The various cultural influences ranging from the first Greek colonization around 750 BC , the Archaic period, the Byzantine era followed by the period of Venetian rule and later the French, Russian, and the British, have left Corfu with a unique cultural and architectural heritage, beautiful buildings and monuments that do not exist anywhere else in Greece.
Apart from Paleopolis, the ancient Greek metropolis of the island, and an archaeological treasure, many later buildings show the cultural history of Corfu and our duty is to preserve and highlight them. As there are so many of these monuments in Corfu, here we can only describe a few of them.
And the nature on the other hand has been very generous to endow Corfu with endless natural beauties. These are the countless Sights of the island which you should definitely visit.
Monuments of Cultural heritage in Corfu – Fortresses, Palaces, Ionian Academy
The Old Fortress
This was originally a natural promontory offering in it`s rocks protection for the residents of the 5th century AD when the ancient city of Corfu was moved here after the destruction by the Visigoths, converted into a fortress by the Byzantines in the 8th century AD and contained all of the small medieval town.
The rock was always further reinforced to protect the city from the numerous invasions of the Middle Ages, and gradually the town grew around it. Later the Venetians, because of the Turkish threat, strengthened its fortifications, extended the bastions and dug the moat known as the kontra fossa separating the fortress from the land. In this way the Venetians created an impenetrable triple line of defense both by land and from the sea.
Inside the old fortress in 1840 the Doric church of St. George was built by the British as a garrison church. Most buildings that were inside the fort have now been demolished but deserving attention is the central gate, the bastions of Savornian, Martinengo and Mandraki, the towers of the land and the sea at the east, the English hospital and the English barracks, the clock tower and the lighthouse.
There is still a prison built in 1786 by the Venetians, which was later expanded by the British, the military chapel and the two English barracks in 1850. The military hospital now houses the Music Department of Ionian University. The fortress also contains the historical records of more than six centuries of history, the Byzantine collection of sculptures and images of the Byzantine era, and the public library.
At the entrance of the fortress on the upper Esplanade is the statue of Prussian Marshal Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, built by the Venetians in his honour after he successfully repelled the Turkish invasion of 1716. Today the fortress is a masterpiece of architecture and fortification art while offering visitors the best views of the city, its harbour, and over the sea to the mountains of Epirus.
The New Fortress
Another example of the high capacity of Venetians in fortification, and an architectural marvel of art built by the Venetians and with physical labor of the inhabitants from 1576 until 1645. Venetians due to the permanent threat of the Turks, felt that it was necessary to complete the fortifications of the city which meanwhile had been extended far beyond the old fortress.
They started the construction of the new fortress on the hill of San Marcos extended south with walls and ramparts reaching the sea at Garitsa bay, Corfu is now all within the walls, it was then that Corfu took the name Kastropolis.
To become a fortress, except the exhaustive work of the residents, 2,000 houses in particular where now stands the vast Esplanade square had to be demolished, the reasons that this happened was not only to find building materials, but primarily defensive, the Venetians wanted to create a large buffer zone between the old fortress and the city which would help better their defense plans, so today Corfu has perhaps the largest square in Europe, the famous Esplanade.
At the entrance of the castle is still the emblem of Venice, the lion of Saint Markos, while inside the fortress is worth seeing the underground galleries, reservoirs and ammunition depots. The fortress also houses the Museum of Ceramic Art, photography, painting, sculpture as well as concerts and other cultural events. Inside the fortress today there is also the Naval Station of Corfu.
Palace of Saint Michael and George
During the era of the British rule, High Commissioner Sir Frederick Adams in 1819 decided to build a house for him and his family.
So he created in Corfu a unique palace in Georgian style.
The building was designed by an English engineer Colonel Sir George Whitmore (1775-1862) and despite its enormous size is elegant and beautiful.It has been described as the best example of regency architecture outside Britain.
It is the largest palace in Greece except for the palace of King Otto in Athens, which today houses the Greek parliament.
The large line of Doric columns has two gates, the Gate of St. Michael and the gate of St. George. In the garden is the statue of commissioner Frederick Adams made by Corfiot sculptor Pavlos Prosalendis. Outside it has carved representations of the Ionian Islands and within two rows of Ionic columns surrounding the main hall, showing scenes from the Odyssey.
The first floor is decorated with Corinthian columns. There are three main halls: the ballroom, the throne-room and the symposium room. The palace previously housed the Ionian Senate and is the home of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George .
For a half of the century it was also the summer residence of the former Greek royal family. Today it has been refurbished as a museum displaying classical antiquities,.
A meeting of the summit of the European Union was held here in 1994. The building looks over the north side of Spianada square on Iroon Politechniou street, and also houses the Asian Art Museum and the Municipal Gallery.
In 1663 the construction of the gallery of noble “loggia nobili” was begun, and took almost 30 years to complete..
This beautiful building housed the famous San Giacomo theatre. Later on the director of the orchestra for the operas that played there was Nicholas Mantzaros composer of our national anthem.
Today the building has retained its beauty and has become the home of the Town Hall. It is located at the intersection of Eugene M. Voulgareos street and M.Theotoki street.
The Ionian Parliament building
At the intersection of Napoleon Zabeli and Moustoxidi streets is the building of the Ionian Parliament.Here the representatives of the people of the Ionian Islands voted for union with Greece which was eventually ratified by a resolution of the Ionian Isles on 23rd September 1863. The building was designed by Ioannis Chronis in 1855 in a neoclassical style with a distinctive entrance of Doric columns.
It was restored in 1978 and since then has been the home of the Museum devoted to the struggle of the people of eptanisa (Ionian Islands) for freedom. We hope that it will be restored to its previous glory and officially become the Ionian Parliament.
At The intersection of Akadimias and Kapodistriou streets at Southwest Upper Square of Spianada was one of the entrances to the city at the era of Venetian rule.
There the General Provveditore of the city (as he was called then) Grimani Correr started to build a building to be used as a barracks.
In 1823 following a resolution of the Ionian parliament with the help of Lord Frederick Guilford the Ionian Academy was founded, the first Greek university, which until 1841 was hosted in a government building in the old fortress.
In 1841 the university moved to the former Grimani Correr barracks which from then on was named the Ionian Academy, the schools of philosophy, law and medicine and later the polytechnic, the obstetrics and pharmacology were housed there.
In 1865, following the Union of Ionian islands with Greece, the Greek kingdom immediately rewarded the fervent desire of Corfiot people for union with Greece by closing our university.
They also removed the electricity factory already operating in Corfu and took all its machinery to Piraeus, leaving Corfu in a state of spiritual and economic stagnation, denied by the Greek state the spiritual and cultural leadership, and removing a century of progress.
After the university was closed its building housed the Public Library, but during the Second World War the building was bombed by the Germans in September 1943. It was restored in 1994.
10 km south of the city and three kms north of the village of Benitses on the edge of the village of Gastouri sits the beautiful Achilleion(Achillion) Palace.It was built by Empress Elizabeth of Austria who became known as the sad queen Sissy. Elizabeth was the younger daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, and the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was told by his mother to marry her elder sister, but he fell in love with her instead.
She felt stifled by the very strict protocol, dominating mother in law, and the regimented life in Vienna, and appears to have suffered minor breakdowns and depression frequently….. read more
Remnants of the Byzantine castle in Gardiki
In the west coast near Halikouna and the village of Agios Mattheos there are the remains of an old Byzantine castle known as the castle of Gardiki.During the summer months concerts and other events have been performed there.
Corfu sights and attractions that you must see
Below are the most important sights and attractions, some well known, which everyone must visit.
Mouse island (Pontikonisi)
Everybody knows the picturesque Mouse island at the entrance of Gulf of Halikiopoulos – it is the trademark of Corfu.
On this tiny islet is the Byzantine Church of Pantokrator surrounded by dense vegetation.
It is easy to visit as from the beach below Kanoni several small boats sail there regularly.The name probably came from the size and especially the shape of the island, as to some it looked like the known rodent, although in our opinion the island does not look at all like a mouse, even with a large dose of imagination is nowhere near the mouse form but rather resembles like a boat, so the following mythological approach suits better.
Homer tells in Odyssey, that this was the boat of Phaecian Corfiots carrying Odysseus (Ulysses) home to Ithaca, the gods became displeased by this and transformed the ship into stone when it entered the port and before the sailors could embark.
The boat was then changed into an island, so according to Greek mythology, Mouse Island is a petrified boat.
One of the most famous attractions in Corfu, located south of the town in the peninsula next to the airport, named by a French cannon battery-type which is left there.From Kanoni there is fantastic view of the Mouse island and the Monastery of Panagia Vlahernas next to it, also to the airport on the side and Perama and Benitses towards.
The Kaizer`s Bridge
The Kaizer’s bridge was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was used by Kaiser Wilhelm the second to moor his yacht, and also to go from the Achilleion Palace to the sea and enjoy swimming away from prying eyes.
It lies 2 km north of Benitses, and was blown up during World War 2 as the German troops needed to get their tanks through the low arch. So the Germans destroyed something made by another German.
Spianada square and Liston
The Esplanade is the central square of Corfu and a meeting place for residents and visitors, surrounded by the streets of Iroon Politecniou at the east and north, Eleftherias and Kapodistriou to the West and Akadimias Street in the South, and crossed in the middle by Dousmanis street .Built in the style of the Royal Gardens of Europe it is the largest square in the Balkans and one of the largest in Europe.
In the square`s bandstand there are often concerts and other events, especially during the summer.
Cricket matches are also frequently played there.
Cricket is purely British sport which has been enthusiastically adopted by the Corfiots since the period of English domination of the island.
There are 12 cricket clubs and two other pitches on the island.
Corfu Cricket team is the only cricket team in Greece and so is the Greek National Cricket team also.
To one side of the square is the popular pedestrian area of The Liston with its French architectural buildings (modeled on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris) and numerous cafes.
The construction of The Liston began in 1807 by Napoleon, the sole purpose of the buildings construction was to house the French army.
It was completed in 1814.The buildings were designed by French architect Lesseps and implemented with the assistance of the Greek engineer Ioannis Parmezan. Corfu-spianada It is a complex of buildings facing the Esplanade, with arched ground-floor galleries which the locals call “Volta”
The name was given by the word “lista” and probably comes from the word “list” as in the list of the Nobles (Libro d `Oro) as the old days only the nobility were able to walk in this part in the city.
Today, the arcades of Liston are the busiest part of Corfu, it is filled with cafes, restaurants and craft shops in general, and one that is busy all year round .
The walk in front of the Liston`s arches is something that every Corfiot does and taking coffee in one of The Liston`s cafes is a daily habit for many Corfiots…
Aggelokastro in Paleokastritsa
This is the westernmost outpost of the Byzantine Empire and the Despotate of Epirus to which Corfu belonged until 1267 AD, it is near the village of Krini north of Paleokastritsa next to a monastery.
Built in the early 12th century AD by the Despot of Epirus Duke Michael-Angelos Komnenos the second, and in its prime, in an emergency it could protect the entire population of the region, about 4000 people.
Inside the castle two large water tanks and the churches of the Holy Archangels and Agia Kiriaki are preserved.
The church of the Archangels was built in 1784 on the site of an older church.
Agia Kiriaki was built inside a small cave and has 18th century paintings.
Aggelokastro(Angel`s castle) saw many sieges but never fell except once to the Venetians after a six month siege in 1386.
In 1537 only 8 soldiers of his guard with the help of the residents were needed in order to repel the attack of Barbarossa.
The Turks tried again and failed to conquer the Castle in 1571.
The names of the villages around got their names from the soldiers who took pieces of land to settle on when they retired.
Examples are: Makris-Makrades, Vistonas-Vistonas, Doukas-Doukades, Aspiotis-Aspiotades, Kabbadias-Kabbadades etc.
The Church of Saint Spiridon and the Cathedral
The most famous religious monument of the city, its construction clearly influenced by Italian art, is on the street of Kalochairetou in front of the Heroes square known as ‘plakado toy Agiou”.
In this church lies the remains of the patron saint and protector of Corfu, Agios Spiridon, which was moved to Corfu from Constantinople soon after the Turkish conquest in 1453.Saint Spiridon, according to tradition saved the inhabitants from famine, pestilence, and twice from the incursions of the Turks in 1673 and 1716.
The roof of the church is impressive depicting scenes from the lives of saints and evangelists.
The relics of Saint Spiridon are stored in a 19th century silver casket.
It is a sacred relic of the church and the reverence shown to it is a mark of the religious faith of Corfu.
Among the many Corfu churches, the Cathedral, in the old port, is also very interesting.
This palace built at the start of the peninsula of Kanoni is opposite the ruins of Paleopolis, and has well laid out gardens and spectacular sea views.
After the union in 1864 was granted to the former royal family and was used as their summer residence.
Today it belongs to the Municipality of Corfu and has been transformed into a museum and a historic place which can be visited by all, It is open on weekdays from 8 am to 7 pm.
The telephone number is +30 26610 41369
Old Perithea village
This is an abandoned medieval village located just below the majestic peak of Pantocrator on a plateau at an altitude of 400 meters.
The village is visible from nowhere except from the top of the mountain and is a typical example of how inhabitants built their villages in the Middle Ages to avoid the attacks and depredations by pirates.
It’s full of old stone houses that reveal a rich past, so it has gained archaeological value and in recent years buildings have been restored.
There are several restaurants offering local specialities and it is full of people especially at the weekend.,
Curious Corfiots and other tourists come to stroll along the narrow streets of the village which is being brought back to life.
There are also two local residents remaining there to complete the scene, an old couple, Ms. Matela and Mr. Gerasimos.
In Corfu additionally to the many churches there are many famous monasteries also worth visiting.
Monastery of Paleokastritsa
Among the most important monasteries in Corfu, it is on a rock above the sea, one of the most beautiful of monasteries you have ever visited and because of the breathtaking view it provides, but also because the exhibits there.
Among other exhibits of religious interest, there are the bones of a whale that had washed up dead by sea on the beach below the monastery.
Monastery of Myrtiotissa
It lays between Pelekas and Vatos villages, on a small hill just meters away from the small but famous Mitriotissa beach.
Monastery of Pantokrator-Kamarelas
Its in the village of Nymfes, at Nortwest Corfu, with 5 very friendly hospitable nuns always willing to show you around.