If you’re on our 'Town & Country' Escape, you’ll be able to explore Corfu town at the beginning or end of your stay. If you’re staying with us the entire time, and want to spend a day there, then allow 1½ hours drive along the coastal road to get to Corfu. You can usually park in the car park across from the Old Fort.
One of the best ways to get under the skin and into the history of Corfu town, is to walk around and explore, and importantly, to take a moment to look up and around you.
There are numerous wonderful architectural features, often with the dates and fascinating detail. You get a real feel of the place by taking your time and meandering in the streets between the obvious tourist ones, getting a real feel for the history and spotting any number of commemorative plaques that alert you to famous past residents who have made a significant contribution to the island over the years.
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THE UPPER & LOWER SQUARE'S AND MUSIC PAVILION A large square called Spianada is to be found, divided by a street in two parts: The Upper Square and Lower Square (Ano and Kato Plateia). This is the biggest square in South-Eastern Europe and one of the largest in Europe full of green spaces and interesting structures, such as a Roman-style rotunda from the era of British administration, known as the Maitland monument, built to commemorate Sir Thomas Maitland. An ornate music pavilion is also a main feature, where the local Philharmonic Orchestras play classical and often free performances in the artistic and musical tradition for which the island is well known.
LISTON AND THE ESPLANADE is the elegant and aristocratic arcade that runs along the Esplanade and encompasses the many bars and cafés along the way. It is from these balconies that Corfiots throw clay pots to the ground below during Easter festivities, in celebration of the Resurrection. Liston was so called as it referred to the place where the nobles, upper classes and privileged few, whose names were ‘on the list’ were the only ones entitled to visit the site after it was completed in the early 1800s. Now, crowds stop a while to see and be seen, day and night, underneath the arches or on the tables beneath the shimmering trees along the forever buzzing Esplanade. In front of Liston towards the Old Fortress is the cricket square where it was first played in 1823 during the British Protectorate.
THE PALACE OF ST MICHAEL & ST GEORGE
Located at the northern end of the Esplanade (Liston), the Palace is also home to the Municipal Art Gallery, Modern Art Museum, Museum of Asian Art and a small collection of Greek contemporary art. The Museum of Asian Art is unique in Greece and one of the most important of its kind in Europe. The display rooms occupy the ground and first floors and contain some eleven thousand exhibits spanning the 11th century BC to the 20th century AD from a variety of Asian countries. The Palace was built between 1819 and 1824 of neo-classical design with an impressive interior and landscaped garden to the front. Go see Edward Lear & the Ionian Islands 25th May to 31st August 2012 at the Museum of Asian Art.
THE BYZANTINE MUSEUM The Byzantine Museum is housed in the Panagia Antivouniotissa church, dedicated to our Lady Virgin Mary Antivouniotissa (opposite the mountains) built at the end of the 15th century. The church itself is very impressive and in 1979 the families who owned the church decided to donate the rich contents of relics and icons to the Greek State on the condition that it became a Museum of Christian Art. The Museum contains about ninety portable icons that are date from the second half of the 15th century until the 19th century along with religious artefacts, and exhibits from the church archives.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM The Archaeological Museum was built between 1962 and 1965, on a site that was donated by the Municipality of Corfu. The museum houses an exhibition of archaeological finds at the beginning of the 20th century, from the Temple of Artemis, dating from 590 BC in the ancient city of Paleopolis. Latterly, in 1994 two further halls were added, where acquisitions from excavations of the ancient city of Corfu are on display.
THE READING SOCIETY FOUNDED IN 1836 The Reading Society is the oldest cultural organization in Greece. Inside is a book-lover's paradise, with 19th century decor that is an evocative testimony to the 'English influence' that gave Corfu so much of its character. The building contains a fine collection of old books, documents, paintings and prints, mostly relating to the Ionian Islands and the building hosts meetings and discussions there throughout the year.
THE JEWISH QUARTER This twist of streets was home to the area's Jewish population from the 1600s until 1940, when the community was decimated, most sent to Auschwitz by the occupying Nazis. It is now filled with shops and tavernas. At the southern edge of the ghetto, a 300-year-old synagogue with an interior in Sephardic style still stands.
THE CHURCH OF AGIOUS (SAINT) SPYRIDON The St. Spyridon Church was built in 1590 and is a single nave basilica, which has the highest bell-tower of all the island's churches together with a unique red dome and clock. Within the church rests the body of St. Spyridon, preciously kept in a gold and silver shrine from Venice. St. Spyridon, the ‘Keeper of the City’, is the patron saint of Corfu Island and is revered for a number of miracles. Expelling the plague from the island, where it is believed that the plague, on its way out of the island, scratched one of the fortification stones of the old citadel to indicate its fury at being expelled. Other miracles have included saving the island from famine, and saving the island from the second great siege of Corfu, which took place in 1716. People visit the church to kiss his slippered feet (as he’s thought to often wander around Old Corfu by night), and believe the many miracles still continue as they find relief from their illnesses and ailments.
THE OLD FORTRESS The Old Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was completed in the 15th century. Until the early 16th century the centre of Corfu town was inside the Old Fort and subsequently relocated to its current location when the Venetians built a new fortress to the west of the existing one. The new town developed in the space between the two fortresses and was surrounded by walls. The main gateway at the Old Fortress dates from about 1550, and it replaced the initial Venetian gate, which still exists on the northern face of the fortress although it has been sealed off since 1660. Other buildings of the Venetian period that are preserved include; the central gate, the powder magazines, and the prisons. During the British Occupation new defensive structures and buildings were added, such as the barracks, the hospital, and the church of St. George. You can also climb up above the lighthouse for a sweeping view of the city. Summer concerts frequently take place adjacent to ‘The Old Fortress.’
THE NEW FORTRESS The New Fortress was built between 1572 and 1645 by the Venetians. The huge complex of fortification works were completed by both French and British dominating the northeastern part of the city; the huge walls of the fortress stand so tall as to be clearly seen between the New Port and the fishmarket in the centre of town. It is open to the public, with tours possible through the maze of medieval corridors and fortifications. The winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice, can be seen at regular intervals adorning the fortifications.
PATOUNIS SOAP FACTORY & MUSEUM On Theotoki Street by San Rocco Square is one of our favourite museums. The Patounis Soap Works has a family history that spans over 150 years, and Apostolos, a fifth generation ‘Patounis’, still makes their handcrafted soap using exactly the same traditional methods that the family have employed for what is now well over one and a half centuries. In the Corfu plant (a protected archaeological building) built in 1891, you can see for yourself how they preserve and utilize the original tools and equipment to make their unique and pure handmade olive soap, keeping alive an extraordinary and ancient local tradition.
Alpha Bank's Banknote Museum is located in the square next to St. Spiridon church. It showcases an almost complete collection of the Greek currency from 1822 to present (about 2000 items) and includes the first treasury bonds issued by the newly liberated Greek State in 1822 until the replacement of the drachma by the euro in 2002. It also includes sketches, essays and printing plates of Greek banknotes. The museum, established in 1981 by the Ionian Bank, is housed at the former Ionian Bank building designed by Corfiot architect Ioannis Chronis in about 1840. In 2000 Ionian Bank merged with Alpha Bank and subsequently the Banknote Museum was renovated and reopened in 2005. An additional exhibit hall was added showcasing ‘Ionian Bank Limited’ (a British venture) and the first bank to operate in Greek territory. The museum's collection is considered one of the most complete of its kind in the world.
THE FOUR GATES OF CORFU Built during the Venetian occupation of Corfu, four main gates gave access to the city. Two of the gates can still be seen today. The first, Porta Spilia, faces the old port and is known as the Bonati Arch. The second, Porta San Nicolo, is on the northern side of the Esplanade at the base of the walls below the level of the coastal road. The other two gates were destroyed during various rebuilding projects. Porta Raimonda was on the southern side of the Esplanade, in the district of the same name, and led to Garitsa. It was pulled down in the 19th century. The fourth gate, Porta Reale, shared the same fate. It stood in G. Theotoki Street, next to what is now Marks & Spencers.
CAMPIELLO (THE OLD QUARTER, CORFU TOWN) The oldest part of Corfu Town outside of the Old Fortress. It was from the 15th century onwards. Many of the buildings date from the 16th and 17th century and you can spot the Venetian houses as you wander through the alleys, with their now faded ochre exteriors, and time and weather faded architectural features. This medieval quarter, part of a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, is an atmospheric labyrinth of narrow, winding streets, steep stairways, and secretive little squares.
THE TOWN HALL (TEATRO DI SAN GIACOMO)
Whilst you cannot visit the Town Hall, now home to the Mayor of Corfu, its history makes it a worthy place to look around, take a coffee at Petrino in the square and imagine how wonderful a time it must have been. During Venetian rule, the Corfiots developed a passionate appreciation of Italian opera. What is now the Town Hall was once the Nobile Tatro di San Giacomo, the opera house of Corfu during 18th and 19th centuries and for almost two hundred years between 1771 and 1943 nearly every major operatic composition from the Italian tradition, as well as many others of French and Greek composers, were performed at the stage of the San Giacomo theatre, invoking an exceptional musical past on the island.
CASA PARLANTE At this small attraction in town they recreate the sights, sounds and smells of a typical 19th century classical noble mansion house. Enjoy a short tour and take peak at the everyday life of the island’s 19th century nobility | 16 Nikiforou Theotoki str. Corfu Town
FOREIGN INFLUENCE IN CORFU
Brass Bands. First established in the middle of the 19th century in imitation of the British garrison military band.
Cricket. Introduced by the British in the 19th century.
Tennis. The oldest tennis club in Greece was established in Corfu by the English in 1896.
Ginger Beer. Another legacy of British rule. The factory in Kelafationes is the only place left in the world that still commercially produces ginger beer as it used to be.
Olive trees. The Venetians offered the Corfiots financial incentives to plant some 4 million olive trees that today give the island its characteristic appearance.
Buildings & Architecture. Built or influenced by the Venetians, French and British.
Mashed potato. The traditional accompaniment to Sofrito. Potatoes were an introduction of the early 19th century.
Food. Pastisada from Italy. Bourdetto from the Adriatic. Moussaka from the East.
Beer. 'Corfu Beer' a recent local success with their microbrewery and selection of beers, picked up many of its brewing skills and techniques in the UK.
Cantadas. Songs which are part of the island's musical tradition, directly derived from the serenades of Italy.
BEYOND CORFU TOWN
VLACHERNA AND PONTIKONISI (MOUSE ISLAND), KANONI PENINSULAR South of Corfu Town is the cliff top terraced view site of Kanoni, overlooking an inlet that contains the view of the two little islands of Vlacherna, with its small convent and white Venetian belfry, and of Pontikonisi. Boats ferry visitors across to Pontikonisi where they can find the little Byzantine (11th or 12th century) church of Pantokrator, although rather sparse inside, it has a number of marble plaques recording royal visits. It is the white stone staircase of the monastery that, when viewed from a distance, gives the impression of a tail, which lent the island its name: 'mouse island'.
MON REPOS KANONI PENINSULA Approximately 7 years after the first neo-classical building (The Palace of St Michael and St George) was completed, this elegant neo-classical villa was built on the peninsula of Kanoni. After it’s original resident, Sir Frederick Adam (Corfu’s second British High Commissioner) and the British withdrew from Corfu it was ceded to King George I of Greece who named it Mon Repos (My Rest).Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was born there in 1921. The building was a summer house for the Greek Royal Family until the late 1960’s and was eventually taken over by the Municipality and opened it to the public.
MANDOUKI & GARITSA
You can walk to either of these 2 suburbs and discover some excellent bars, cafes and tavernas set amongst some of the islands oldest architecture. Mandoúki is a 10-minute walk west of the Old Port and the Old Town, most of its houses were built in the 17th and the 18th century in the traditional Venetian architecture, and you can still see the beautiful church of Panagia and the church of Agios Ioannis, built two centuries ago and still working today.
The leafy suburb of Garitsa is laid out to the south, separated from the seafront road by a narrow tree-filled park, where generations of local children have played. Here, the local tavernas and grillrooms also make use of the park, setting out their tables under the trees, which combined with the view to the sea makes it a popular place to eat. During the summer months it becomes the gathering point for some of the most exclusive yachts in the World.
ACHILLEION (SISSI'S PALACE) GASTOURI VILLAGE The Achilleion, completed in 1892, is a late 19th century neo-classical villa of grandiose design, set within spectacular gardens. It was the idea of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sissi) as a tribute to Achilles. Six years after the palace was completed an assassin on the quay at Lake Geneva killed the Empress. In 1908 the palace was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II. He subsequently left Corfu in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI and he never returned! It was eventually taken over by the Greek state, converted into a casino in 1963 (James Bond enthusiasts may indeed recognise the palace as the casino in ‘For Your Eyes Only.') Now in the hands of the Greek National Tourist Organisation, it is a fascinating museum packed with personal items and the decorated gardens contain many sculptures and offer some wonderful views.
ANGELOKASTRO 'CASTLE OF THE ANGELS'
One of the most important Byzantine castles in Greece. Built c. 1214 and subsequently strengthened by the Angevin and Venetian rulers. Situated in the north west of the island at the top of a steep cliff above Paleokstritsa the castle is in a formidable and strategic vantage point which, at 305m, surveys the City of Corfu with views across the Ionian sea to mainland Greece and has played a pivotal defensive role throughout its long history. There is a small chapel in the rock 'St. Kyriaki' with frescoes dating back to the 18th century and some fascinating anthropomorphic graves cut into the rock, that you'll find beneath your feet as you reach the top. The construction of the castle considering its remote and forbidding location is quite remarkable.