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Greek Islands Guide

Corfu's History

We first hear of the Ionian islands through Herodotus. He refers to them as Scheria and the island of Corfu as Corcyra about 743 BC. The famous warrior and tragic hero Achilles (he who is without lips) is believed to have come from Paxoi island very near by. The name Corfu comes from the Italian corruption of the Byzantine name Korefi meaning peaks from the twin peaks of Corfu town's citadel. Corfu was also known as the Island of the Phaiakes but no direct archeological proof confirms this.


As archeological remains in Aghios Matthaios testify, Corfu was inhabited as early as 70,000 - 40,000 BC.

Geometric History 1100 BC - 700 BC

Colonized first by the Eretrians in 775- 750 BC., and then by the Corinthians, in 734 BC as a trading colony. It prospered so quickly that it soon began to outshine Corinth and entertain its own ideas of independence.

Ancient History 700 BC - 478 BC

Corinth became upset with Corcyra's new found prosperity and attempted to reassert its dominance resulting in the first ever recorded sea battle between the ancient Greeks, circa 664 BC. It seems the outcome favored the Corcyrians but Corinth wasn't ready to give it up.

Classical History 478 BC - 323 BC

The Corcyrians took no part in the Persian Wars which affected the Greek mainland and Aegean islands and consequently seem to have squandered a period of respite. Left to themselves, the islands oligarchs and democrats began feuding for control which resulted in bad blood. The victorious democrats were less than magnanimous and performed atrociously, resulting in an overall weakening of island manpower. The Corfiot democrats naturally felt of kindred spirit with democratic Athens causing them to seek its protection when the next period of Corinthian bronze sword rattling ensued. Athens was, at the time, polarized against Sparta, with whom Corinth was allied, for overall leadership of ancient Greece. This complex pattern of treaties, military alliances, homage, fealty and mutual assistance pledges made the general political and military situation volatile.

The Naval battle off the Sybota islands for Corcyra precipitated the disastrous Peloponnesian War which Athens eventually lost and Corfu fell into the hands of the Spartans. It was then captured by Agathokles, tyrant of Syracuse and then by Pyrrhus, King of Epirus in 281 BC. It was besieged by the Illirains in 229 BC and fell to the Romans the same year.

Roman Occupation 229 BC - 395 AD

In 229 BC the Illirian Queen Teuta attacked Corfu. The inhabitants requested the protection of Rome and under the Consul Fluvius successfully defended the island. This inaugurated the Roman occupation.

Loyal to Marc Anthony in the 1st century BC, Agrippa destroyed every civic monument as retaliation. Whatever else can be said of the Romans, they did have the Pax-Romana and offered the island stability and protection from pirates.

The Emperor Octavian assembled his fleet here prior to the Battle of Actium. At various times during the islands Roman occupation, others came as well, including Cato, Cicero and Tibullus. According to Seutonius, in 67 AD, the Emperor Nero made offerings to Zeus at the temple in Kassiopia and later sang and danced before the altar, no mention of his violin is made.

Byzantine/Norman History 395 - 1204

With the rise of Byzantium, the island gradually came into its sphere of influence. Its first fortress was built then.

The Goths ravaged the island in 550 AD and its surviving populace decided to relocate to a more easily defended site at Cape Sidaro (iron cape). What is today's Old Fortress of two peaks.

The Normans captured the fortress in 1081 and again in 1148, causing consternation through out the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus finally recaptured the island after several attempts.

It was ruled by a series of overlords and beset by difficulties until the fall of Constantinople in 1204, when the Normans of the Two Sicilies obtained possession of Corfu.

Venetian Occupation 1386 - 1797

In 1386 Venice took the islands, and retained them until the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1204, the Venetians claimed Corfu as part of its spoils from the 4th Crusade. The islands inhabitants viewed these claims with vehement disapprobation, resisting valiantly but unsuccessfully. A generation latter, the King of Naples, and brother to St. Louis of France, Charles the 1st of Anjou, acquired Corfu and Achia when his son married The Princess of Villehardouin.

For 120 years this particularly vile, despotic and intolerant monarch made things miserable for the Corfiots. In 1386 a local delegation was sent to Venice to request the protection of the Venetian Republic as the lesser of two evils.

In 1537, Suleiman the Magnificent, the most successful and aggressive of the Turkish Sultans, landed at Igoumenitsa across the straits on Greece's mainland. His goal: the subjugation of Corfu as a base for attacking Italy and the rest of Europe. He had already conquered most of Greece itself.

The Venetians, with their Corfiot co-defenders, tore down houses to repair fortress walls and although suffering great losses in the cross fire managed to inflict huge casualties on the Turks. The infamous, murdering, plunderer, Barbarossa led the Turkish assault, capturing thousands of Corfiots abandoned when they hadn't the time to enter the defensive gates. Most were slaughtered or sold as slaves in Constantinopoli.

Suleiman, learning of bad weather and his heavy losses ordered the lifting of the siege and the island was granted reprieve. Twenty-one years later, under intense pressure from the islanders, the Venetians expanded the islands fortifications, this time to include the town itself. Not all houses were included and when in 1571, another Turkish army reappeared under Ouloudj Ali, all that remained outside the defensive walls was destroyed, including villages, homes, vineyards and olive trees. The Turks massacred all inhabitants they were able to catch. Once again their attack was finally repulsed.

Two years later in 1573, another Turkish pirate Admiral Sinan Pasha surprise attacked and only 1/10 of the islands inhabitants were left among the living.

The island still remained in Venetian hands however and in 1576 they finally began the sort of fortifications necessary to withstand constant attacks. These fortifications were designed by the famed military architect Sammicheli and are of a stature with his Heraklion, Crete ramparts.

The Venetian also attempted to restore the islands economic vitality for exploitation and offered islanders 45 tsekinia for every olive tree planted. This resulted in today's over 4,500,000 Corfiot olive trees, which produce 3% of the world's supply of olive oil.

The Venetian had by this time become accustomed to Corfu as a more or less permanent protectorate and in order to increase political and economic ties with the more affluent islanders allowed them to buy Titles of Nobility instead of killing them. This created a class society unique to Corfu and in all Greece.

In 1716 the Turks returned to lay siege to the new fortifications and after a month were repulsed by a combination of the weather and the brilliant tactics of the German mercenary soldier in command of the the defense, Field Marshal Schulenberg.

French Occupation 1797 - 1798

Napoleon, meanwhile, had risen to power and defeated Venice thus laying French claim to the island which they immediately occupied.

The Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 , at Napoleon's insistence, allocated the islands to France, which formed them into the three provinces of Ithaca, Corfu, and the Aegean Sea.

Napoleon was very fond of the island and introduced many improvements: a printing house was founded and newspapers and magazines in Greek and French appeared. The French also made improvements to the educational system and built the island's first public library.

The Ionian School, in which the most literate people of the time taught, was founded in 1808. After a period of decline, it was founded again in 1824 by the philhellene Frederic Guilford, and it contributed to the re-establishment of the Greek language.

Russian - Turkish Occupation 1798 - 1800

Two years later the combined Russio-Turkish fleet temporally wrested control of the island from the French. In 1799 the Russian fleet seized the Ionian Isles, and they were constituted a small state tributary to Turkey, but in 1802 the Treaty of Amiens declared them free under the protectorate of Russia.

Second French Occupation 1807 - 1815

In 1807 the Peace of Tilsit gave Corfu back to France, and General Berthier was installed as their governor.

After reasserting French control Napoleon personally directed the reinforcement of the towns defenses. These defenses were deemed so formidable that the British declined to attack them at the refusal of their French garrison to hand them over after the battle of Waterloo.

British Protectorate 1815 - 1864

In 1815 with the signing of the Treaty of Vienna the Ionian Islands became a British protectorate.

Count John Capodistria, one of Corfu's new nobility asked the British for military protection–little realizing that the British would send the high-handed first Lord Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland.

His draconian behavior did not sit well with the Corfiots. He forced Corfu to remain neutral during the War of Independence, imprisoning and even executing members of the secret "Society of Friends." The best that can be said for him were some of his public works, such as roads, schools and a University funded by phillhellene Lord Guilford as well as a permanent water supply for the town.

The British imposed constitution forced the islanders into a near feudal condition.

An aristocratic government was then once more organized; the legislative functions were vested in a chamber of seventy deputies, eleven nominated by the Government and fifty-nine elected by the people. The executive power belonged to a Senate consisting of a president, appointed by the protecting power, and five senators elected for five years by the deputies from their own body.

An English lord commissioner controlled foreign relations and the police. England enjoyed the right of garrisoning the forts and of military administration.

After the French Revolution of 1848, an insurrection broke out in Cephalonia with the object of uniting the islands to Greece, but was rigorously repressed by England in 1849. From that time, however, the first vote of the Chamber, whenever it assembled, was in favor of the union with Greece, after which vote it was immediately dissolved. The English Government, after sending Mr. Gladstone to investigate the feeling of the population, at last decided to surrender the islands to Greece.

Recent History 1864 - 200X

King George I, upon ascending the throne at Athens, in 1863, consented to succeed Otho I only upon England's undertaking to cede the Ionian Archipelago to the Hellenic Kingdom. This cession was effected between 21 May and 2 June, 1864. The Ionian Isles have since then formed the three nomarchies, or departments, of Corfu, Cephalonia, and Zante.

Other Corfu Pages: Around Corfu | Corfu Beaches | Historic Corfu | Useful Facts | About Corfu | Corfu Transportation


Ikaria - Armenistis
New Maisonettes

Price: €209,000
 -  125 m2
Bedrooms: 3  Baths: 2


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