History of Corfu island

Corfu has been a protagonist in the history of Greece since the Paleolithic era.. Due to its geographical position, but also the island’s natural wealth, it has been the target of powerful powers since ancient times.

Corfu went through the rule of the Venetians, the French and the English. In 1863, a treaty of the great powers was signed in London according to which England renounces the protection of the Ionian Islands. On May 21, 1864, the Ionian Islands officially joined Greece and the Greek flag was raised at the Castle of Corfu. Each conqueror left his mark on the island’s physiognomy. The long-term coexistence of the Corfu people with the aforementioned conquerors contributed to the creation of the special culture that distinguishes them.

The name Corfu or Korifos comes from “cities of peaks” from the two citadels that exist in the island. Because the shape of the Corfu resembles a scythe, its ancient name was Drepanon, while other names mentioned are Makrya (again from its shape), Cassiopeia, Keraina, Arpi and Sheria as mentioned in Homer. Mythology tells how the island got its name from the nymph Corfu, who was brought there by Poseidon. The fruit of the god’s love affair with the nymph was Phaeacus, ancestor of the ancient Phaeacians, a people who – according to Homer – are said to have hosted Odysseus shortly before he arrived in Ithaca.

These mythical ancestors of today’s Corfu people are presented in Homer’s epics as the creators of a great technological civilization with an excellently equipped fleet and a democratically organized society, while their cultural development is also outstanding, but their presence has not yet been confirmed by the archaeological dig. On the contrary, there are findings that reveal the existence of inhabitants from the Paleolithic era (Agios Mattheos) and the Neolithic period (Sidari) but also from the Bronze Age (Kefali, Amphiones Hermones).

The first Greeks to arrive on the island were the Eretrians from Evia (775-750 BC). It was then colonized by the Corinthians (734 BC) who built the ancient city and the acropolis that exists in today’s Analipsi. Corfu quickly became a major trading power with a powerful fleet, established its own colonies and gained its autonomy from Corinth. In the following years, the rich island was the bone of contention for the two great city-states of the time, Athens and Sparta. The island was then placed under the protection of the Macedonians and experienced years of prosperity until it was occupied by the tyrant of Syracuse and then by King Pyrrhus of Epirus.

But soon he too loses it to finally end up with the Romans (229 BC). During their occupation, Corfu slowly loses its power and the privileges of its citizens. In the Byzantine years, the adventures of Corfu continued with successive conquerors, while its defense was strengthened by the fortification of the new city with walls and the old fortress.

king-pyrrhusHordes of barbarians made frequent raids and plundered the island. In the 11th century it was occupied by the Normans and a little later it returned to the hands of the Byzantines with their allies the Venetians who managed to take it back under their rule in 1386. It will remain with the Venetians until 1797 after they will manage to successfully deal with the attempts of the Turks to include the island in their empire as well as the local uprisings of the villagers who opposed the payment of rents to the landowners.

In 1797, Corfu was occupied by the French, who not only were not the saviors that the people were waiting for with so much hope, but maintained the power of the nobles by imposing heavy taxes and proved to be just as barbaric as their previous conquerors, looting fortresses and churches and transporting the precious booty in their homeland. Two years later the Russian-Turkish fleet occupies the island and in 1800 the Ionian Islands are recognized as a single autonomous Greek state which is, however, tributary to Turkey. This was also the core from where the renaissance of the Greek Nation began.

This short-lived independence was interrupted in 1806 when the French returned to the island, this time creating rather than destroying. New forts are built, the city is beautified with greenery and imposing, elegant buildings. Emphasis is placed on agriculture as well as the advancement of education with the establishment in 1808 of the Ionian Academy with its invaluable contribution to Greek letters.

In the midst of the Anglo-French dispute and after the fall of Napoleon, Corfu, together with the rest of the Ionian islands, passed into the hands of the British in 1814, who were not the only protectors for the locals, since they were heroes with the opponents of the regime and merciless with the liberation movement of the Greeks in 1821 as well as with the union of the Ionian Islands with the newly formed Greek state afterwards.

corfu-historyThe British occupation, however, also had positive elements, such as the development of the economy and the construction of public utility projects, while new life was given to Greek letters with the establishment of Greek as an official language and the establishment in 1824 of a new Ionian Academy, which is the first Greek University from which some of the most important spiritual figures of the place emerged, such as Andreas Kalvos, Petros Vrailas, etc.

Art flourished at the same time with the establishment in 1815 of the first fine arts school in Greece by the famous Pavlos Prosalentis, but also with the establishment of musical companies, theaters and lyrical scenes. In 1864 the islands were given as a “gift” to the newly appointed King of Greece, George I, by the protectorates. After its union with Greece, Corfu loses its spiritual vanguard while the economy experiences a new boom in front of the large market that is being created.

The agricultural sector is being modernized and industrial production is also being stimulated. During World War I the allied troops occupied Corfu and used it as a base until the end of the war. In the Second World War, Corfu experienced first the Italian and then the German occupation, which in its path burned and destroyed houses, historical and architectural monuments, priceless cultural treasures that turned into ruins. In 1944, it became Greek territory again and the residents, with persistence and love for the island, managed to bring it back to the prominent position it had before, making it one of the most famous cosmopolitan resorts of the Mediterranean.