The History of Corfu
Courtesy of The Corfiot - Corfu's English-language monthly magazine.

Achillion Palace Corfu
Corfu stands at a crossroads, at the hub of trade routes across the Mediterranean and through the Adriatic. Since the island is also blessed with a hospitable climate, its location has over the centuries played an important role in the history of the region.

Corfuís first settlers were cavemen and hunters, whose stone tools have been dug up at Sidari and near Agios Mattheos. By the Bronze Age, the islandís population was probably quite large, but we know little of this period except through mythology.

Corfu has been identified as the island of Scheria, where, according to Homerís Odyssey, Odysseus finished his Wanderings after the Trojan War. However, written history begins in 734 BC when colonists from the city-state of Corinth settled the island, building their city at Kanoni. The island soon sought independence from its mother state, and was strong enough to win its freedom in historyís first recorded naval battle. But by the 2nd century BC internal political strife had weakened the island and, threatened by barbarian tribes, the people turned to the Roman Empire for help. Using Corfu as a stepping stone, the Romans soon took the rest of Greece, and the island settled into a period of prosperity.

When the Roman Empire was divided in 337 AD, Corfu fell into the eastern section, and became just a distant province of Constantinople, the capital. Barbarian raids were common, and after a devastating one around 550, the people abandoned their city and moved to a more easily defended site at the Old Fortress. Raids continued, and over the next centuries Corfu changed hands many times, as powers with an interest in the region took advantage of its military and trade potential. Stability finally came in 1386 when Venice took over.

During 400 years of Venetian rule, Corfu regained its prosperity. It was during this time that most of the millions of olive trees which blanket the island were planted. Construction of the town defences and fortress installations was started in the 16th century after two devastating attacks by the Turks, who had overrun the Greek mainland. Because of the strong town walls, the Turks did not attack again until 1716, when Corfu repelled the invaders, thereby preventing the Turks from conquering the whole of Europe.

In 1797 a treaty passed the island to the French under Napoleon, who had just enjoyed a victorious campaign against Venice.

Two years later, a Russo-Turkish force took the island and, for the first time in its history, Corfu came under Turkish influence. But the islanders objected, and the Russians gave them their independence, creating the Septinsular Republic, the first Greek state to exist since the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Napoleon took the island again in 1807 and proceeded to strengthen the walls and to reconstruct most of the town. The famous Liston arcade was built at this time.

But Napoleonís days were numbered and when he surrendered, Corfu and the Ionian islands were signed over as an independent state under the protection of Britain (1814).

Corfu benefitted under the British, who initiated a vast programme of public works, including roads and a permanent water supply to the town. A university was founded and a cosmopolitan atmosphere pervaded. But in 1827 Greece gained its freedom from the Turks, and in Corfu there was a growing desire for union. This wish was finally fulfilled on 21 May 1864, when the British ceded the Ionian islands to Greece and thereafter its fate has followed that of the nation.

Corfuís varied history has left a fine legacy of architecture and culture which is unmatched in any other Greek island, and which awaits the interested visitor.

Hilary Whitton Paipeti - Editor, The Corfiot Magazine
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