under Byzantine rule and after many battles and complications, became a Venetian colony leaving a strong influence on the town’s scape, from the middle of the 14th century until 1797. In particular, the medieval castles, which were used for defense against Ottoman incursions, made Corfu one of the most fortified places in Europe.
Two of these castles surround the capital Corfu, which is the only city in Greece to be surrounded in this way. The Greek government has now officially declared it a kastropolis “castle city”. French rule under Napoleon began in 1798 and lasted no more than 17 years, with an interruption when it was under Russian protectorate.
After the Napoleonic Wars, Corfu and the other Ionian Islands finally fell under the last domination, the British, which lasted from 1815 to 1864. During this time, a large part of the modern infrastructure was created, which is now one of the densest in Greece. On May 21, 1864, Corfu was ceded to the Kingdom of Greece and from that point onwards, the island began to prosper and become a popular destination for personalities of the time. The magnificent facades of the manor houses, which are reminiscent of glorious times past, characterize the cityscape in a rather untypically Greek way.
This interesting and independent culture, developed over centuries by the fusion of Greek and Venetian traditions, making the city a particularly attractive island to visit. The name Corfu, is an Italian version of the Byzantine Κορυφώ (Koryphō), meaning summit or peak. The name was given to the island because of the two rocky hills that jut out on the east side of the city, and has been used worldwide ever since.
The island, characterized by rugged mountains, has a cooler and more rainy climate compared to the other islands of Greece, and is therefore blessed with lush green vegetation, which has earned it the nickname Emerald Island, thanks to its location. The unique olive groves, with over 4 million trees, some of which are said to be over 500 years old, dominate most of the landscape and carry the main part of today’s economic income.
As early as the 18th century, the Venetians began cultivating olive trees instead of vineyards, and a person’s status and wealth was quickly measured by the number of olive trees in his possession. Traditionally, the trees are not pruned and above all, the olives must fall from the branches unaided. At harvest time, nets are laid out on the ground and the farmers wait patiently, to collect and press them, mainly into aromatic olive oil.
Corfu Town, with its medieval buildings, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007 and is a gem for sightseeing. Every year, the island welcomes over a million holidaymakers eager to discover the extraordinary island with its largely car-free old town, winding streets, impressive mansions, the Liston arcaded street and the Spianada, the largest square in Southeast Europe.
Read the full article in Issue 16