Everything began with a myth about an ancient Greek God and a nymph, love and marital bliss, power and abduction. And who were the main characters? Once upon a time river god Asopus and river nymph Metope had a very beautiful daughter named Kerkyra (or Korkyra). One day Poseidon, saw the beauty and abducted her. As the God of the Sea, he brought his women to different islands and afterwards, in marital bliss, he usually dedicated them to his ladies. This happened to nymph Kerkyra as well. After she had been kidnapped by Poseidon, he brought her to the hitherto unnamed island. He married her and named the whole island after her. The fruit of their love was a child who brought the name of Phaiax and actually, the islanders were named after him – Phaiakes (or Phaeacians). These good-hearted and extremely peaceful people always helped castaways to return home. They also helped Odysseus (known as Ulysses by his Latin name) come back to his home island – Ithaka, after 10 years of countless adventures in unknown lands. I guess you have already recognized the island. Of course, it is …..
C O R F U
It is one of the most magical islands of Hellas where you move from one epoch to another, breath freely and adore the three shades of blue. Yes, it is true. For instance, when you head for the amazing Achilleion Palace, you bump into a Byzantine church and ancient Roman ruins situated on both sides on the road. There is no Ottoman influence on island simply because Corfù is the only Ionian island that was never under Ottoman dominion. But the Venetian atmosphere is too feasible and it brings you to the romantic world of brave warriors and princesses.
Now let us get started our short trip around the Island of the Nymphs which is situated close to the shores of Italy and Albania. It has an area of 580 thousand km2 and population of 110 thousand inhabitants. Its northern parts are wider while the shape of the island gets tighter to the south. The capital city is the town of Kèrkyra which lies on the eastern coast.
If you come to the island by plane, you will have an absolutely amazing adventure since the landing strip is only one and is in the sea. That’s why it’s known that only extremely skillful pilots can land and take off a plane at the Ioannis Kapodistrias (Capodistrias) International Airport. No matter you are on the plane or somewhere on the hills of Kanoni, spectacular aerial views are guaranteed.
The hills of Kanoni were the first places on the island settled by the Corinthians from the Peloponnese in the 8th century B.C. The name of the cape comes from the name of the French word for a cannon. This place offers postcard, breathtaking views to the nearby small islet of Pontikonisi. Literally translated the name means the “Mouse Island” because when looked at from above its shape resembles that of a mouse. According to the legend the islet is a ship petrified by God Poseidon. Nowadays this landmark of Corfù and its capital city, in particular, is a preferred tourist photo-stop because of the beautiful view of the islet and the Byzantine chapel of Pantokrator from the 11th-12th century as well as the Vlaherna Monastery.
Having admired this enormous beauty, normally tourists head to nearby village of Gastouri that has a typical Venetian outlook. This pretty nice settlement enchanted Empress Sissi (Elisabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria) and she chose it as the place where she grieved at her dead son. The summer residence was decorated by her in dark colours and the main and central theme was the mythical hero Achilles. After Sissi’s death the palace was sold to Kaiser Wilhelm II from Germany who turned it into a true vivid summer residence. The central theme was kept but the previous statute to Achilles Dying was substituted for another one – that to the Triumphant Achilles. After that the palace became a casino and then it turned into a museum attracting thousands of tourists annually.
It’s high time we dived into the capital city of Kèrkyra, the city with the Venetian atmosphere. Why? The two “korifi” (which means “a peak” in ancient Greek) house the two Venetian fortresses. The Old one was built in the 6th century AD after the ancient city of Korkyra had been destroyed and locals were forced to leave it and to settle down on the hills. Later the Byzantines fortified it and then, in the 15th century, the Venetians replaced the older fortification building and equipped it with bastions, tunnels and winding galleries, the central gate and the two awesome ramparts which were named after the two Italian engineers Martinengo and Savorgnan. Crossing the 60-metre bridge connecting the fortress with the Esplanade (or Spianada) Square one can have a nice stroll among the tourist sites of interest (like the 1840 British Church “St. George”, the Temple from Roman times, the prison as well the British hospital and barracks) inside the fortress as well as take panoramic photos of the city of Kèrkyra and the sea.
Invading the island, the Venetians built another Fortress – the new one on the second korifi called Agios Markos (St. Mark) in the town between 1570 -1580. Of course, the two winged lions of St. Mark can be seen at intervals on the bastion walls. A peculiar fact is that an open book lies at the feet of each lion. It’s said that the open book symbolizes that the Venetians’ intention wasn’t to conquer and invade the island but to defend it.
Going out from the New Fortress, you have no other chance but take one of the Venetian style winding, tiny, cobbled streets dotted by souvenir shops, cafés, tavernas and restaurants. Wander here and there. 🙂 Get lost and forget about the time. 🙂 Feel the Venetian atmosphere and if you are ready, just take a deep breath and go to the largest square in the Balkans. 🙂 The Esplanade or Spianada Square is a large space and a cricket playground, the latter being heritage from the Brits. The square is the place where the Easter procession of throwing jars and pots is held annually.
The Spianada Square has one more distinguishing feature. It’s the Liston arcade facades which could be compared to Rue de Rivoli in Paris (at least because both of them were built by the same architect). The word “liston” is of Venetian origin and is widely used in many cities both in Veneto and on ex-territories of the Venetian Republic. So, briefly, liston is the main promenade that is full of bistros and tavernas where locals and tourists alike enjoy life and indulge in typically Hellenic meals or just in coffee in Kèrkyra.
The Saint Spyridon Church in the capital city is on every tourist’s bucket list. The Greek Orthodox Church keeps the relics of the Saint who is the protector of the island. His merits were that he saved the town and island from the Ottomans and plague. That’s why every second boy bears his name – Spyridon, and lots of girls are named Spyridoula on the island. If you happen to visit Corfù on Easter you will be given a small cloth from the Saint’s shoe which will bring you health and happiness.
Another sacred place in Corfù (among many others, actually) is Palaiokastritsa. It’s situated on the west coast and is a picturesque and idyllic site that houses the Panagia Monastery built in 1225. Most probably the initial buildings were part of a fortification in the beginning and that’s the reason why it was called “Old Castle” (Palaiokastritsa). The Genoans destroyed the Monastery in 1403 and it was rebuilt some 60 years later. Unfortunately, it was devastated for the second time by the Turks in 1537. So, today’s building of the Monastery dates back to the 16th – 18th centuries.
The Monastery itself lies on the top of a rock facing down a beautiful view of the sea waves bumping into the sharp cliffs and coves. This magical place is also a mythical one as it’s supposed to have been the place where Odysseus disembarked and met met Ariti. Being washed out by the sea, he looked for a shelter on the mythical Island of Scheria. Just off Palaiokastritsa, there is rock that resembles Ulysses’ ship and that’s why it’s believed it’s his petrified ship or the vessel which tried to rob and pirate the monastery.
What is an island without love especially when the God of Sea determined Corfù as a love nest for him and his nymph Kerkyra? Canal D’Amour is the symbol of love here. It’s an amazing cove with a rock formation (west off Sidari). The Tunnel of Love appears to be a cave but actually, it’s a tunnel which has an exit on the other side of the rock. According to the local sayings, if he and she swim together through the tunnel, they will get married and live happily forever and ever. Another belief is that if you are still single and looks for your partner, you should swim through the Tunnel of Love and when you reach the other side, the first person you meet there, will be your greatest love.
If you choose to visit the island by sea avoiding any airplane adventures at Corfù’s airport, you might disembark from one of the regular ferries at one of the two sea ports of the island – that in the capital city which is a bigger one and the one in Lefkimmi to the south. Having chosen the second one, you might make your mind to stay in one of the nearby small sea resorts. One of them is Kavos. Well, it’s gained fame for being a “party” seaside village for young holiday makers. I have been told that, as a matter of fact, parties are really hard and long and that’s why there are more hospitals, medical centres and drug’s stores than hotels. So, if you are a partygoer, for sure, this is your place. 🙂
And finally, after long round trips on the island, you might want have a drink on Corfù. Am I right? Well then, you should try the special kumquat liqueur. Let me tell you a few words about that fruit which liqueurs, jams, marmalades are made of. It has a little bit bitter-sweet taste and resembles a mandarine or orange. It’s the symbol of Corfù and the one and only factory for this liqueur is on the island. It could be purchased from the so-called “kumquat’s shops”. On the other hand, if you prefer beer, get a ginger beer whose taste is ginger-lemon. As a matter of fact, it’s a low-alcohol beer (even a juice 🙂 ) that is called “beer” as it is too sparkling and fizzy. Cin-cin 🙂 .