The History of Corfu
Courtesy of The Corfiot - Corfu's English-language monthly magazine.
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.
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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
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
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
Hilary Whitton Paipeti - Editor, The Corfiot Magazine
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