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Corfu Town: Historic and Cultural Influences

Last updated on October 1st, 2019 at 06:48 am

The Town of Corfu is a large urban area in the center of the island’s east coast, it is the only city and the capital of Corfu island.

Corfu Old Town part is the heart of Corfu town at the easternmost part of the city, a medieval-style town that lays between the new fortress at the west and the old fortress at East, the modern city is in continuity and expands to the west and south beyond the new fortress.

Corfu does not look like any other Greek city since its architecture and most other elements that make up its cultural identity are deeply influenced by the 411 years of Venetian rule.

The Venetian character remains unchanged due to the preservation of almost all the Italian architecture buildings scattered all over the place, Corfu is a city with old tall buildings, separated by slopes and narrow streets which are called Kantounia, of course without the canals of Venice.

There are also important signs and remnants left after the 50 years of British domination, but also monuments from the French occupation too.

Old monuments of Byzantine origin are preserved as well as of other various conquerors who have passed from here during the island’s turbulent history.

The Old Town part is enclosed entirely by the walls of two fortresses, the Old Fort on the East and the New fortress in the North and West, therefore it is called Kastropolis and is the only one of its kind in Greece.

Corfu Town wider urban area today is inhabited by some 45,000 inhabitants, while the Venetian style old town part has about 20.000 residents.

A quick stroll through the town

A stroll through the old part of Corfu town in the evening is a must.

Leave the Esplanade and walk along St Spyridon’s street, a busy thoroughfare with locals and tourists around the nearby cafes and restaurants of Liston.

Worshippers go in and out of the famous church, offering their prayers to the Saint who has protected Corfu for centuries.

Walking down the alleyways of the old town past shuttered shops you realize that the town has not changed in hundreds of years.

You can imagine the serenading that went on in carnival season, under the prettiest girls’ windows, the cloaked and masked figures going to a party, and the courting couples wandering down to the harbor.

The many shops that are lit up until late shine like jewels in the surrounding darkness, their wares appearing exotic to the passers-by.
There are plenty of shops for the tourists remaining open until late.

Emerging onto the steps of the Metropolis is like going into a lighted room.

Houses, churches, and the fort are all floodlit, their architectural features stand out and after the confined passageways of the Campiello district suddenly you are in a wide-open space.

To the left is the old gateway to Corfu Town, the Porta Spilia, through which all passengers and cargo arriving by sea entered the town.

There is a big arch for carriages to pass through, and a small one for pedestrians.

The other gateways were destroyed at different times in the town’s history, except for Porta San Nicola which lies below the road, at Faliraki.

Below we will try to give a picture of the most important buildings or monuments that characterize the city and which must be visited by every visitor.

Presentation is following the time period that they were created.

Medieval and Byzantine Era Buildings and Monuments in Corfu town

Old fortress in Corfu town from Faliraki
Old fortress in Corfu town from Faliraki

Undoubtedly the most important is the Old Fortress, a rocky cape, a natural fortress on the eastern edge of the Old Town.

It was used by the Byzantines already since the 5th century AD as a natural fortification for the first small medieval town.

Ancient Corfu, which existed on the Peninsula of Kanoni, was destroyed in 562 AD after an invasion by the Visigoths, and the few remaining residents found shelter in the old fortress where they built the first medieval city.

The Old Fortress was improved much later during the Venetian occupation.

See more about the Old Fortress and its history.

Corfu town of the Venetian Period (1386 – 1797 AD)

Great city features of this very important period are the New Fortress and the vast Esplanade Square.

Corfu new fortress
Corfu new fortress

The new fortress was built between 1576 and 1588 on the hill of Saint Markos in the north of the city and its walls then reached the sea up to Garitsa bay at the south, thus defending the whole of Corfu from the west.

The construction of the fortress resulted in the creation of Esplanade, the largest square in the Balkans.

Esplanade was created due to the demolition of about 2.500 houses in front of the Old Fortress, this was done to create a defensive zone in front of the old fortress and to find building materials for the construction of the New Fortress.

Leaving Esplanade and Pentofanaro, south of Liston, we follow Evgenios Voulgaris Street, at the intersection with M. Theotoki street, we will meet the old building of the Town Hall.

The building was built in 1663 to become the noblest arcade of “loggia Nobili”, later this beautiful building housed the San Giacomo Theater and today the Corfu Town Hall.

Just below, at the junction with Vrachlioti Street, almost at the center of the old town, we find Annunziata, in fact, only the bell tower of a church built at the end of the 14th century and dedicated to the Annunciation, remains.

Annunziata is a monument of pan-European importance.

French Influences in Corfu (1807 – 1814)

During the relatively short time that the French remained in Corfu, they left important signs of their presence here.

Corfu Old Town - The centre of Liston
Corfu Old Town – The center of Liston

The most important and one of the most beautiful buildings in Corfu is undoubtedly the Liston.

Built to the west of Esplanade square, it consists of a series of buildings with arched galleries and today it is the most cosmopolitan point of the city.

Initially, they were barracks for the French army.

British Sovereignty – The Palaces in Corfu (1814 – 1864)

Corfu Old Town - St Michael and George palace
Corfu Old Town – St Michael and George palace

During the 50 years of English domination of the island, many majestic buildings were built, most notably the imposing palace of St Michael and George on the northern side of Esplanade Square, which was built in 1819.

Also outside the city is the Mon Repos palace, in Kanoni and in the area of Ancient Corfu.

During the British domination, the Ionian Parliament was built and operated at the junction of Moustoxi and Napoleon Zambelli streets. The building was built in 1855 and is dominated by the 4 Doric style columns on the entrance.

At that time the British cemetery was constructed as well as the first psychiatric hospital on Greek territory, but also smaller buildings such as the round peristyle of Thomas Maitland, a round kiosk with 20 Ionian style pillars, it was designed by the engineer George Whitmore. This peristyle was built on top of Sterna (cistern) in the upper square.

Sunday walk at Sterna in upper Esplanade - 1900
Sunday walk at Sterna in upper Esplanade – 1900
Sterna at upper Esplanade today
Sterna at upper Esplanade today

Some British habits have also remained after the British left the island, like cricket, which, on Greek territory, is played only in Corfu.
British rulers brought here the Kum Kouat fruit from China, Gingerbeer, they built the aqueduct and many other infrastructure projects.

We have described only a few of the dozens of attractions that the various conquerors left in Corfu town, there are many more, all of which together with the historical heritage of this city make up one of the most beautiful and richest cultural cities in Greece.

All this makes Corfu a unique city that today is a very important UNESCO World Heritage Site.

See more Inside Corfu town

Mon Repos Palace in Paleopolis Corfu
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Mon Repos Palace is a neoclassical building at the east of Paleopolis, the Corfu ancient city. Built at 1830 by the British Commissioner Sir Frederick Adam in the beginning of the peninsula of Kanoni opposite the... Read More

The Bell Tower of Annunziata in Corfu
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Annunziata, a monument of pan-European significance. At the intersection of Evgeniou Voulgareos and Vrahliotis streets in Corfu, is the Annunziata, a church devoted to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary as well as to Santa... Read More

Ancient Corfu Sites of Paleopolis
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If you fancy a journey in your imagination explore the site of the ancient city of Corfu, known as Paleopolis (Old City). It was discovered after archaeological excavations during the last century. The city was founded in the... Read More

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