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The history of Corfu

The history of Corfu island is very long & tumultuous, as many different cultures & nations sought to capture the island as their own. Their influence can be seen in every aspect of present day Corfu, from its physical appearance & historical monuments to its inhabitants’ disposition & the local cuisine.

Mythical Corfu

The ancient inhabitants of Corfu were most probably descendents of the Phaeacians, Nafsika and King Alkinoos. The island has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Era.
It was originally occupied by the Eretrians and then by the Corinthians, by whom the island was named Korkyra, after the daughter of the river-god Esopos.

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Corfu

During the Corinthian occupation, Corfu became a large commercial & naval power of the ancient world & produced many notable works of art. In 585 BC, the island recovered its independence from Corinth. It contributed 60 triremes to Persian War battles. Later the alliance of Corfu with Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 431 – 404 BC led to the island’s eventual decline. In order to protect itself against pirates, Corfu voluntarily accepted Roman sovereignty, which lasted up to 337 AD. The island converted to Christianity around the 1st century AD.

Following the division of the Roman Empire, Corfu joined the Eastern Roman Empire in 395 AD. The island at various times during the Medieval Ages was plundered by the Huns, Vandals, Goths & Arabs. These raids devastated Corfu & resulted in the Corfiots moving to more secure grounds, a naturally fortified location between two rocks, from which the name Corfu was derived (Koryfi means peak in Greek). Later the island was occupied by the Normans & was eventually liberated by the Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel I Komninos.

In 1799 the island came under the control of the Russian Admiral Ushakov, while the Septinsular Republic Constitution was implemented in 1800. Corfu (Korfu) then became the first Greek State to be recognized as a semi-autonomous republic since 1453. During this period, the Orthodox Bishop of Corfu was reinstated.

In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte took over the administration of Corfu along with the other Ionian Islands. French occupation brought with it the ideas of the French Revolution. A municipal council was instituted, headed by Spyridon Theotokis. During this occupation, a municipal library was established, the police force, the judicial system and the educational system were reorganized for the better, and the first Greek printing press was established.

The First Era of Venetian Rule

In 1204, the Venetians laid claim to Corfu (Kerkyra) after the conquest of the Byzantine Empire by the 4th Crusade. In 1214, the island was recaptured by Michael I Aggelos Komninos, Despot of Epirus, who restored the old privileges of the inhabitants and reinforced the island’s fortifications until 1258-1259, when the region was ceded by Duke Michael II to his son in law Manfred.

The battle of Beneventum and the Treaty of Viterbo resulted in the transfer of the island to Charles I of Anjou for the next 120 years. Charles I of Anjou had many anti-orthodox feelings and replaced the Orthodox churches with Catholic churches. More and more people were gathering in the basin between the two hills, seeking protection and refuge. It was during this time that the Old Fortress was constructed.

In the second half of the 14th century, the island once more sought the protection of Venice, which bought the island from Naples and undertook to defend it for the next 412 years.

The Venetian administration was carried out by short-term members of a council that was appointed by Venice. During this period the Byzantine fortifications were further reinforced. The island was besieged by Turkish forces in 1537. Many acres of cultivated land were destroyed and at least 20,000 inhabitants were killed. The island though, was not captured due to its great defence.

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