Last updated on April 13th, 2021 at 11:48 am
Corfu (Kerkyra) is one of the most important and beautiful islands in Greece. The undisputed Queen of the Ionian islands.
It is the second-largest of the Ionian Islands and the seventh biggest island in Greece. A medium-sized island with an area of 593 km2 (146,500 acres).
Also the greenest island with dense vegetation. An amazing land unmatched in natural beauty.
With dozens of sightseeing and beautiful beaches for you to explore on a coastline more than 215km long.
This Emerald Island of Greece has a turquoise sea. And a landscape full of wild colorful flowers and bushes.
An enchanting environment complemented by more than 2 million olive trees. This is one of the most desirable features of the island.
Speaking about tourism it is one of the country`s cornerstones in the tourism industry.
Corfu is also a place with a long history and has been notable in Greek culture and tradition for over 3000 years.
Is inhabited since the Paleolithic era and later by the Phaeacians as mentioned in the Odyssey.
Homer refers to it as Scheria. But the island also had the name Drepanon(sickle) at a time because it has the shape of a sickle.
Where the name came from?
During the Middle Ages, the Latins gave to the island and the town the name Corypho. From the Greek word Koryphai or Korphes.
Always remember, everywhere you see the Latin letter C it is pronounced K in Greek.
What does Corfu mean?
Corfu means Tops. It is the Greek word Koryphai(ancient) or Korphes(modern) for Tops or Peaks, paraphrased to Corfu.
It is due to the two peaks in the peninsula of the old fortress or because of the two peaks of its highest mountain Pantokrator.
It is obvious that the current international name of Corfu derived from Corypho. A Latin name but again with Greek etymology!
The Greek name Kerkyra
The Greek name Kerkyra derived from the nymph Corcyra, the daughter of the river god Asopos.
Corcyra kidnapped by the God of the Sea Poseidon (Neptune, as called by the Romans) who brought her here. Then Phaiax was born as the result of their union. The founder of Phaeacians, the first known residents of Corfu.
The name Corkyra transformed to Kerkyra in Doric dialect. This is the modern Greek name for the island.
What is Corfu known for?
- Corfu is known for its lush landscape.
- Endless and beautiful sandy beaches.
- The long, fascinating, and turbulent history.
- Also by the beautiful sightseeing.
- It is the densest populated Hellenic(Greek) Island.
- By the many and Unique monuments left behind by the colonial rulers.
- The fantastic Cuisine influenced by Venetian and Greek food.
- A strong tourist infrastructure with exceptional luxury hotels among the best in Greece.
- Corfu town is the only Kastropolis in Hellas(Greece), a city surrounded by the walls of its castles.
- It was the first Hellenic(Greek) island to open its doors to the first tourists.
- Corfu had the first Hellenic University in 1823 that still operates today. The Ionian Academy.
- The first commercial bank on Greek territory was here. The Ionian bank.
- Also, the first electricity factory on Greek territory was operating here before 1860.
- The first theater in modern Greece was in Corfu.
- And the largest square in the Balkans is Esplanade square.
- This island is the place with the largest musical and intellectual tradition by far in Greece.
- Corfu has the only Georgian-style Palace outside the UK, the Palace of Saints Michael and George.
- It was the birthplace for many Royals of Europe, i.e Philip Prince of Edinburg.
- The Durrells family were residents of Corfu from 1936 to 1940.
- Is the home of the only cricket team in Hellas.
- The old city of Corfu, A UNESCO Heritage monument, keeps its multicultural character with Venetian, English, and French influences.
- And finally, by the fact that this island never felt the Ottoman oppression.
All these make Corfu the most important island of the Ionians and one of the most fascinating in Greece.
(The Ionian Islands is a cluster of 7 major and hundreds of smaller islets west of the Greek mainland.)
Where in Greece is Corfu?
Corfu is located in the northern Ionian Sea, opposite the coast of the Greek mainland and southern Albania. It is the westmost part of Greece.
Northwest of Corfu you find three small islands. Named Othoni, Mathraki, and Erikoussa, known as the Diapontian islands.
To the south, you can visit and enjoy the islands of Paxos and Antipaxos.
All together they form the Prefecture of Corfu.
It sits at a distance of 600 km northwest of Athens, and nearer to Italy. But what it offers is well worth the visit.
How big is Corfu in miles?
The length of the island, in a straight line, from north to south is not more than 61 km(40 miles). The greatest width is 27 km (17 miles). The beautiful and beaches-rich coastline has a total length of 217 km(135 miles).
The road network is not always in the best condition but is very dense. The main part of the national road, from Paleokastritsa to the town and down to Lekimi, has a total length of about 100km.
How to come to Corfu?
The flight from Athens takes 45 minutes. The flight from most European airports takes between two to three and a half hours.
In recent years Corfu has become one of the favorite destinations for Greek tourists too. Especially during the Easter holiday which has gained nationwide attention with its unique traditions. But also in August when Greek and Italian visitors mingle with those from further north.
Since the Egnatia highway built it is accessible by car from residents of Northern Greece too.
From the port of Igoumenitsa on the mainland, there is a very frequent modern ferry service. Some crossing to Corfu in over an hour. Ferries also land in the southern harbor of Lefkimi.
According to the census of 2011, Corfu’s population is 111.113 inhabitants. Although including temporary and semi-permanent residents the total number approaches 150,000 people.
The old part of Corfu town alone has 30,000 inhabitants and along with the suburbs of Kanoni, Potamos, Kanalia, Kontokali, and Alepou reach almost 50.000 residents.
Fact: Corfu has a large British community. Almost 10% of the population consists of British residents who made this island their home, most of them living in the north part of the island.
There are other nationalities as permanent residents too and their numbers keep increasing.
So, Corfu is not just another holiday destination. Corfu island offers a great quality of living and is used as a permanent home by many others.
Corfu, according to its size, is the third most populous place in Greece. After Athens and Thessaloniki.
Geography of the Island
The northern part is mountainous and dominated by Mount Pantokrator (ancient Istone mountain). Its highest peak is Pantokrator (914 meters). A little lower is Stravoskiadi peak a few miles to the west at 849 meters.
The mountain continues westward and dominates the northwest part of the island. Here the highest peak is Troumpeta at 600 meters.
In the middle of the island, there is another mountain above the villages of Stavros and Agioi Deka. Its highest peak is the crater of an extinct volcano at an altitude of 600 meters above Agioi Deka village. Where an aviation radar station is operating.
The southern part of Corfu is almost flat with a few hills above the villages of Chlomos and Saint Mattheos.
In 2011 there was an administrative reform called “Callikrates”. Because of this, the Prefecture of Corfu became one municipality. The municipality of Corfu emerged from the merger of the 12 former municipalities.
The municipalities of Corfiots, Achilleion, Thinalion, Lefkimi, Korrision, Paleokastriton, Melitieon, Saint George, Esperion, Feakon, Kassopaion, and Parelion.
Plus the communities in the satellite islands of Diapontia and Paxos.
Municipalities in Corfu Kerkyra
Since 2018 we have another administrative reform called “Cleisthenes”. Due to this, the Prefecture separated again into four(4) municipalities:
1)The Metropolitan Municipality of Central Corfu and Diapontian islands (Population 68.500). Which includes the original municipal units of Corfiots, Achilleion, Paleokastriton, Feakon, and Parelion. Plus the three communities in the Diapontian islands in the North.
2)The municipality of the North(Population 17.200). Which includes the former municipal units of Thinalion, Saint George, Esperion, and Kassopaion.
3)The municipality of the South(Population 15.700). Which includes the original municipal units of Lefkimi, Melitieon, and Korrision.
4)The municipality in Paxos(Population 2.440) with the town hall in the capital Gaios.
The climate is generally mild with hot and dry summers and very mild but wet winters. In Corfu, it rarely snows and when it does it snows only on the top of Mount Pantokrator. See the live weather forecast
On the rest of the island, if you live in Corfu you will see snow only 2 or 3 times during your lifetime.
January is the coldest month of the year while July is the hottest.
The average lows in January are 4-5°C(41°F) and the highs are 15°C(58°F), but sometimes can drop way below zero.
In July low averages are 20°C(70°F) and the hights are around 35°C(95°F), but some days absolute high can reach over 40°C(110°F). These are difficult days.
During the months between, temperatures vary according to season.
The Town of Corfu – Kerkyra
The first view of the island from the sea is the Corfu old city (Kerkyra in Greek).
Kerkyra is the only city and the capital of the island. The only Greek kastropolis (a city surrounded by the walls of the two fortresses). Maintaining intact its Venetian style with narrow streets(alleys) and tall buildings.
A standard Italian rather than Greek city. As so little changed despite the intense development.
The city offers many attractions and monuments that need days to explore and admire.
A Corfu Town Video
Influences by the conquerors
Culturally Corfu is very different from the rest of Greece. It was a vital part of the powerful maritime state of Venice when the rest of Greece was under Ottoman oppression.
This was the era that shaped and influenced the cultural character of the island and its residents. The development of arts and culture, in general, differentiates the landscape in complete contrast to the rest of Greece.
Corfu influenced by the west, while the rest of the country forced to look east.
The Venetian period followed by the French dependencies.
First the democratic French and later the imperial rule of Napoleon followed by the Russians.
Finally, the English protectorate period until 1864 when together with the rest of the Ionian Islands Corfu unified with Greece.
Buildings and monuments
All influences have left their marks. So on the island, there are now buildings and monuments from ancient Greek and Roman times onwards.
Especially in the old town which is actually an extremely beautiful miniature of Venice without the channels.
Corfu has many museums, monuments, and cultural centers. The first modern Greek university established here.
And by 1850 there was an electrical power plant that moved to Piraeus after the union with Greece.
Here you can visit the old and the new fortresses and see the Esplanade square, perhaps the biggest in Europe.
The Liston, a meeting place for the nobles of the past is now a social hub for all Corfiots.
The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George (The old palace) houses many museums and exhibitions. Both located around Esplanade square.
The Ionian Academy is the first university of Greece founded in 1824. The Ionian Parliament building is nearby.
The town hall built in 1663 as the Hall of Nobles (Loggia dei Nobili), later became the Theatre of San Giacomo.
Buildings and monuments outside the town
There are more places of cultural interest, museums, and monuments outside Corfu town.
One of them being the Byzantine fortress north of Paleokastritsa called Aggelokastro.
Also the Venetian Arsenal, ruins of the shipyard at Gouvia. All gorgeous spots that you shouldn’t miss!
The palace named after the legendary mythical hero Achilles and reflects Sisi’s love of classical Greece.
Brilliant Kaiser’s bridge on the beach of Achilleion was built by the German Kaiser Wilhelm the second. The owner of the Achilleion Palace after Elizabeth’s death.
Two more museums in the rural area are the sea museum in Benitses and the museum of olives in the village of Kynopiastes.
Also, old neoclassical houses, old preserved mansions, small museums, fascinating collections, and ancient remains can be found in many villages.
Kerkyra has retained its medieval-style intact as the town had the fortune never to suffer powerful earthquakes as happened in Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
Because although it sits in the seismic geology of the Ionian arc, it’s in a more stable part of the earth’s crust.
This part can’t produce earthquakes strong enough to destroy the unique Italian architecture of the city.
There is a huge long-lasting musical tradition on the island.
The city has three main philharmonic societies. The Old Philharmonic, the Philharmonic of Mantzaros, and the Philharmonic of Kapodistrias.
Whose orchestras often give excellent concerts.
In many villages, there are also bands, and on certain days they all play in Corfu Town to loud cheers from their supporters.
The musical tradition influenced by the West and had many artists who created their own music school with classical influences.
Is the so-called Ionian School of music divided into two periods? The first until 1870 and the second until the early 20th century.
Ionian School was overthrown by the so-called National School, created by the “Germanists” Georgios Nazos and Manolis Kalomiris. This “German” school finally prevailed in Greece.
The Ionian School of music
Greek-born Ionian musicians were the Corfiot George Lambellet and Dionysios Lavragas from Cefallonia. Both members of Ionian School and the “National School”.
They were in constant quarrels with “Germanist” Kalomiris who accused them of the Ionian music being related to the Italian.
The founder of the Ionian School of music was the Corfiot Nikolaos Chalikiopoulos Mantzaros(1795-1872).
Ionian school includes a large number of important musicians and composers, of the first and second period.
Corfiot and Ionian islands Musicians
It is worth mentioning some musicians.
Domenikos Padovas (1817-1892), Spyros Xindas (1814-1896), and Spyros Samaras (1861-1917).
Eduardo, Louis, George, and Napoleon Lambellet, members of the large Lambellet family.
Other composers were Joseph Liveralis (1820-1899), Leonidas Alvanas (1823-1881), Joseph Caesaris (1845-1923), Spyridon Caesaris (1859-1946), Dimitrios Andronis (1866-1918), Sotirios Kritikos (1888-1945), and Alexandros Grek (1876-1959).
From Zante (Zakynthos)
Pavlos Karrer (1829-1896), Frangiskos Domeniginis (1809-1874), and Dionysios Viscardis (1910-1999).
Suzana Nerantzi from Zakynthos was a great woman pianist student of Mantzaros in Corfu.
Dionysios Lavragas (1864-1941), Antiochos Evangelatos (1903-1981), and Spyridon Spathis (1876-1959) from Sami island.
Dionysios Rodotheatos (1849-1892).
Antonios Kapnisis (1813-1885), George Lambiris (1833-1889), Lavrentios Kamilieris (1878-1956), Georgios Axiotis (1875-1924), and Georgios Sklavos (1886-1976).
But also in literature, the Ionian Islands have created their own Ionian School.
With writers and poets such as the prominent figure of Dionysios Solomos from Zakynthos (1798-1857), who lived for 30 years in Corfu.
And many others such as Aristotelis Valaoritis from Lefkada. Andreas Laskaratos and Ioulios Typaldos from Lixouri.
Gerasimos Markoras from Kefalonia. Iakovos Polylas from Corfu. Georgios Terchetis and Andreas Kalvos from Zakynthos.
The term “Eptanissian School” was given by the great Greek poet Kostis Palamas.
He introduced the literary consciousness and the rivalry of the Dimotiki and Katharevousa. Two forms of the modern Greek language.
One of the main features of the Ionian School was the use of Dimotiki in Poetry.
Corfu contribution to the formation of the modern Greek state
The immense contribution of Corfiot intellectuals to the formation of the modern Greek state is well known.
And the island has produced world-renowned personalities accomplished in many different spheres.
Corfu has given and still gives a lot in Greece. Both culturally and economically through the huge tourist growth. But has not necessarily taken back all that it definitely deserves!
Without mentioning the younger generations, the famous personalities who were born or lived here include:
Ioannis Kapodistrias was a descendant of a noble family and politician who served as foreign minister of Russia.
From his position, he involved in many European political affairs. Before accepting the responsibility of the first governor of modern Greece.
Nikolaos Mantzaros, another noble, musician, and composer of the Greek national anthem. He was the major representative of the so-called Ionian School of music.
Dionysios Solomos our national poet who was born in Zakynthos(Zante). And lived here for the last 30 years of his life.
Spyros Samaras, another musician who was the composer of the Olympic anthem. Yes, the one played during the open and closing ceremonies of every Olympic games.
The famous Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi lived much of his life on the island. As did poets like Gerasimos Markoras, Lorenzos Mavilis, Andreas Kalvos, and Iakovos Polylas.
All members of the Ionian School of literature.
A former Greek prime minister was Corfiot George Theotokis. Whilst his relative Nikolaos Theotokis became the archbishop of Russia.
The important Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and St Filomena were born here.
The unforgettable actor Nikos Kourkoulos originate from Corfu. Also, Albert Cohen and the singers Vicky Leandros and Nana Mouskouri were born here.
There are hundreds of others not mentioned here. Even Giacomo Casanova spent much of his life in Corfu.
Corfu environment and biodiversity
Corfu is a whole continent in miniature. It has a varied landscape, from lush forests to beautiful beaches with strange rock formations like in Sidari.
Green mountains in contrast to deserted sandy beaches reminiscent of the Sahara. And some unique ecosystems rich in biodiversity.
There are hundreds of rare species of birds, wildlife, insects, and all kinds of plants and trees. These can be found in the Mediterranean and further away too.
The dominant tree is the olive tree, seconded by citrus fruit trees. Whilst the cypress spires remind us of Corfu’s Italian inheritance.
Corfu has the highest rainfall and the richest soil in Greece therefore it could be self-sufficient in all areas of production.
But the development of tourism and other factors led the population to other ways of making a living.
Definitely, it is an island that you must visit. If you really want to explore it and understand it, two or three weeks are not enough.
Corfu is like a great work of art that reveals itself more and more the longer you look at it.