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The History of Corfu
Corfu and its nearby islands (Corfu, Paxos, Othoni, Erikousa , Mathraki) was at the centre of history for millennia .
Due to its position on sea routes which connect Central Europe to Africa and the East to the West, it was a significant point of reference from the Stone age till the beginning of the 20th century.

Laying at the edge of the Adriatic sea , its ports were vital points for the ship travelling from Central Europe to Africa and Asia. It was also an ideal stop for travelers from the Eastern Mediterranean to Italy, Sicily and the WEstern Mediterranean.


Already from the early stone age there is evidence that not only the eastern and more accessible part of Corfu was inhabited, but its western, more remote part, as well. Settlements dating to this period have been located exactly at the north ( Sidari ) and northwestern ( Afionas ) part of Corfu. Marine findings indicate the importance of its ports (Corfu, Kassiopi, Palaiokastritsa, Porto Timone) for trade in that distant time, about which so little is known .


In the Homeric times, Corfu is an important power, famous for the people's marine skills, its wealth as well as for its heavenly environment .
Its inhabitants will be described in Homer's Odyssey as a powerful people of sailors, whi are at the same time welcoming, music and knowledge lovers .
Corfu is described as a cosmopolitan place already from the mythological ages, perhaps because its ports welcomed Etruscan , Egyptian , Minoan , Cretan ship and ship from the Aegean Sea.

Its names, Phaeakia or island of the Phaeacians, Drepani , Makri connect Corfu to several myths.


In the 8th century BC , its population is enriched with immigrants from mainland Greece ( Eretria , Corinth ) and its name is portrayed on monuments as Korkyra . Artifacts from this era can be seen at the Archaeologican Museum of Corfu, at the archaeological site of Palaeopolis , as well as at places like Rikini at the Northwest.
Corfu continues to be an important power at sea transport and trade and it is a significant stop at the transportation of people, ideas and wealth.
In the 5th century BC , Corfu is on the battlefield between Democracy and Oligarchy – and it will be the cause for the first large-scale conflict in human history, the Peloponnese War .


A part of Corfu from the Hellenistic era and afterwards will not only be a strategic port, but also a preferred destination for Greeks and Romans. It is here that eminent Romans and privileged militaries chose to construct their villas . Relics of those mansions can be found today at Benitses , Moraitika , Acharavi and elsewhere. All excavations along the coast reveal evidence of such settlements.
The Roman Emperors would come here for relaxation . Nero had presented his poems before the temple of Zeus Kassius at Kassiopi.
Corfu's ports would welcome the first missionaries of the new religion. To honour them, locals would later on construct the churches of Agios Stephanos on Vidos , and Saints Jason and Sosipater .


After the split of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern Roman Empire, Corfu would be influenced by the Eastern part and follow the fate of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) both in politics and in religion.


In the 12th and 13th centuries AD Corfu would be severely affected by the splintering off of the Western Roman Empire, by the descent of the northern peoples, by the religious Schism and the pirate raids . It would be invaded, change rulers and go through a lot of evil by Westerners, who would try to change the Corfiots' Eastern Christian creed.

During this period there was a dramatic decrease in the population of the smaller islands and the coastal regions. The seaside residences and settlements (mainly at the western coast) were abandoned. Most of today's villages were founded. Castles and fortresses were moved (Palaiokastro– Angelokastro) or new ones were created (Old Fortress– Gardiki– Agios Nikolaos Paxos, Kassiopi) . The very town of Corfu was deplaced from Palaeopolis to the actual Old Fortress .


In the 13th century the crusaders stopped here and Genova and Venice, the big naval powers of the time, created military bases .


In the late 14th century AD , Corfu had to deal with a bigger and bigger threat : the expanding tendency of the Ottoman Turks . At this point in history, Corfu chose to be protected by Venice , as it was a naval power which maintained some elements of the cosmopolitan and once democratic history of the island.


Corfu was to remain connected to the history of Venice until the late 18th century . This period bequeathed the island with its most import ant monuments , as well as with the actual towns of Corfu, and of Gaios at Paxos. The period of the Venetian rule would contribute to the formation of the mainest traits of the people of Corfu , their habits and customs , the Corfiot cuisine and the everyday life that is so familiar to us today.


In the late 18th century, the French Revolution would influence this place, too. The castles of Corfu would host the "drapeau tricolore", the French flag, and the predominant march would be La Marseilleuse . Corfu was to welcome the new order as if prepared long before . The clergy of Corfu would welcome the French democrats with a manuscript of the Odyssey of Homer , thus proving the prigressive nature of even the most conservative part of society.


The dawn of the 19th century would find Corfu being the capital of the Independent State of the Ionian islands (1800 – 1810), thanks to the diplomacy of its leaders and the contribution of the Orthodox Russians and especially of Admiral Usakof (who was later on declared a Saint of the church of Russia).


The return of Napoleon brought the French back on the island. This is the period in which the Liston buildings were constructed .
After Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo , the Independent State of the Ionian Islands would become a Protectorate of the English Crown and this situation didn't change, until the unification of the Ionian Islands with the Greek state in 1864 . During the English rule took place the construction of the Palace of the Esplanade, the Mon Repos villa in Palaiopolis, the Achilleion and several other monuments.


In the 20th century , Corfu had a very important part to play in World War I , as it became the shelter of the Serbian army.


Later on (1940-1944) it was drawn in the vortex of World War II . It was bombarded by both friendly and enemy fires. German bombardments burnt down the renowned library of the Ionian Academy and destroyed the splendid Theater , as well as part of Corfu town. This period was the end of the flourishing Jew community of Corfu, while the end of the war devitalized the island's Italian community, too.

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