An introduction to Corfu Island
Corfu Island is one of the most favoured islands destinations in all of Greece, also known as Kerkyra, because Corfu combines a bit of the quintessential romantic and social island experience with culture, history, good cuisine and exquisite landscape. Located in the luscious Ionian Sea, this island is a verdant paradise with the most idyllic beaches set in the most varied and abundant natural vegetation.
Corfu Island is varied in so many ways largely due to its history and location. Located on the way to Italy and south of Albania, the island has been under foreign rule for a large part of its history. Corfu enjoys pleasant weather all year round, boasts stunning beaches and dramatic mountainous regions, and impresses with its architecture, archaeology, folklore and cuisine. Moreover, with over 120 years of experience in the tourism trade, this island is one of the most hospitable of all the Greek islands.
Corfu Island boasts a coastline of of over 200 kilometres and a mountain peaking at nearly 1000 metres. In fact, Corfu is full of such high peaks and that’s why the name of the island links back to the Byzantine and ancient Greek words for peak or crest. The Greek name actually refers to Korkyra, the mythological nymph with whom Poseidon fell in love.
The history of Corfu goes way back in time and the island is said to have been Homer’s famed island of Scheria, the penultimate destination of Odysseus before he finally returned to Ithaca. Back then, Corfu was inhabited by the ancient Greek Phaeacians, a race born from the union of Poseidon and the nymph Korkyra no less. In fact, Corfu often comes up in Greek mythology and this adds to the atmospheric experience of modern Corfu.
In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus arrives at the island with the help of the goddess Athena and it is here that he is given the ship that will take him back home to Ithaca. But as with all stories in the mythologies, the gods are forever angry about something and so, Poseidon, turns the ship to stone simply because he is angry that the Phaeacians helped Odysseys.
From mythology to archaeology, the archaeological findings on the island date as far back as the Paleolithic age, that is from around 30,000 to 7,000 BC. Mesolithic Greeks also appear to have been around here as well during the Neolithic period. There is evidence of settlements near Sidari. During the Geometric age, Corfu was inhabited by a race called the Illyrians and in around 750 BC Greeks from the island of Evia arrived. They were driven away by the Corinthians who fought in the first great Greek sea battle, according to Thucydides. The island of Corfu, being situated in such an excellent location, has always been prosperous throughout its long history.
Almost every civilisation and governing power passed through Corfu, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Goths, Vandals and Saracens, the Venetians and the Turks. Corfu was invaded by the French, bombed by the Italians, and protected by the British. Corfu, with the rest of the Ionian islands, was reunited with Greece in 1864.
Modern Corfu is complex and interesting, mainly because of the very visible influence of the Venetians and other occupying powers, such as the Ottomans. The architecture is stunning for all these influences and there is very lofty and grand atmosphere, so heavy with history, but absolutely enjoyable and fun to holiday in.
As one can imagine, Corfu is a cosmopolitan city, fluent in the art of hospitality and tourism and offering the best in all facilities for tourists. There are old and contemporary bars and tavernas and restaurants. There are theatres and museums, beaches and idyllic landscape retreats not too far from this Italian looking city.
Corfu Island is a place rich with man-made landmarks, what with its numerous museums, fortresses, squares, fountains, neo-classical mansions and other stunning buildings, such as the Town Hall Square, the Square of the Saints and the Ionian Academy. The old city of Corfu is excellently preserved and a stroll through its narrow streets is both a romantic and historical activity.
The old fortress and the new fortress are excellent landmarks for a good photo-opportunity. The old fortress has been around for about 1500 years and the new fortress was built in around 1576 to protect the island from Ottoman invasion. Today, the fortresses are quiet and idyllic places to visit.
As with most places in Greece, and whether you are a religious-minded tourist or not, the land’s Greek Orthodox churches are stunning landmarks and examples of architectural excellence. Corfu’s patron saint Spyridon is said to have his remains mummified and kept within the church dedicated to his memory.
One of the most stunning buildings is the Liston building, which is situated to the west of the Esplanade. This building, which dates back to the French occupation, is a remarkable and well preserved example of the architecture of the time and is a testament to Corfu’s varied, elegant and sophisticated history. Today, it is one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan hangouts in Corfu town.
The island of Corfu has hundreds of churches, in fact, probably around 800 and so church-watching is definitely a big activity on this island. Some of the most important Corfiot churches are: the Church of Agios Spyridon, the Church of Agios Iasonas (Jason) and Sosispater, the Monastery of Panagia Palaiokastritsa, the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Platytera, the Church of Pantokrator and the early Christian Basilica of Paleopolis.
There are almost as many beaches as churches on the island, so after church-spotting it is time for the sun, sea and sand. Or, for a more active experience, a must-visit is the Corfu Aqualand, which is located near the village of Agios Ioannis and is famed for being one of the best of its kind in all of Europe.
If you happen to be travelling to Corfu in August, then do enjoy the various festivals that are organised around the island, such as the three-day Festival of Garouna and Ano Gerakiana, the Sound and Light show, the cricket festival, and the Feast of Agios Spyridon.
Before you leave Corfu Island, make sure you visit at least one of the many museums and the excellent exhibits held within their halls. There’s a museum to match your taste and interest, including the Archaeological Museum, the Numismatic Museum, the Historical and Folkloric Museum, the Byzantine Museum, the Shell Museum and the Museum of Asian Art, to name only a few.