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Explore the Castle-City, Corfu Island

Corfu or Kerkyra, the unique cosmopolitan continental island in the Ionian Sea, in Greece, is the ultimate holiday destination, since it combines it all. It is an island, but in the same time it is a seaside city. It consists of beaches, mountains, fortresses, castles, tree forests, valleys, green hills, bays, smaller islands, spectacular monuments and also enchanting night life, having an incredible variety of locations. However, it is well known for its art and culture, representing a great history and artistic tradition. It’s also remarkable that it remains the only city in Greece, which is surrounded by castles. Its beauty is so magnificent, that The Old Town of Corfu city is included in The UNESCO World Heritage List.

 Diving Into Greek Mythology

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Corfu was famous from ancient times, mainly from greek mythology and from the Great greek epic poems, «Homer’s Odyssey», and «Argonautica». It was one of the greatest naval powers of the 5th century BC. Because of this, the place is associated with the water God Poseidon, who fell in love with the nymph Korkyra. When he took her to the island, he named it just like her, which by the time evolved to Kerkyra by the Dorian ancient greek dialect. Their child, Phaiax, gave the alternative name to Corfu, known as «The Island of The Phaeacians». The name Corfu came from the Byzantine greek word «κορυφαι» which means peaks, referring to the two peaks of Corfu’s fortress, Palaio Frourio.

(On the left is the Achelion museum and on the right is Acheles)
(On the left is the Achelion museum and on the right is Acheles)

Variety, The Spice of Life

When you explore Kerkyra, you immediately realize that it excels at having singular diversity of visiting places. Greek summer is popular all around the world, as well as Corfu’s beaches, like Agios Gordis, Kassiopi, Sidari, Kavos, where the Mediterranean sweet climate motivates you to discover them all. The temperature is quite often really high, but the wind that is blowning most of the times helps you get through the steaming heat. If you aren’t a beach person, you can go hiking through the mountains and hills. Visit villages, smaller islands like Palaiokastritsa, Gouvia and the most commercial, The Pontikonisi island, meaning the Mouse Island because of its shape, where the monastery of Pantokrator is located. It’s a fact that the whole island is distinguished by the rich flora and fauna, including the fruit bearing tree, kumquat, which became one of the most traditional products of Kerkyra. Nevertheless, you don’t know what tradition is, until you tour the famous, bustling Old Town with the characteristic ancient streets paved with stones. Many of them are extremely narrow, between big buildings and are well known as «kantounia». These seem like mazes and many times even the citizens get lost there. In addition, Corfu is unbelievably popular for it’s medieval castles, resulting in being considered a «Kastropolis», the Castle’s city. So, go ahead and wander around the stunning monuments, the museums, the palaces, the common buildings that look nothing but common. Undoubtedly, the influence of The Venetians is clear and made Kerkyra obtain a unique architecture which differs completely from the other greek locations.

(On the left one of the city’s alleys and on the right the Pontikonisi)
(On the left one of the city’s alleys and on the right the Pontikonisi)

Cultural Influences

Kerkyra is regarded «The Door of Venice», because it has definite Venetian influence by the time when it was under Venetian nobility rule for centuries. Despite that, due to Venetian developed culture, Corfu was able to evolve a rich civilization, with their contribution. Their influence is visible even in local cuisine, since sofrito, pastitsada, strapatsada are served as popular worldwide specialties. However, British rule is also reacted on city’s life, especially when they appeared to be liberators from the German’s Nazi, in the Second World War. Then, Corfu flourished a lot. The Greek language became the official language and many buildings were constructed, including the first greek University, while the rest of Greece was under the Ottoman rule. On the contrary, a Golden age was upon Corfu, especially in music. Corfu was a pioneer several times. There, the first opera in Greece was built, the first woman was elected mayor and the first governor of modern Greece, Kapodistrias, came also from Corfu. By the years, the island was under many rules, including Venetian, Italian, British, German, France, confronting a lot of wars. However, it has never lost its tradition, which remains until today. Finally, in 1864, the island became part of modern Greece, gaining its independence.

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(On the left is the old fortress and on the right is the new fortress
(On the left is the old fortress and on the right is the new fortress

Castles and Fortresses

Its famous castles constituted a strategic seat in the Middle Ages, mainly the periods when Corfu were up against pirates and the Ottomans. It’s remarkable that Kerkyra is the place that Ottomans have never captured, because of their great fortresses such as the Byzantine castle of Angelokastro. Then, Corfu became the bastion of The European States against the Ottoman and one of the most fortified places in Europe. Its acropolis has two glorious peaks that were fortified by powerful towers for centuries. Today it has two prominent fortresses, the Old and the New. Initially, Byzantines had built strong fortifications, but Venetians replaced them all, constructing the Old Fortress, Palaio Frourio, diving into the sea. It  characterizes by turrets and an enormous obelisk with the giant cross at the top. St.George’s church, with the classical doric style, in contrast to the most byzantine’s style orthodoxs churches, exists right billow it. The 16th century’s marine is still in use. The New Fortress, Neo Frourio, at North, contains a big complex of fortifications with medieval corridors, whereas the symbol of Venice, the flying Lion of St. Mark is still standing proudly.

Monumental Places

Apart from the fortresses, in the notable Old Town of the city with the kantounia, the arches and the dome structures, there is the city’s patron, Saint’s Spyridon church. However, it is not a coincidence that there is also a central catholic Cathedral for the remaining foreign citizens, despite the fact that the majority of Greeks are orthodoxs. All the city blends the traditional with the modern structures. Additionally, in downtown is located the top spots the stoa, Liston and the Spianada Square, considered one of the largest in Europe. Many conserts take place in the Spianada. Furthermore, only in Corfu of all Greece, cricket games take place, while green spaces are all around, as also many bistros, restaurants and shops. The esplanade to Garitsa bay with the sea and the trees around is really impressive too. Nearby, «Summer Palace of Mon Repo», «Palaia Anaktora», Old Palaces and «Achilleion Palace» stand tall with the imposing Roman architecture, while all the area is featured by large aristocratic complex of buildings with statues, imperial, royal gardens, full of exotic vegetation. The «Kaiser’s Bridge», built by the last German Emperor, as well as the giant cannon from Nazi’s occupation, complete the marvelous spectacles.

Easter In Corfu

Last but not least, another great attraction is the celebration of «Early Resurrection», which is Corfu’s tradition, taking place during Easter. It’s significant that Corfu’s Easter is one of the most known Easter worldwidely, with a whole bunch of visitors. In this day, people gather in the streets of the Old City, while some of them throw down clay pots with water out of the balconies, that are decorated accordingly. The philharmonic orchestra covers musically the whole ceremony. After all, Corfiotes have a beautiful musical background and it’s very common for them to sing cantades, local musical compositions, accompanied by a guitar. They are so endowed with the rhythm of music, that they have a singing way of speaking.

(People on the balconies in Old Town and in the streets for Early resurrection)
(People on the balconies in Old Town and in the streets for Early resurrection)

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