The Ancient City of Corfu – Kerkyra, Greece
The island of Corfu (Kerkyra) is one of the best tourist destinations in Greece. It is located in the Ionian Sea, not far from Italy.
During its existence, Corfu has been conquered by different foreign conquerors, who left their “footprints” on the island, which coexist very harmoniously to this day. Venetian, French and British elements can be felt in today’s Old Town.
The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fascinates the traveler from the first moment. Painted in terracotta hues and filled with the scent of lilac, it pleasantly surprises with its typifying buildings, the sound of philharmonic orchestras, and the specialties of the local taverns.
The old town of Corfu is considered one of the most impressive in Greece.
Campiello, with its atmosphere of southern Italy, is the oldest district of Corfu, a walk in this area will transport you to another time. Colorful mansions and labyrinthine alleys hide the soul of the place. Here, every corner, every dome, every bell tower has its own history.
One of the main features of this neighborhood are the old, tall buildings that have kept their original Venetian architecture intact until the present day.
Campiello (or Campiello) is one of the first neighborhoods of Copoli (old town), which began to be settled when the medieval Corifo (as Corfu was called) could no longer accommodate other inhabitants due to lack of space.
The Campiello area was chosen because its elevated position gave a sense of security for building houses in an unfortified area. However, in order to build the Campiello hill, it was first necessary to form many small individual flat surfaces. These open spaces, small squares, in fact, around which houses and other buildings were built, are called “campi” in Latin, while in the Venetian dialect the word “campiello” means square, hence the name of the famous and beloved Corfu district.
Forget your car and stroll around the labyrinth of the old town and pay a visit to St. Nicholas church, the Kokkini Alley, the picturesque archway and Taxiarches Square with the Pantocrator church.
The first thing we see when we arrive in the Old City is the Spianada. It is the largest square in our country (perhaps in all the Balkans), surrounded by unique historical monuments.
It got its name from the Italian “spianare” (level) not by accident, as in 1576 the Venetians began demolishing the houses in front of the Old Fortress to improve the defenses of the island. The Spianade, later planted with trees by the French, may have removed the city from the sea, but it became the liveliest meeting place of modern life, combining commerce and social activities with the important events of the place. Today, divided into Ano and Kato Platia (Upper and Lower Square), it is suitable for walks in the sun and is also the starting point for a boat trip along the Gulf of Garica.
In the area of the Upper Square you can see the Maitland peristyle in Ionic style, the Union Monument at the Ionian Islands. There is also a tourist train departing from here that takes tourists to the city’s attractions.
Liston the main street of the Old Town
Hanging Venetian lanterns lined up in front of the Lower Square and arched openings form the most characteristic image of Corfu, Liston was built in 1807 following the example of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. The most impressive buildings in Liston are the galleries. In the beginning it was used as a barracks for the French, but as it developed and additional floors were added, it also served as a hotel for high-ranking visitors.
Saint Spiridon of Trimiphunt
All roads lead to St. Spiridon. Beyond Liston, a characteristic avenue filled with stores, cafeterias, restaurants, stands out the church of St. Spiridon and the impressive bell tower, one of the most important Byzantine monuments.
Crowds of people come to pay their respects to St. Spiridon. The relics of Saint Spyridon are not corrupted by the passage of time They were kept in Constantinople, but after the fall of 1453, the refugees took the relics with them and brought them to Corfu.
Visit the Basilica of St. Michael and St. George on the north side of Spianada.
Museum of Asian Art
It is hard to imagine that in the neoclassical palace building from 1928 there is the only museum in our country, devoted exclusively to the art and antiquities of the Far East and India.
The Museum of Asian Art has about 10,500 items from private collections, exhibits from almost all Asian countries [China, India, Cambodia, Siam (Thailand), Nepal] as well as Japan. The core of the museum was the collection of Gregory Manos (Greek Ambassador to Austria), working in the early 20th century, who bought at auction some 9,500 works of Chinese, Korean and Japanese art, spending his entire fortune on it. It is worth a walk through the impressive halls of the palace and admire the magnificent exhibits. Soon, we learn, 8 new rooms will be opened in the New Wing and a demonstration of samurai weapons is planned .
Tip: To have an unforgettable Corfu experience, don’t leave until you’ve tasted the island’s wonderful food and unique local products. From kumquat and tsitsimbir to nougat and fresh Corfu beer, they are sure to captivate your gastronomic senses.
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Corfu: secrets of the island from the locals , read here Spectacular Easter in Corfu (Kerkyra) , read here
Ancient City of Corfu
The ancient city on the island of Corfu, neighboring the west coast of Albania and Greece, occupies a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic. Its history goes back to the eighth century BC, when the Republic of Venice built three forts here, which for four centuries protected its merchant ships from the attacks of the Ottoman Empire.
Over time, these fortifications were repeatedly repaired and partially rebuilt. The city’s older buildings, mostly in neoclassical style, date back to the Venetian period and to more recent times, particularly the 19th century.
The Mediterranean city-fortress of Corfu is unique in its ensemble and the authenticity of the surviving buildings.
The complex of fortifications of the ancient city of Corfu occupies a strategic position at the outlet of the Adriatic Sea. The history of the city goes back to the 8th century B.C. and the Byzantine period. The city has been exposed to different currents and multiculturalism. Corfu has been under Venetian rule since the 15th century, later being occupied by France, Britain and Greece. On several occasions Corfu became a defensive bastion of Venetian maritime power against the Ottoman army. Corfu exemplified the construction of a well-designed fortification system designed by architect Michel Sanmichely, which has proven its worth in warfare.
Corfu has an inimitable flavor that conveys the particular design of its fortifications and neoclassical residential buildings. As such it can be ranked among the other major fortified port cities of the Mediterranean.
Criterion (iv): Corfu’s complex of urban and port buildings, dominated by the Venetian fortress, is of immense value in terms of its architectural authenticity and integrity.
The fortification complex as a whole has remained unchanged, and it shows echoes partly of the Venetian occupation, including the Old Fort and the New Fort, but mostly of the British period. The modern appearance of the ensemble is a consequence of the restoration work of the previous two centuries. Most of the urban buildings are of a neoclassical type.
The historical monuments are protected by several institutions and organizations and relevant legislation. They include the Hellenic Ministry of Culture (Ministerial Decision of 1980), the Ministry of the Environment, Spatial Planning and Public Works (Presidential Decree of 1980) and the Municipality of Corfu (Presidential Decree of 1981). It also includes the Greek law on the inviolability of the coastline of the cities and islands in general; the law on the protection of antiquities and cultural heritage (no. 3028/2002), the establishment of a supervision for the preservation of Byzantine and post-Byzantine antiquities in 2006. A buffer zone was established. As a result of the preventive measures for the restoration and consolidation of the fortifications and the fortress, it was possible to achieve their preservation and satisfactory condition in general. Nevertheless, some works are still in progress and some are yet to be started, according to the management plan drawn up. The city development plan for 2006-2012 was adopted in 2005 with the above mentioned buildings management plan.
Corfu, as the closest of the Ionian islands to the Adriatic Sea, was annexed to Greece by a group of Eretrians (775-750 BC). In 734 the Corinthians founded a colony there called Kerkyra just south of the present day Old City.
It became a trading post on the way to Sicily. The colonies of Illyria and Epirus were founded thereafter. In 229 B.C. the coasts of Epirus and Corfu passed to the Roman Republic and became the starting point for the Romans’ eastward advance. During the reign of the emperor Caligula two followers of the Apostle Paul, St. Jason, bishop of Iconium, and Sosipater, bishop of Tarsus, became the first preachers of Christianity on the island.
Corfu shared the fate of the Eastern Roman Empire at the time of its dissolution in 336 and after the invasion of the Goths in 551, the island went through a long period of decline.
The population gradually left the old town and moved to the peninsula surrounded by two mountain peaks (corifi) where the ancient fortress is now located. Venice, which by that time had strengthened its position in the southern Adriatic, came to the aid of the weakening Byzantine Empire, thus providing itself with a better way to protect its trade relations with Constantinople from the armies of the Norman prince Robert of Guiscard. Corfu was conquered by the Normans in 1081, and returned to Byzantine rule in 1084.
After the Fourth Crusade and the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantine Empire fell apart, after which the Venetians, seeking military support, seized all maritime bases from which they could control any movement in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, including the island of Corfu, which they held for a brief period from 1204 to 1214.
For the next 50 years the island fell into the hands of the Despot of Epirus (1214-1267), and from 1267 to 1368 it was ruled by the Kingdom of Naples, represented by the dynasty of the Angevins, who used it against the Byzantine Empire, again established in Constantinople, and the Venetians. On a peninsula between two mountains, with fortifications built on them – the Byzantine castle Da Mare and the Angevan castle Di Terra, under the protection of a wall with defensive towers, grew a tiny medieval town.
Documentary sources of the first half of the 13th century testify to the division of administrative and religious power among the inhabitants of the fortress and those living outside its walls, which today is called the Spianada (Esplanade).
In an effort to regain her primacy as a maritime and commercial power in the southern Adriatic, Venice provoked internal conflicts which led the Kingdom of Naples to occupy the island (1386-1797). Along with Negroponte (Halkida), Crete and Modon (Metoni), Corfu became one of the defensive points against Ottoman raids, as well as serving as a food base for ships on their way to Romania and the Black Sea.
Corfu’s economic and strategic role during the four centuries of Venetian rule is underscored by the constant work to build, improve and expand the medieval defensive perimeter. In the early 15th century, the main work was carried out in the medieval town, consisting in the development of the port complex (docks, piers and warehouses), after which the reconstruction of the defensive installations continued. At the beginning of the next century, a canal was dug to separate the medieval town from its outskirts.
After the Turks besieged the city in 1537, which burned its suburbs, a new cycle of works began to further isolate the fortress and strengthen its defensive capabilities. Cleared in 1516, the strip of land (now Spianada) was expanded by the demolition of houses near the fortress walls, two new bastions were built on the canal banks, the perimeter wall was reduced, and two old castles were replaced by new constructions. The work, designed by the Italian architect Michel Sanmichele (1487-1559), was completed in 1558, with the result that the city’s fortifications could withstand new advances in artillery, whose development in those decades was particularly rapid.
Another attack by Turkish troops in 1571 prompted the Venetians to begin work on a large construction project that included the medieval city, its surroundings, the harbor and all military installations (1576-88). Ferrante Vitelli, architect of the Duke of Savoy, built a fort (New Fort) on the low hill of St. Mark to the west of the old town to be able to keep under fire the surrounding land and sea areas as well as to defend the 24 suburbs surrounded by a fortified wall with bastions, four gates and a castle moat. New buildings of both military and civilian character were also built, and the Mandraki harbor was reconstructed and expanded. At the same time the medieval town became an object of exclusive military purpose (the Cathedral was moved to the New Town in the 17th century) and turned into a place now known as the Old Fortress.
Between 1669 and 1682 the system of defences was extended to the west by a second wall, made by the military engineer Filippo Vernad. In 1714, when the Turks decided to retake Morea (Peloponessos), the Venetians were able to offer decent resistance when the Turkish armies turned toward the island of Corfu. The support of the Christian navy and the victory of the Austrians in Hungary in 1716 helped save the city. The commander of the Venetian forces on Corfu, Field Marshal Giovanni Maria von Schulenburg, decided to use Filippo Vernada’s ideas to enhance the potential of the giant defensive complex. The fortifications on the west were reinforced by an elaborate system of external fortifications on the tops of two mountains, the Abraham and Salvator forts and the San Rocco fort (1717-1730), which was built in the middle.
The Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 marked the end of the Venetian Republic and placed the island under French rule (1797-1799) until a joint Russian-Ottoman force expelled the French and established the State of the Ionian Islands, with Corfu as its capital (1799-1807). After a brief reign by France in 1807-1814, the change of borders in Europe following the defeat of Napoleon’s army made Corfu a British protectorate for the next fifty years (1814-1864).
As the capital of the Union of the Ionian Islands, Corfu lost its strategic purpose. During the reign of the British High Commissioner Sir Thomas Maitland (1816-1824), the development of the city was focused on the Spianada area. His successor Sir Frederick Adam (1824-1832) concentrated on public works (building an aqueduct, rebuilding the fortress and converting Venetian houses for military purposes, building and rebuilding apartment buildings) as well as reorganizing the educational system (in 1824 the new Ionian Academy was opened), the need for which arose because of the increased interest in the sciences that arose during French rule. At the same time the British began to demolish the outer defenses of the western part of the city and to build houses outside the fortress walls.
In 1864 the island became part of the Kingdom of Greece. Weapons from the fortresses were removed, and part of the fortification walls and defenses were dismantled. The island became the favorite vacation spot of the European aristocracy. The Old Town was seriously damaged during the bombing of 1943. Apart from the dead inhabitants, the city lost many houses and public institutions (the Ionian Parliament, theater and library), fourteen churches and a number of buildings in the Old Fortress. In recent decades, the gradual growth of the New Town has intensified with the development of tourism.