Corfu: History

The Greek Island Kerkyra

Corfu History

Corfu’s history is exciting, turbulent and full of enchanting Greek mythology. Invaded over the years by so many different armies, it is no wonder that this little island is so diverse and enriched with tradition and architecture from all over the world. Named after Poseidon’s love, Nymph Korkira, Corfu has been a highly important island for religion, commerce and military strategy since the 7th – 4th centuries BC. The first Greek settlers arrived in the 8th century and discovered that Corfu Town itself was already a significant international trading port. Many of Corfu’s early military conflicts were against the Corinthians who strived for occupation. However, Corfu gained help from the Athenians and struck up an important alliance with Athens for over a century. The fortunes of the island changed again when it was conquered by the Spartans and Romans in 300 BC who reigned well into 300 AD. The Romans contributed a great deal to the Corfu you see today, including architecture, roads and the bath houses (of which you can still see the ruins). The Corfiots then saw a turbulent few centuries during which the Roman Empire fell and the island found itself invaded by Goths and Saracens. Christianity arrived early on the island in 40 AD, however, after the Sicilians invaded in the 1200s, the church was forced to convert to Catholicism. The French and the Venetians also raided and ruled the island over the ages and contributed their own designs to the towns and landscape. Under the Venetians Corfu found itself attacked from many different quarters, which meant that its many forts were put to good use. Napoleon made sure that Corfu became part of the French State when he conquered Venice in 1797 and managed to upset the feudal system that had long been in place on the island. However, the Russians, English and Turks then arrived in 1799 to leave their mark – although they relinquished their reign in 1807 when the island returned to French rule. The English had another attempt in 1815 and this time managed to conquer the island completely. Under English rule the Greek language flourished and a variety of roads, universities and water systems were set up. Sadly, during the two world wars Corfu suffered a great loss of life and history as the German bombing destroyed much of the island’s heritage. Many buildings were restored, however, and all of the invasion and conflict Corfu suffered over the years has led to a culturally rich history and some fascinating places to explore.