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Corfu Old Town: A Journey Through Time and Culture

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Last updated on June 12th, 2024 at 07:56 pm

The Old Town of Corfu

The old town of Corfu is a captivating medieval-style city that bears the marks of the 411 years under Venetian rule. It stands as the sole city and capital of Corfu island, bearing the name Kerkyra, identical to the island’s Greek appellation.

The enchanting historic core of Corfu occupies the easternmost sector of the town, nestled between the western new fortress and the eastern old fortress, and it boasts the highest concentration of landmarks and monuments.

What is old Corfu Town like?

Corfu possesses a distinctive character that sets it apart from other Greek cities. Its architecture and cultural identity have been shaped not only by Greek influences but also by the myriad of conquerors who held sway over the island across the centuries.

The enduring and unmistakable Venetian imprint is a result of the preservation of numerous Italian architectural structures scattered throughout the region.

Corfu town is characterized by towering old buildings interspersed with inclines and narrow alleyways known as “Kantounia.” Green spaces are scattered amidst the houses and shops. The city, resembling a diminutive Venice, is devoid of canals.

In addition to the Venetian legacy, remnants of the island’s 50-year British rule are evident, with the St. Michael and St. George Palace being the most significant among them. Notably, vestiges from the French occupation endure, with Liston standing as a prime example.

Ancient Byzantine monuments endure, with the foremost being the old fortress initially fortified during the Byzantine era.

Furthermore, Corfu’s tumultuous history has left marks from various other conquerors on the landscape.

The broader urban expanse of Corfu town is presently home to approximately 45,000 residents, while the Venetian-style old town harbors around 20,000 inhabitants. The city boasts a high population density, thus offering abundant employment opportunities for those wishing to establish permanent residence. As such, finding employment within Corfu is a viable pursuit.

Discovering the Old Corfu town part

Corfu Old town: Esplanade square from Cavalieri hotel's roof
Corfu Old town: Esplanade square from Cavalieri hotel’s roof

A photograph taken from the rooftop of the Cavalieri Hotel unveils a splendid panorama of Esplanade Square and the historic fortress of Corfu.

The vista encompasses the entire expanse, stretching from the Cofineta district in the north to the shoreline of North Garitsa Bay.

Noteworthy landmarks include the Palace of Saints Michael and George located at the northern periphery of the expansive square, a central kiosk, and the grandeur of the Old Fortress situated to the east.

It is often said that the most authentic way to explore a destination is to let yourself wander and become pleasantly lost within its streets. This adage holds particularly true for Corfu’s old town. While predominantly shaped during the 19th century, vestiges of its Venetian heritage are subtly interwoven throughout; it merely takes a discerning eye to uncover them.

Stroll along the cobblestone pathways, peer into the charming boutiques, and relish in traditional delights at local artisanal shops or cafés. Before you realize it, you might find yourself ascending the hill overlooking Corfu Bay, offering breathtaking vistas of the town below.

Is Corfu Town worth visiting?

Undoubtedly, a sojourn in Corfu remains incomplete without, at the very least, one sojourn to the island’s capital. Corfu town, also known as Kerkyra, stands as the most captivating destination across the entire island—a remarkable city adorned with a plethora of monuments and historical sites that span epochs, most notably the Venetian era. This town has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to its historical significance.

The entirety of the Old Town is enfolded by the protective embrace of two fortresses: the Old Fortress to the east and the New Fortress to the north and west. This enclosed enclave, aptly named Kastropolis (a city within castles), is a singular occurrence in Greece.

The zenith of Corfu’s allure resides in the Old Town segment. Despite the island’s tumultuous history, the stately edifices of the town, characterized by their towering structures and slender alleys, have endured the test of time for centuries.

Constructed from stone and wood, these architectural marvels exhibit traditional tile-clad roofs that serve to preserve the medieval essence that defines the city’s character.

The expanse of the Old Corfu town is delimited by the eastern presence of the Old Fortress, the northern embrace of the sea enveloping the ancient port, and the western boundary delineated by the roads of Akadimias, Gerasimos Aspiotis, Spyros Desyllas, and Spyros Vlaikos—also known as the route beneath the New Fortress.

Districts of Corfu Old Town Center

The Old Corfu town is divided into seven districts.

  1. Porta Remounta is the southern district near the sea of Garitsa.
  2. Pentofanaro is exactly in the Liston area.
  3. Kofineta, west of the Palace of St. Michael and George.
  4. Agioi Pateres is at the center of the town.
  5. The Jewish sector is close to the new fortress.
  6. Spilia is the area on the old port.
  7. Kampielo is the Northern part of the old city.

The majority of the streets within the old city have now been transformed into pedestrian zones, with vehicular traffic relegated to the outskirts of the city.

The sole roads within the confines of the old town center that still accommodate cars are Agoniston Polytechniou, Arseniou, Donzelot, and Zavitsianou streets.

Map with Corfu Old town
Map with Corfu Old town

Is Corfu Town open on Sundays?

Throughout the holiday season, particularly in the summer, nearly all shops remain open, excluding public services. However, there’s hardly a noticeable distinction on Sundays or any other day of the week. The multitude of visitors ensures that establishments such as restaurants and cafes are perpetually operational.

Furthermore, landmarks and monuments, including the two fortresses and others, are consistently accessible to the public.

Things to do and see inside Corfu Old town (Kerkyra)

Below is a compilation of the city’s most pivotal structures and monuments, each serving as an emblem of its identity. These landmarks are highly recommended for every visitor to explore.

1) Old Fortress in Corfu Old town

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

Undoubtedly, the most pivotal monument and a requisite first stop is the Old Fortress. Perched on a rocky promontory, this natural stronghold graces the eastern perimeter of the town.

The astonishing proximity of the Old Fortress to the city is truly remarkable, ensuring convenient access regardless of your chosen mode of transportation. In fact, you can even embark on a leisurely walk if you have the entire day at your disposal.

For further insights into the Old Fortress and its historical significance, delve deeper into its story.

2) The New Fortress

Prominent urban elements from the significant era of Venetian rule include the expansive Esplanade Square and the formidable New Fortress.

Corfu new fortress
Corfu new fortress

Constructed between 1576 and 1588, the New Fortress graces the modest elevation of Saint Markos in the northern quarter of the city. Its fortifications extended seaward, encompassing Garitsa Bay to the south, thereby safeguarding Corfu’s western expanse.

The erection of this fortress also heralded the birth of the Esplanade, which has since evolved into the largest square in the Balkans.

See more about the New fortress in Corfu.

3) San Giacomo theater

Departing from Esplanade and Pentofanaro, heading south of Liston, the route leads us along Evgenios Voulgaris Street. As we approach the crossroads with M. Theotoki Street, we encounter the venerable edifice of San Giacomo.

Erected in 1663, this structure was originally intended to be the most distinguished arcade, known as “loggia Nobili.” Subsequently, this splendid construction found a new purpose as the residence of the San Giacomo Theater before being transformed into the present-day Corfu Town Hall.

4) Annunziata

A mere few yards away from San Giacomo, situated at the convergence with Vrachlioti Street, nearly at the heart of the ancient town, Annunziata unveils itself. What remains is the bell tower, the sole vestige of the church that stood here, originally erected in the late 14th century and consecrated to the Annunciation.

Annunziata stands as a monument of overarching significance on the pan-European scale. For a comprehensive exploration of the intricacies surrounding Annunziata, delve into the dedicated page detailing its historical import.

5) Liston building

The Liston Building stands as a historic edifice nestled at the heart of Corfu Town. Its construction transpired during the French occupation of the island, spanning from 1797 to 1814. The design of this building was orchestrated by the French military engineer Mathieu de Lesseps, who concurrently crafted the blueprint for the neighboring Esplanade Square.

Stretching along the periphery of Esplanade Square, the Liston Building takes the form of an elongated arcade. Distinguished by its unique arches, it features refined Venetian-style balconies that were integrated during the subsequent British occupation, which succeeded the French rule. The building draws its name from the French term “liste,” signifying a line or row, an allusion to the continuous sequence of arches composing the arcade.

In the present day, the Liston Building serves as a sought-after destination for visitors to Corfu Town. Within its confines, a medley of cafes, restaurants, and shops can be found. Recognized as one of Corfu’s most iconic landmarks, the elegant architecture of the Liston Building pays homage to the island’s rich historical tapestry and cultural legacy.

The center of Liston in Corfu town
The center of Liston in Corfu town

6) Esplanade square

Sterna at upper Esplanade today
Sterna at upper Esplanade today

Esplanade Square, also recognized as Spianada, stands as a significant public square nestled within the heart of Corfu Town. Distinguished by its vast expanse, this square ranks among the largest town squares in Europe, enveloping an area spanning approximately 40,000 square meters.

Originally conceived by the Venetians during the 16th century, the square’s creation necessitated the demolition of roughly 3,000 residences. This transformation yielded an expansive space that bridged the gap between the Old Fortress and the city walls. Initially employed for military drills and public gatherings, it was repurposed into a public park during the late 18th-century French occupation of the island. Many of the trees and landmarks that grace the square today were introduced during this era.

Esplanade Square boasts elegant architecture, encompassing an array of historical structures and monuments. Situated at the northern fringes of the square is a sizable cricket field, encircled by palm trees, cafes, and restaurants.

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

A favored destination for both locals and tourists alike, Esplanade Square frequently serves as the backdrop for public events and festivals across the calendar year. The square offers an enchanting backdrop for leisurely strolls or serene picnics, and it commands distinction as one of Corfu’s most revered landmarks.

7) The Palace of St Michael and George

Corfu town: St Michael and George Palace
Corfu town: St Michael and George Palace

Throughout the English dominion over the island spanning five decades, a multitude of grandiose structures came to fruition.

Simultaneously, the British cemetery emerged, alongside the inception of the initial psychiatric hospital on Greek soil.

Yet, amid these grand endeavors, the British contributed smaller edifices, exemplified by the circular peristyle of Thomas Maitland. This rounded kiosk, adorned with 20 Ionian-style columns, was conceptualized by engineer George Whitmore and erected atop Sterna (cistern) in the upper square.

Even after the British departed, certain cultural influences persisted. For instance, cricket is exclusively played in Corfu across Greek territories. The introduction of ginger beer and the Kum Kouat tree from China can also be attributed to the British presence. Furthermore, their legacy encompasses the construction of the aqueduct and numerous other infrastructural initiatives.

Among Corfu’s preeminent landmarks stands the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, also recognized as the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. This historic edifice was conceived between 1819 and 1824 under British colonial administration, serving as the residence for the Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands.

The design of the building was executed by the British architect Sir George Whitmore. However, it’s plausible that local architects and engineers were also engaged in the palace’s construction.

Boasting neoclassical nuances interwoven with British colonial architectural elements, the palace comprises two wings united by a capacious central rotunda that functions as the principal entrance. The edifice derives its name from the patron saints of the British monarchs during its construction—St. Michael and St. George.

Following the integration of the Ionian Islands into Greece in 1864, the palace morphed into the summer residence for the Greek royal family. During World War II, it morphed into a military infirmary and subsequently a headquarters for the Italian army. Post-war, it transitioned into a courthouse and governmental office.

In the contemporary epoch, the Palace of St. Michael and St. George serves as the domicile for the Municipal Gallery and the Museum of Asian Art of Corfu. The latter exhibits an expansive compilation of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian art, alongside a smaller selection of Islamic art. Additionally, the palace accommodates a myriad of cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year.

8) The Duomo di San Giacomo or the Church of Saint James

Adjacent to the Palace of St. Michael and St. George in Corfu stands the Catholic Cathedral of Corfu, alternatively known as the Duomo di San Giacomo or the Church of Saint James. This sacred place of worship was erected during the 16th century, coinciding with the Venetian dominion over Corfu. Regarded as one of the foremost Catholic churches in Greece, it holds paramount significance.

9) The Palace of Mon Repos

Situated beyond the city, on the Kanoni peninsula, resides the Mon Repos Palace, an edifice constructed during the British occupation within the expanse of Ancient Corfu.

10) The Ionian Parliament

During this same period, at the intersection of Moustoxidi and Napoleon Zambelli streets, the Ionian Parliament was erected. The construction took place in 1855, and the edifice is distinguished by the commanding presence of four Doric-style columns at its entrance.

The Ionian Parliament served as the legislative entity governing the Ionian Islands—a cluster of seven isles located off the western coast of Greece—which were under British protection from 1815 until 1864. The inception of the parliament occurred in 1817, with its headquarters situated in the capital city of Corfu.

Comprising 37 members chosen via an indirect suffrage system, the Ionian Parliament adhered to specific eligibility criteria: candidates had to be at least 30 years of age, meet certain educational standards, and possess a specific level of property.

Empowered to enact laws, regulate taxes, and supervise judicial affairs within the Ionian Islands, the parliament also held sway over sanctioning the annual budget and monitoring the undertakings of the British-appointed governor.

The Ionian Parliament merits distinction for being among the earliest parliamentary bodies in Greece, significantly impacting the nation’s democratic progression. The parliament’s hallmark legislation includes the abolition of the death penalty in 1830 and the establishment of a public education system.

Upon the unification of the Ionian Islands with Greece in 1864, the Ionian Parliament dissolved. Nevertheless, its legacy perseveres as a pivotal milestone in the evolution of Greek democracy, profoundly shaping the country’s history.

11) Church of St. Spyridon (Agios Spyridon)

Agios Spiridon church - Corfu
Agios Spiridon church – Corfu

Irrespective of your personal spiritual inclinations, this church holds a pivotal role in the cultural and heritage tapestry of Corfu. Thus, if you’re intrigued by its historical significance, a visit becomes imperative.

Devoted to the veneration of Corfu’s patron saint, Saint Spyridon, this place of worship harbors the actual remains of the saint within its sarcophagus. Saint Spyridon, an influential figure who lived around 320 CE, played a pivotal role during the inaugural council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

The church is also distinguished by its elegant bell tower, which commands prominence above the town’s edifices. This striking feature is readily discernible as you explore the area, making it a noteworthy point of interest that warrants your attention during your stroll.

12) Scuola Greca in the heart of Corfu town

Jewish synagogue in Corfu
Jewish synagogue in Corfu

Throughout its history, Corfu has been profoundly influenced by the Jewish community, hosting a vibrant and prosperous population that, at its zenith, comprised up to 50,000 individuals. However, the magnitude of this community has waned significantly, dwindling to approximately 80 members today.

Despite the existence of four distinct synagogues in the past, only one endures—the Scuola Greca. This striking yellow edifice, dating back to the 1800s, stands as the sole survivor of the ravages of World War II bombings.

The narrative underpinning these events is undeniably compelling and poignant. As bombs rained down and Jewish inhabitants were instructed to remain in their homes, it is recounted that nearly 200 managed to escape the peril. Tragically, those who remained endured the ruthless roundup by the Nazis, subsequently facing deportation to concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

To this day, a modest Jewish community persists in the vicinity, encompassing around 80 individuals, many of whom (as of 2010) are Holocaust survivors. This reality imbues the area with a profound significance, serving as both a poignant memorial and a somber reminder of humanity’s darkest chapters.

For those yearning for a profound perspective-altering encounter, this locale stands as an invaluable site of cultural significance that should not be overlooked.

13) The gates of the Old Kerkyra

Roads inside the town market in Corfu
Roads inside the town market in Corfu

The Old Town of Corfu is encircled by walls that were erected during the Venetian dominion over the island. During that era, four principal gates afforded entry to the town. These gates comprised:

  • Porta of Spilia: Positioned on the northern fringes of the Old Town, this gate served as the primary entrance from the port. Constructed in the 16th century, it proudly displays a Venetian coat of arms.
  • Porta Reale: Situated on the western periphery of the Old Town, this gate was the primary entry point during the Venetian epoch. Erected in the 17th century, it featured a notable clock tower. Regrettably, it met its demise in the early 20th century.
  • Porta San Nicolo: Nestled on the southern side of the Old Town, this gate derived its name from the adjacent Church of St. Nicholas. Built in the 16th century, it included a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
  • Porta dei Ferri: Located on the eastern extremity of the Old Town, this gate was named after the nearby iron foundry. Originating in the 16th century, it displayed a Venetian coat of arms.

Presently, out of these four gates, solely the Porta of Spilia endures. Over time, it has undergone restoration and revitalization efforts, yet it steadfastly retains its original essence. As a significant landmark within the Old Town of Corfu, this gate holds profound importance. Although it no longer serves as an entrance, it beckons tourists who aspire to delve into the abundant history and culture of Corfu.

The Modern City of Corfu

The contemporary city of Corfu seamlessly extends from the historical old town, stretching westward and southward beyond the new fortress into an expansive urban expanse that envelops the core of the island’s eastern coastline.

It presents a stark departure from the old quarter, characterized by the prevalence of concrete constructions and broader thoroughfares.

Scaramanga building - The Italian school in Corfu
Scaramanga building – The Italian school in Corfu

However, amidst this modern landscape, vestiges of old neoclassical structures and other monuments remain, offering a connection to the city’s historical roots.

For instance:

  • The edifice of the 1st Gymnasium, originally the Scaramanga building and former home to the Italian School.
  • The Marasleion Mansion situated on Alexandra Avenue, currently housing the services of the City Hall.
  • The Villa Rosa, an exquisite yet forsaken structure that stands near San Rocco Square, its splendor now marred by abandonment and decay.
  • An array of ancient churches is representative of the many ecclesiastical edifices found within the city.

These remnants serve as testaments to the city’s intricate past, complementing the contemporary visage of Corfu while maintaining a bridge to its historical heritage.

Conclusion

Numerous other attractions bear witness to the legacies of the diverse conquerors who once held sway over Corfu town. These collective elements coalesce into the city’s historical legacy, propelling it to the echelons of Greece’s most exquisite and culturally endowed metropolises.

Collectively, Kerkyra stands as an unparalleled locale—breathtakingly picturesque, adorned with opulent cultural treasures, and steeped in its resplendent history. Whether your inclinations beckon you to the shore, cocktail in hand, or whether you prefer to meander through the city’s labyrinthine streets until sunset, Corfu town stands poised to cater to your preferences.

See More About Corfu Town

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Corfu Old Town: A Journey Through Time and Culture

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Corfu old town is a beautiful city influenced by the 411 years of Venetian rule, is the only city and the capital of Corfu island, and it is called Kerkyra.… Read More

Corfu Town Hall: The San Giacomo Theatre

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Nestled at the vibrant crossroads of Eugeniou Voulgareos and M. Theotoki streets, Corfu Town Hall stands as an architectural masterpiece with an intriguing history.… Read More

Esplanade (Spianada) Square and Liston in Corfu

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The Esplanade or Spianada is the central square of Corfu and a meeting place for residents and visitors, it is the largest square in the Balkans and one of the largest in Europe… Read More

The Palace of St. Michael and St. George

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During the era of the British rule in Corfu, High Commissioner Sir Frederick Adams in 1819 decided to build the Palace of Saint Michael and George… Read More

Corfu New Fortress: A Venetian Fortification Masterpiece

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Another example of the high capacity of Venetians in fortification, and an architectural marvel of art built by the Venetians and with the physical labor of the inhabitants from 1576 until 1645… Read More

Corfu Old Fortress And The Old British Hospital

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This was originally a natural promontory offering in its rocks protection for the residents of the 5th century AD when the ancient city of Corfu was moved here after the destruction of the ancient city by the Visigoths.… 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 Luccia, it was the Catholic Church of Lontsiada as the Corfiots knew it.… Read More

Corfu Town in the Winter

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A stroll through the old part of town in the evening once the visitors have departed reveals a completely different place to the thriving metropolis seen on a summer’s morning. Leave the Esplanade and walk along St Spyridon’s street… Read More

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