CORFU HISTORY


The island of Corfu was Known in antiquity by various names such us Drepani (scythe) because of its shape, and also Sheria. The name which finally prevailed was that one of the nymphs Kerkira , daughter of the river deity Asopos. According to legend the god of the sea, Poseidon, fell in love with Kerkyra, took her to the island and had a son with her. Their son was called Phaiax and gave both the island and its inhabitants their legendary name. The term “the island of the Phaeaceans” can be found in one of the most beautiful rhapsodies of Homer's “Odyssey”.

From the findings of archaeologists it seems that the island was first inhabited in the Early Stone Age. Findings dating from the Late Stone Age and the Bronze Age have been discovered in Sidari and the west coast, respectively. The first Greek presence on the island were settlers from Eretria (Euboia), who founded one of the colonies on the Kanoni peninsula, in the 8 th century B.C. Soon this colony was taken over by the Corinthians. It became an independent state with a powerful fleet, had financial independence with influence on other states and also had a remarkable culture. This independence lasted until the end of the 8 th century, when internal strife weakened the state and converted it into an easy prey for the Illyrians, who in turn surrendered it to the Romans. In the 4 th century A.D. Corfu became a part of the Byzantine Empire .

After successive Barbarian raids the inhabitants were forced to abandon the ancient city and move to the north, on the peninsula where the Old Fortress is today. However, the various aggressors persisted. In spite of the desperate attempts of the Byzantine army to keep the island, they finally lost it, during the fourth Crusade, in 1207. The island was taken over by the Venetians for a while and then subsequently fell under the sovereignty of the Despotate of Epirus and the Anjou dynasty. Finally it surrendered again to the Venetians in 1386. Thus a 400 year period of stability and tranquillity started, during which the island acquired many of its special characteristics. The rest of Greece was under Turkish Occupation and Europe was threatened by the Ottoman expansion. For that reason Corfu became a shelter for Greek scholars and artists who were able to find freedom of expression there and turned the island into one of the most important cultural centres of Greece .

The end of the Venetian rule in the 18 th century was followed by a period of French occupation which lasted until the fall of Napoleon in 1800. The succeeding period of independence was interrupted by a second French Occupation. After the final withdrawal of the French forces in 1814, the island was recognized as the capital of the independent “ United States of the Ionian Islands ” being, however, under the guardianship of the English. This adventurous course through the centuries ended when Corfu was united with Greece in 1864.