Corfu Town has all the style and sophistication of any cosmopolitan centre and yet it is steeped in historical character and age old traditions. There is a thriving mass of shops and businesses nestled amongst a charming assortment of elegant buildings and narrow alleyways. The Venetians left their distinctive mark in the architecture as did the British and French, creating an array of designs.
The first settlement of the new Corfu Town during the 6th century started on the hill that would later become the Old Fortress. Built and fortified by the Venetians, the fortress housed the entire population of the town until the 13th century. An important part in the island’s defences, the fortress was Europe’s last defence against the Turkish invasion. A stroll through the Old Fortress will take you through tunnels, past abandoned barracks to bastions and look-out points. The top of the fortress gives a panoramic view overlooking Corfu Town.
The walls of the New Fortress tower above the north-western side of the Old Town. Erected on the hill of St Mark to help strengthen the defence of the town, most of the fortification works were completed by 1588. The defence barracks were built during the British Protectorate in 1842.
Palace of St George & St Michael: Opened in 1823, the palace is the most impressive monument from the British rule of Corfu. The palace originally served as a residence for the British High Commissioners and as a seat for the Ionian Senate. When the British left in 1864 the building was handed over to King George I of Greece, hence it is known as the Royal Palace.
This famous building was constructed in 1892 for Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Princess Sissy). The Empress was obsessed with the Greek hero Achilleus and she commissioned various statues including Achilles dying which can be found in the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. The huge and magnificent statue of Achilles Triumphant gazes out over breathtaking views. Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany purchased the palace in 1907. Some of the downstairs rooms contain mementoes of both former owners. The Palace is situated in Gastouri, near Benitses, about 30 minutes drive from Dassia.
The hub of Corfiot life is the Esplanade. Stroll around the gardens or sit in one of the many cafe bars underneath the arches of the Liston. The Liston was built by the French in 1807 in emulation of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. During the summer months, cricket matches still occasionally take place and concerts by one of Corfu’s many philharmonic bands are often given on the bandstand. The wide open space of the Esplanade was originally created to provide a clear field of fire from the Old Fortress.
The pride of the museum is the ‘Gorgon Pediment’ which is the oldest surviving monumental sculpture in Greece. Dating back to 580bc, the 17 metre long Gorgon was discovered in the temple of Artemis. Other exhibits include monuments from the ancient cemetery in Garitsa, Neolithic artifacts from Sidari and fragments from ancient Corcyra’s main worshipping centre, the temple of Hera.
Founded and maintained by the Ionian Bank, the Paper Money Museum is a fascinating look into the world and history of notes. One of only three in Europe, the museum is unique in terms of the value of its collection. There is a display of various notes including Greek notes, notes from wartime occupation, the Ionian Island’s oldest note and rare collections from all over the world. There is also an exhibition showing how a bank note is produced, even down to the paper making process.
The Mon Repos Palace was the birthplace of Britain’s Prince Philip and was used by Greece’s royal family as a summer residence. The palace has been the subject of ownership battles between the Greek government and the ex-king Constantine. Researchers discovered a document granting the royal family use of the estate and not permanent possession and the ‘royal estate’ has since come into the possession of the Municipality of Corfu.
Noteworthy buildings facing onto Town Hall Square are the Town Hall itself, San Giacommo (the Catholic Cathedral) and the former home of the Catholic Archbishop which now houses the bank of Greece. The Town Hall is Venetian and was built in Baroque style between 1663 and 1691. First used as a meeting place for noble citizens, it was converted into a theatre in 1720. A second storey was added when it became the Town Hall in 1903. The external walls are decorated with masks, medallions and historical symbols.
Founded in 1836 by Corfiots and modelled on the Reading Society of Geneva, the Reading Society is the oldest cultural institution in modern Greece. It contains the complete history of the Ionian Islands in an excellent collection of books, documents, manuscripts, photographs and other material.
Built in 1589 the church is dedicated to Corfu’s much loved patron saint. A chapel in the church houses the casket with the remains of St Spiridon. Situated in Corfu Town, the church has the tallest belfry on the island.
The Byzantine Museum, set in Corfu Town’s oldest neighbourhood, is housed in the 15th century church of Antivouniotissa. The museum contains a priceless collection of Byzantine icons and tapestries as well as paintings set in magnificent gilt and carved frames, all dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.
Dionysios Solomos came to Corfu in 1828 where he became the leader of the literary revival. Every Greek knows at least one Solomos poem because he wrote the words to the Greek National Anthem. The house where he lived contains memorabilia of his life.
A collection of militaria commemorating the Balkan War of 1915-17 and the role Corfu played in helping the Serbian Army
Kapodistrias was the first president in the modern Greek state. The museum contains paintings and souvenirs of Kapodistrias’ life and is housed in two rooms in the Kapodistrias family residence
A small islet housing an ancient monastery, Mouse Island is the most photographed tourist attraction in Corfu. According to legend, Mouse Island (or Pontikonissi) was formed when the ship that had taken Odysseus back to Ithaki, returning to its home port, was turned to stone by Poseidon, angry at being defied by the Phaeceans. Close by is the Convent of Vlacherna.
A visit here is like taking a step back in time. The house has been left in its original state and shows village life of years long gone by. A steep staircase leads you upstairs to a room that houses old tools and various household items. Sinarades is on the west coast, about 25 minutes drive from Dassia.
The British Cemetery is set in beautiful gardens and contains graves from the beginning of the British Protectorate to the present day.