Corfu town or Kerkyra is the capital of Corfu island and one of the most interesting towns in Greece, due to the strong influence of the Venetians who for over four centuries ruled the island, so it strongly resembles an Italian city. Corfu was never occupied by the Ottomans, something that is evident in Corfu in comparison with other places in Greece. However, Corfu town has been strongly influenced by the British, the French, Greeks and Romans, whose ancient buildings’ architecture is still recognizable in Corfu town through several archaeological sites and of course the Archaeological Museum.
The old quarter of Corfu, full of narrow streets and pedestrian areas constitutes a protected UNESCO heritage site between the two dominant Venetian fortresses, the old and the new fortress; its oldest district – the Campiello – is a particular joy to wander around. Although the German bombardment of September 1943 caused heavy damage – including the destruction of the sumptuous Belle Époque theatre-cum-opera-house – and most of the low Venetian walls or gates enveloping the town centre, enough has survived to make a pleasing, homogenous ensemble of monumental architecture, narrow streets (the so-called kadounia) and little squares. The population of Corfu town is about 40,000, not counting the large student population at the Ionian University, which makes Corfu one of the most cosmopolitan areas in Greece.
On the west side of the Spianada (Esplanade plaza), the Napoleonic-French style is most evident in the Liston, an elegant arcaded line of buildings modelled on the Parisian Rue de Rivoli. Under the arches are located today some of the most popular cafes on the island. Their tables offer open views to Spianada’s lawns, which host weekend cricket matches that take place during summer, and which were introduced by the British. Another British contribution is also the Ginger beer that you can still enjoy everywhere in Corfu. It was the French who landscaped the Spianada, thus creating one of the most attractive open areas throughout Greece and at the same time the largest square in the Balkans; for the Venetians, it was merely a waste ground, the site of old houses where demolished so as to create a free field from the Old Fortress, which lies east of the Spianada, beyond the Contrafossa channel dug by the Venetians and now home to fishing boats.
Although originally where established by the Byzantines during the 6th century, most of the existing Old Fortress is of Venetian times; the British demolished most of their additions before handing the island over to Greece in 1864. Bounding the Spianada on the north is the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, built between 1819 and 1824 by the British High Commissioner, Sir Thomas Maitland, using Maltese stones and was then used as the official residence of the commissioner and seat of the Ionian Senate. Today it houses the Museum of Asian Art, containing almost 11,000 Asian artifacts collected by two Greek diplomats with exemplary taste when they where stationed in the Far East.
The long-standing history of Corfu island is characterized by the fact that many different cultures and nations sought to conquer the island. Their influence can still be seen nowadays in every aspect of Corfu (Kerkyra): the architecture of some historical monuments and buildings, Corfiots’ pleasant disposition and the local cuisine.