The distinctive old town of Corfu, featuring a well-preserved historical center, constitutes the perfect place for exploring the local history and the great architecture of Corfu all year round. Every visitor could experience the Corfu town lifestyle, wandering among the famous narrow streets, the so-called kadounia in the area called “Campiello” or the small souvenir shops and markets in the several squares. Can also enjoy relaxation and savour the Greek tastes at local restaurants and coffee shops or experience the Corfiot nightlife.
The town of Corfu, or Kerkyra, is the capital of the island and one of the most interesting towns in Greece, due in great part to the strong influence from its association with the Republic of Venice for over four centuries so that it strongly resembles in character an Italian town. Corfu was never occupied by the Ottomans, something that is evident in comparison with the rest of Greece. However, the old town of Corfu has also been influenced, apart from its ancient Hellenic and Roman heritage evident in the many archaeological sites and the Archaeological Museum, by the periods of French and British rule, recognizable in many important buildings of the late centuries.
The old town of Corfu, enclosed within the line of fortifications linking the two dominant Venetian fortresses, the Old and the New, densely built with narrow streets and tall houses, constitutes nowadays a protected UNESCO heritage site; its oldest quarter, the hill of Campielo, is a particular joy to wander around. Although the Italian bombardments in 1940 and mostly the German bombardment of September 1943 caused very heavy damages to the town – including the destruction of the sumptuous, 19th century Italian style Opera house – enough has survived to constitute a pleasing, homogenous ensemble of traditional architecture: narrow streets (called “kandounia”), many of them with arcades, and small-size squares. The population of Corfu town is about 40,000, not counting the student population of the Ionian University which, together with the steadily increasing number of visiting multinational tourists, makes Corfu one of the most cosmopolitan towns in Greece.
On the west side of the “Spianada” (Esplanade), the Napoleonic era French influence is evident in the impressive “Liston” tree lined pedestrian walk, an elegant arcaded ine of buildings modeled on the Parisian Rue de Rivoli. Under their arches are located some of the more popular cafes of the town. Their open-air tables are facing the Spianada’s lawns and playground, which host in the summer cricket matches. The game of cricket was introduced by the British. Locally brewed Ginger beer is another British contribution you can still enjoy anywhere in Corfu.
Although originally fortified by the Byzantines during the 6th century to protect the original small town of the time, the Old Fortress’ fortifications were completed by the Angevins to encircle the promontory, then modified by the Venetians and completed by the British. Before their departure and handing over of the Ionian Islands to Greece in 1864, the British demolished part of the fortifications along the western front and outside the old town.
Bounding the Spianada on the north is the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, built in Georgian style between 1819 and 1824 by the first British Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland, using Maltese stone and masons, to be the official residence of the Lord High Commissioner and the seat of the Ionian Senate. Today it houses the Corfu Museum of Asian Art, containing more than 11,000 Asian artifacts, collected and donated to the Greek State by the Greek diplomat Grigorios Manos. Many important pieces from China, Japan and other Asian countries have been added since. After the extensive 2nd World War damages, the whole building and especially the Throne Room, Ball Room and Banquet Hall were successfully restored in the 1950ies, the latter funded by a special Trust, and are since subject to careful maintenance.
The long-standing history of Corfu is characterized by the fact that many different cultures and nations, from the antiquity to the 19th century, sought to conquer the island, because of its important strategic position. Their influence can still be observed nowadays in many aspects of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek): the architecture of historical monuments and buildings, the Corfiots’ tendency to the Arts, their respect of tradition, their friendly, welcoming disposition and the local cuisine.