The Greek Island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea is said to be the cradle of tourism in Greece as we know it today. In 1954 former Greek queen Frederica came on a cruise ship to Corfu in company of her royal and aristocrat friends. All of these European kings, queens, princess and princesses were followed by journalists and that’s how Corfu became the famous holiday spot for the royalty and aristocracy of Europe. Not much later they were followed by famous actors from Hollywood and other millionaires and billionaires from all over the world.
But even before queen Frederica introduced her noble friends to Corfu, the island had already been a favorite place among some aristocrats. Like empress Elisabeth of Austria (better known as Sissy) who spent her summers in the impressive Achilleion palace at Gastouri surrounded by cypresses and myrtles with a view on the Ionian Sea. After Sissy’s death the palace was bought by Emperor William III in 1907. He as well used it as a summer residence and many European diplomats came to visit him.
France, Venice and Britain
The island of Corfu is a combination of a living historical monument and stunning scenery. It is a blend of cultural influences because the island has been under the rule of France, Venice and Britain and was later returned to Greece. They all left their heritage in the form of architecture, cuisine and traditions.
The green island with over four million olive trees (many are more than five hundred years old) is famous for its magnificent nature, monuments, flowers, uncountable coves and crystal clear waters. Arriving at Corfu Town by ferry boat from the mainland of Greece (Igoumenitsa port) you will be impressed by the beauty of the old Venetian mansions along the coast of the town and the fortress on top of a rock. This view is due to four hundred years of Venetian rule over the island. If you come by airplane, be sure to make a boat trip around Corfu Town so you won’t miss out of this spectacular view from the sea.
Corfu Town is the capital of the island. It’s a lively town with many narrow, winding and cobble-stoned alleys surrounded by historical buildings with lots of colorful plants and flowers. Nowadays many of these historical buildings house small hotels, cafés and restaurants. It’s also an interesting shopping area where you can buy a wide range of traditional Corfiot products as well as almost every trendy brand. Many alleys have their own church with a unique character. Strolling around town will surprise you around every corner.
Corfu is situated northwest of Greece and it’s the second biggest island of the Ionian Islands also called the Seven Islands This is the group of islands of Corfu, Cephalonia, Paxos, Lefkas, Ithaca, Zante and Cythera. There are many more small islands around, both inhabited and uninhabited. Corfu is not a very big island with its length of about 65 km and 35 km width at the widest part. The distance of the northeastern part of the island to Albania is at its smallest part of the strait only three kilometer. Many tourists make a day-trip by boat to Sarandë, a coastal town in Albania at a distance of fourteen kilometers from Corfu.
Fortifications and castles
In contrast with the rest of Greece, the presence of the Venetians prevented the island from being seized by the Turks. Corfu became one of the most fortified places of Europe to protect the Ottomans from intruding further into Europe. Not only Venetian fortifications, but also Byzantine castles, scattered all over the island, helped Corfu to remain free, although the Turks managed to invade a couple of times anyway. Corfu Town is surrounded by two fortresses.
History of Corfu since Middle Ages
From 1386 to 1797 Corfu was ruled by the nobility of Venice and the island belonged to the Republic of Venice. Traces of this Venetian rule can be found in the local cuisine, but also many Venetian and Italian words are assimilated in the Corfiot Greek language. Most of all, the architecture of Corfu Town reminds of the former presence of the Venetians.
In 1797 Corfu was under French administration for two years until a Russian-Ottoman squadron threw them out. For a short period Corfu became the capital of a self-governing federation of the Seven Islands under the Ottomans until it was returned to the French in 1807. In 1809 the British besieged the island and in 1815 the Ionian Islands became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. Prince William of Denmark (renamed King George I), who was elected as the new king of Greece, was given the islands as a gift for his coronation by Britain. In 1864 the Ionian Islands were reunited with Greece.
Unfortunately the reunion with Greece didn’t prevent Corfu from other adventures. In 1941 the Italians again took control over the island until it was bombarded by the Germans in 1943. For a year Corfu was under German occupation until in 1944 it was liberated by British troops.
Mon Repos palace
Queen Frederica was the wife of King Paul (Pavlos) of Greece who reigned over the country from 1947 until 1964. She was also the mother of the last king of Greece, Constantine II, who had to flee into exile in 1967. The royal family used to spend its summers in the royal Mon Repos palace, just south of Corfu Town. You can visit the palace and the Archeological Museum that is housed in it, though the property is somehow neglected and the gardens are not taken care of, it’s still the place where Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was born.
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