Last updated on May 14th, 2023 at 09:55 am
The Old Town of Corfu
Corfu old town is a beautiful medieval-style city influenced by the 411 years of Venetian rule, is the only city and the capital of Corfu island, and it is called Kerkyra, the same as the Greek name of the island.
The old and charming historic center of Corfu lies at the easternmost part of the town between the new fortress in the west and the old fortress in the East and has the most sights and monuments.
Corfu Town Video
What is old Corfu Town like?
Corfu does not look like any other Greek city, its architecture and most other elements of its cultural identity are not so Greek but influenced by many conquerors who ruled the island through the centuries.
The Venetian character remains strong and unchanged due to the preservation of almost all the Italian architectural buildings scattered all over the place.
Corfu town has old tall buildings, separated by slopes and narrow streets called Kantounia, with gardens scattered between houses and shops. This city looks like a small replica of Venice but without channels.
In addition to the Venetian influence, there are important signs and remnants left after 50 years of British domination with the palace of St Michael and St George being the most important. Also monuments from the French occupation too, Liston being one of them.
Old monuments of Byzantine origin are still preserved with the most important being the old fortress fortified for the first time by the Byzantines.
Also, other marks were left by various other conquerors during the island’s turbulent history.
Corfu town’s wider urban area today is inhabited by some 45,000 inhabitants, while the Venetian-style old town part has about 20.000 residents. It is a densely populated city, therefore Corfu offers many job opportunities for those who want to stay in it permanently. You can help yourself and find a job in Corfu.
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Discovering the Old Corfu town part
A photo from the roof of the Cavalieri hotel shows a magnificent view of the Esplanade square and the old fortress of Corfu. The entire area is from the Cofineta district to the North up to the sea of north Garitsa bay. You can see the Palace of Saints Michael and George at the far North of the vast square, the kiosk in the middle, and the majestic Old fortress Eastwards.
They say the best way to discover a place is to get lost within it. This is perfectly true for Corfu’s old town. Mostly built around the 19th century, the old town still has some Venetian touches here and there, you just need to keep your eyes peeled to spot them.
Wander around the cobblestone streets, peer into some shops, enjoy a traditional treat at an artisanal shop or café and before you know it you may have wound up to the hill above Corfu bay, where you’ll get some stunning views of the town up above!
Is it worth going to Corfu Town?
Without a doubt, vacations in Corfu are incomplete without, at least, one visit to the island’s capital. Corfu town or Kerkyra is the most interesting place on the whole island, an amazing city with countless monuments and sights since antiquity and especially the Venetian era, it’s actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The whole Old Town part is inside the walls of the two fortresses, the Old Fortress on the East and the New fortress on the North and West. Thus it is called Kastropolis (A town within castles) and is the only one of its kind in Greece.
The most beautiful part of Corfu is the Old part of the city, despite the turbulent historic course of the island, the town’s old tall buildings with narrow alleys in between, are standing intact for centuries.
Buildings here are made of stone and wood and traditional roofs with tiles. Those old pieces of art help maintain the unique medieval character of the city.
Old Corfu town is bounded on the east by the old fortress, to the North by the sea of the old port, and to the West by the streets of Akadimias, Gerasimos Aspiotis, Spyros Desyllas, and Spyros Vlaikos, the road under the new fortress.
Districts of Corfu old Town Center
The old Corfu town part has 7 districts.
- Porta Remounta is the southern district near the sea of Garitsa.
- Pentofanaro is exactly in the Liston area.
- Kofineta, west of the Palace of St. Michael and George.
- Agioi Pateres is at the center of the town.
- The Jewish sector is close to the new fortress.
- Spilia is the area on the old port.
- Kampielo is the Northern part of the old city.
Most of the old city streets have now become pedestrian and car traffic is peripheral to the city.
The only roads in the old town center used by cars are Agoniston Polytechniou, Arseniou, Donzelot, and Zavitsianou streets.
Can you swim in Corfu Town?
Of course, there are spots where you can swim.
Although Corfu Town is not the best place for swimming, there are a few smaller “city beaches” in the city, they are a bit cramped and not the most kid-friendly but good enough for you to swim while in Corfu town.
But let’s find out more helpful details about them.
First is Faliraki, a public beach below the Palace at Faliraki promontory, it’s also called Aleko’s baths.
A small road leads down to it from Arseniou street.
There’s a small entrance fee but lower than that of Mon Repos.
The beach here is small and not as good for swimming, especially when a ship goes by and the waves come crashing in.
Yet, it can be a pleasant spot to sit under an umbrella and look at the spectacular views of the Palace, the Old Fortress, and Vido island at the sea. There is a bar-restaurant that serves food and drinks here, too.
2) The facilities of NAOK (Nautical Sports Club of Corfu)
What is NAOK?
Well, it is the Nautical Athletic group Of Kerkyra, an athletic club that deals with water sports such as swimming, rowing, and sailing, and has produced a lot of great athletes in Greek sports.
NAOK facilities are close to the Southside of Old Fortress, the entrance is free and you can use the dock for a dive, it is not a beach though.
3) Mon Repos Beach
Another spot used by the locals for a quick dive is under the Mon Repos Palace, this one looks more like a beach but is not very attractive. Is it called Mon Repos beach and its entrance is at the south end of Garitsa bay, close to Anemomylos.
Also, the jetty in Anemomylos is a place for swimming inside Corfu town, although you can’t call it exactly a beach, rather than a rocky area with some shingles. The area is a very picturesque place though.
Is Corfu Town open on Sundays?
During the holiday season, and especially in the summer, almost all shops are open, except the public services. Anyway, nobody will notice any difference on Sundays and any other day of the week. The visitors are so many that shops like restaurants and cafes are always open.
Also, sights and monuments such as the two fortresses and others are always accessible to the public.
Things to do and see inside old Corfu town
Below there is a list of the most important buildings or monuments that characterize the city, and they should be visited by every visitor.
1) Old Fortress
Without a doubt, the most important monument and the first that you must visit is the Old Fortress. It is a rocky cape, a natural fortress on the eastern edge of the Town.
You’ll be amazed at how close the Old Fortress is to the city, which means it’s really easy to get to, no matter how you plan on traveling. You can even walk if you’ve got the whole day free!
See more about the Old Fortress and its history.
2) The New Fortress
Great city features of the very important period of Venetian rule are the New Fortress and the vast Esplanade Square.
The new fortress was built between 1576 and 1588 on the low hill of Saint Markos in the north of the city.
Its walls then reached the sea up to Garitsa bay in the south, thus defending the whole of Corfu from the west.
The construction of the fortress resulted in the creation of the Esplanade. The largest square in the Balkans.
See more about the New fortress in Corfu.
3) San Giacomo theater
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 San Giacomo.
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 a few yards from San Giacomo, at the junction with Vrachlioti Street, almost at the center of the old town, we find Annunziata. In fact, only the bell tower of it, the church built at the end of the 14th century and dedicated to the Annunciation has been destroyed.
Annunziata is a monument of pan-European importance, see on the page about Annunziata why.
5) Liston building
The Liston Building is a historic structure located in the heart of Corfu Town. The building was constructed during the French occupation of the island, which lasted from 1797 to 1814. It was designed by the French military engineer Mathieu de Lesseps, who was also responsible for the design of the nearby Esplanade Square.
The Liston Building is a long arcade that stretches along the edge of Esplanade Square. It is characterized by its distinctive arches and elegant Venetian-style balconies, which were added during the British occupation of the island, which followed the French occupation. The building was named after the French word “liste”, which means a line or a row, in reference to the long row of arches that form the arcade.
Today, the Liston Building is a popular destination for visitors to Corfu Town, as it is home to a variety of cafes, restaurants, and shops. It is considered to be one of the most iconic landmarks in Corfu, and its elegant architecture is a testament to the island’s rich history and cultural heritage.
6) Esplanade square
Esplanade Square is a historic public square located in the heart of Corfu Town. The square is also known as Spianada and is one of the largest town squares in Europe, covering an area of around 40,000 square meters.
The square was originally created by the Venetians in the 16th century after the demolition of about 3000 houses to create an open space between the Old Fortress and the city walls. The space was used for military exercises and as a gathering place for public events.
During the French occupation of the island in the late 18th century, the square was transformed into a public park, and many of the trees and landmarks that are present today were added during this period.
Esplanade Square is characterized by its elegant architecture, which includes a variety of historic buildings and monuments. At the north part of the square is a large cricket field, which is surrounded by palm trees and a variety of cafes and restaurants.
Esplanade Square is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, and it is often the site of public events and festivals throughout the year. The square provides a beautiful setting for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing picnic, and it is considered to be one of the most iconic landmarks in Corfu.
7) The Palace of St Michael and George
During the 50 years of English domination of the island, many majestic buildings were built.
At the same time, the British cemetery was constructed as well as the first psychiatric hospital on Greek territory.
But the British left some smaller buildings too such as the round peristyle of Thomas Maitland, a round kiosk with 20 Ionian-style pillars that was designed by the engineer George Whitmore. This peristyle was built on top of Sterna (cistern) in the upper square.
Some British habits also remain after they left the island. Cricket for instance, on Greek territory, is played only in Corfu. Gingerbeer and the Kum Kouat tree from China were brought here by the British. They also built the aqueduct and many other infrastructure projects.
One of the most notable landmarks in Corfu is the Palace of St Michael and St George, also known as the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, This historic building was built between 1819 and 1824 by the British colonial administration, as a residence for the Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands.
The building was created by the British architect Sir George Whitmore. However, it is likely that local architects and engineers were also involved in the construction of the palace.
The palace is a neoclassical building with elements of British colonial architecture. It has two wings, with a large central rotunda that serves as the main entrance. The palace was named after the patron saints of the British monarchs at the time of its construction, St Michael and St George.
After the Ionian Islands became part of Greece in 1864, the palace served as the summer residence of the Greek royal family. During World War II, it was used as a military hospital and later as a headquarters for the Italian army. After the war, it served as a courthouse and government office.
Today, the Palace of St Michael and St George houses the Municipal Gallery, and the Museum of Asian Art of Corfu, which exhibits a large collection of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian art, as well as a small collection of Islamic art. The palace also hosts various cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year.
8) The Duomo di San Giacomo or the Church of Saint James
Next to the Palace of St Michael and St George in Corfu, is the Catholic Cathedral of Corfu, also known as the Duomo di San Giacomo or the Church of Saint James. The church was built in the 16th century during the Venetian rule of Corfu and is considered to be one of the most important Catholic churches in Greece.
9) The Palace of Mon Repos
Outside the city in the Kanoni peninsula is the Mon Repos palace, also build during British domination inside the area of Ancient Corfu.
10) The Ionian Parliament
During the same period, the Ionian Parliament was built at the junction of Moustoxidi and Napoleon Zambelli streets. The building was built in 1855 and is dominated by the 4 Doric-style columns on the entrance.
The Ionian Parliament was the legislative body of the Ionian Islands, a group of seven islands off the west coast of Greece that were under British protectorate from 1815 until 1864. The parliament was established in 1817 and was based in the capital city of Corfu.
The Ionian Parliament was made up of 37 members who were elected by a system of indirect suffrage. Members of the parliament were required to be at least 30 years old, to have a certain level of education, and to have a certain amount of property.
The parliament had the power to pass laws, regulate taxes, and oversee the administration of justice in the Ionian Islands. It also had the power to approve the annual budget and to monitor the activities of the British-appointed governor.
The Ionian Parliament was notable for being one of the first parliamentary bodies in Greece and for its influence on the development of democracy in the country. It was also known for its progressive legislation, including the abolition of the death penalty in 1830 and the establishment of a system of public education.
The Ionian Islands were united with Greece in 1864, and the Ionian Parliament was dissolved. However, its legacy continues to be celebrated as a milestone in the history of Greek democracy.
11) Church of St. Spyridon (Agios Spyridon)
Whether you consider yourself a spiritual person or not, this church is an essential part of the culture and heritage of Corfu, so if you’re interested in its history, it’s a must-see.
The church is dedicated to Corfu’s patron saint, Saint Spyridon. In fact, in the church’s sarcophagus are the actual remains of the saint, who lived around 320 CE, and played an essential role during the first council of Nicaea in 325 CE.
This church also has a beautiful bell that stands tall above all buildings in the town, you’ll definitely spot it whilst walking around, so be sure to pay it a visit.
12) Scuola Greca
Over the centuries, Corfu has had great Jewish influence and was the host of a rich and dynamic Jewish community of up to 50,000 members at one point. The size of this community has dramatically decreased, to approximately 80 today.
Despite being four separate synagogues at one point, only one remains today, the Scuola Greca. It’s a remarkable yellow construction dating from the 1800s, and the only one to survive the bombings of WW2.
The story behind this series of events is surely an interesting and heart-wrenching one. As bombs were dropped and Jews were commanded to stay in their homes, it’s reported that around 200 were able to escape, but the ones who remained were rounded up by Nazis and shipped off to concentration camps like Auschwitz.
Even today, the small Jewish community in this area exists and is made up of around 80 Jews, most of which (as of 2010) were Holocaust survivors. This makes the area such an important memorial area and a reminder of the darker times of human civilization.
If you’re looking for a drop of eye-opening perspective in your life, this could be the culturally important place you need to go.
13) The gates of the Old Kerkyra
The Old Town of Corfu is surrounded by walls that were built during the Venetian rule of the island, and there were four main gates providing access to the town. These gates were:
- Porta of Spilia: This gate is located on the north side of the Old Town and is the main entrance to the town from the port. It was built in the 16th century and features a Venetian coat of arms.
- Porta Reale: This gate was located on the west side of the Old Town and was the main entrance to the town during the Venetian era. It was built in the 17th century and features a large clock tower. Unfortunately, it was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century.
- Porta San Nicolo: This gate is located on the south side of the Old Town and was named after the nearby church of St. Nicholas. It was built in the 16th century and featured a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
- Porta dei Ferri: This gate is located on the east side of the Old Town and was named after the iron foundry that used to be located nearby. It was built in the 16th century and featured a Venetian coat of arms.
Out of these four gates, only one still stands today, the Porta of Spilia. The gate has undergone some restoration and renovation over the years, but it still retains its original character and is an important landmark in the Old Town of Corfu. Today it doesn’t provide entrance but is a popular destination for tourists who want to explore the rich history and culture of Corfu.
The Modern City of Corfu
The modern town of Corfu is in continuity with the old city and expands to the west and south beyond the new fortress into a large urban area that fills the center of the island’s east coast. It looks completely different from the old part as it is dominated by cement buildings and the roads are larger.
But even here, Old neoclassic buildings and other monuments are not missing.
Examples are; The building of the 1st Gymnasium which used to be the Scaramanga building that once housed the Italian School.
The Marasleion Mansion on Alexandra Avenue houses the services of the City Hall.
The Villa Rosa is a beautiful but abandoned and almost destroyed house beyond San Rocco square.
Some very old Churches of the many that exist in the town and many more.
There are many more attractions that the various conquerors left in Corfu town. All these together form the historical heritage of this city and make it one of the most beautiful and richest cities in Greece.
Overall, Kerkyra is a unique place, beautiful and beautifully rich, with its architecture, culture, and of course its history. Whether you’re looking to hit the beach as soon as possible, cocktail in hand, or whether you’re more the kind to get lost in the streets of the city and wander around till sundown, Corfu town has got you covered!
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