Corfu is an island in the Ionian Sea set on a breathtaking coast located between the Greece and Italy. The island of Corfu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the northwestern tip of Greece. It is defined by rugged mountains and a resort-studded shoreline. In this gateway to the Adriatic, the Ionian Sea kisses picturesque and historic shores. Corfu is the northernmost of the Ionian Islands in Greece.
The Old Town of Corfu, on the Island of Corfu off the western coasts of Albania and Greece, is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, and has its roots in the 8th century BC.
Historically, Corfu has been controlled by many foreign powers including the Venetians, French, and British. Corfu was an Adriatic fortress for the Venetians. The three forts of the town, designed by renowned Venetian engineers, were used for four centuries to defend the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against Ottoman intrusion into the Adriatic. Over time, the fortifications of the island were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, more recently under British rule in the 19th century. The were used by the Venetians to defend against
The islands of Corfu, Paxoi, Lefkada, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Zante, and Kythira, along with smaller islets which surrounded them, were for many centuries part of the powerful Republic of Venice, which never allowed the Turks to set foot on these lands. However, following the dissolution of the Republic of Venice in 1798, the French became the rulers of these idyllic islands.
Corfu eventually fell under British rule following the Napoleonic Wars. The Ionian Islands are a group of seven islands consisting of Corfu, Paxos, Lefkas, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Zante and Kythera. On October 2nd, 1809, the British defeated the French fleet in Zakynthos capturing Kefallonia, Kythera and Zakynthos, and took later Lefkada in 1810. The French held out in Corfu (Kerkyra) until 1814. The Treaty of Paris in 1815 turned the islands into the “United States of the Ionian Islands” under British protection.
Coinage from the United States of the Ionian Islands is pictured above
In 1815, Corfu went under British rule. The United States of the Ionian Islands was formed as a federation, with each one of the seven main islands constituting one member-state in the federation. The British decided to make Greek the official language of the States. The seven Ionian island states declared their independence under British protection with Greek as the official language and Corfu as the capital. In order to maintain its sovereignty on the islands, the UK appointed a ”Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands,” who was traditionally chosen by the British monarch. The first “Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands” was Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Maitland. The British greatly improved the islands’ roads, communications, and introduced modern education and justice systems. The capital of the United States of the Ionian Islands was Corfu, where the chambers of the Assembly and the Senate were established. Corfu was eventually ceded to Greece by the British Empire along with the remaining islands of the United States of the Ionian Islands on May 28, 1864, by proclamation of the Lord High Commissioner; the Ionian Islands were officially united with Greece.
When Greece became independent in 1830, after their long struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The islanders began to press for union with Greece. However, the British government resisted the recommendation since, like the Venetians, they considered the islands a strategic naval base in the region. Also, Great Britain regarded the German-born king of Greece, King Otto, as unfriendly to Britain. After Otto was deposed in 1862 and a pro-British king, George I, was installed, Britain decided to transfer the islands to Greece, as a gesture of support, intending to bolster the new king’s popularity. On May 2, 1864, the British departed and the islands became three provinces of the Kingdom of Greece, although Britain retained the right to use the port of Corfu. Below, you can see the flag of the United States of the Ionian Islands, used from 1815 to 1864.
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Corfu becomes a World Heritage Site
The Old Town of Corfu is noted for its defense system dating from the Venetian period. It also has preserved its remarkable British Neoclassical housing of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Venetians built two fortresses to withstand the Ottomans, in 1555 and 1588 respectively. The British demolished most of them in the 19th century, during the period when Corfu was a British protectorate (1815-1864).
Outstanding Universal Value Statement from UNESCO
“The ensemble of the fortifications and the Old Town of Corfu is located in a strategic location at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. Historically, its roots go back to the 8th century BC and to the Byzantine period. It has thus been subject to various influences and a mix of different peoples. From the 15th century, Corfu was under Venetian rule for some four centuries, then passing to French, British and Greek governments. At various occasions, it had to defend the Venetian maritime empire against the Ottoman army. Corfu was a well thought of example of fortification engineering, designed by the architect Sanmicheli, and it proved its worth through practical warfare. Corfu has its specific identity, which is reflected in the design of its system of fortification and in its neo-classical building stock. As such, it can be placed alongside other major Mediterranean fortified port cities.” UNESCO
“Criterion (iv): The urban and port ensemble of Corfu, dominated by its fortresses of Venetian origin, constitutes an architectural example of outstanding universal value in both its authenticity and its integrity.
The overall form of the fortifications has been retained and displays traces of Venetian occupation, including the Old Citadel and the New Fort, but primarily interventions from the British period. The present form of the ensemble results from the works in the 19th and 20th centuries. The authenticity and integrity of the urban fabric are primarily those of a neo-classical town.
The responsibility for protection is shared by several institutions and relevant decrees. These 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). Also relevant are: the Greek law on the shoreline of towns and of islands in general; the law on the protection of antiquities and cultural heritage in general (n° 3028/2002) and the establishment of a new independent Superintendence for Byzantine and post-Byzantine antiquities, in 2006. A buffer zone has been established. The proactive policies of restoration and enhancement of the fortifications and of the citadel have resulted in a generally acceptable state of conservation. Many works however have still to be completed or started. A management plan has been prepared. An urban action plan, which is in line with the management plan of the nominated property, has just been adopted (2005) for the period 2006-2012.”
The mainly neoclassical housing stock of the Old Town is partly from the Venetian period, partly of later construction, notably the 19th century. As a fortified Mediterranean port, Corfu’s urban and port ensemble is notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity.
Here’s a map of the other World Heritage Sites in Greece:
Visit Mouse Island with the charming whitewashed Byzantine chapel.
Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George. You can take the “Corfu sight-seeing train” through Old Town. This charming town is a fabulous VIno con Vista Destination!
I love the Old Town and Fortress. There are so many cute shops and Greek restaurants in Old Town.
Between the tightly packed buildings of the old town and the Old Fortress, the Esplanade (Spianada) is a vast green space and claims to be the second largest square in Europe.
Corfu’s main public gathering space, it is overlooked by the arcaded Liston, built by the French in the 19th-century, and home to a row of pricey cafés that are ideal for people-watching. Stroll through Old Town to get the true flavor of charming Corfu.
Here’s a great video of things to do on the island: