THE VARIOUS NAMES OF CORFU (Korfu)
40.000 BC - 735 BC FROM THE CAVE-DWELLERS TO THE FIRST SETTLETS
Corfu was not always an island: during the Paleolithic Period it was joined with the mainland opposite. Archaeological finds from this period (70,000-40,000 BC) have been made at Ag. Mathaios.
Separation from the mainland occurred during the Neolithic period (10,000-8,000BC) when, with the melting of the ice, the level of the sea rose. Traces of the Neolithic Period are to be found at Sidari. In the north-west of the island, at Kefali, Afionas and Ermones, Bronze Age settlements (2,000 BC) have been found.
Apollonias the Rodian, in the ''Argonautika'' refers to the fact that Jason hid here with the Argonauts and Medea, in order to escape the Colchians.
In the ''Odyssey'' Homer has Odysseus brought to Corfu, exhausted and naked, to be found by Nausicaa, the daughter of the ruler of the island, King Alkinoos. (The second rhapsody of the Iliad). In those days the inhabitants of the island were of Phoenician descent while, later, immigrants began to arrive from Hyperia - now known as Sicily, from Illyria and even Crete, Mycenae and the Aegean, as verified by Professor Dorpfeld in his excavations of 1914. The first Greek settlers came from Eretria in Euboea, around 775-750 BC. A little later political refugees from Corinth fled to the island, bringing with them their highly developed political outlook.
735-435 BC THE CORINTHIANS IN CORCYRA
Under the leadership of Chersicrates a powerful Corcyra was created, with colonies, economic wealth, and naval power, but political differences divided the Phaiacians into Democrats and Oligarchs, and after 300 years of peaceful co-existence the inhabitants of Corcyra found themselves in conflict with the Corinthians over their jointly-held colony Epidamnos (today known as Durres). The Athenians support for Corcyra gave rise to the start of the Peloponnesian Wars
435-229 BC CORCYRA'S ATHENIAN ALLIES
The alliance lasted for almost a century. In spite of the internal conflict between the aristocratic and the democratic parties the Corcyrans were able to give strong support to the Athenians in many battles, thanks to their powerful navy. But in 338 BC, at Chaeroneia, the Macedonians, under Philip II, won the battle, dissolving the Athenian Alliance and conquering Corcyra. It was then that Alexander the Great visited the island, was enchanted by its beauty and placed it under his protection for almost 35 years. From 300 BC onwards, Corcyra became at various times the temporary possession of the Spartans, the Syracusians, and the Illyrians, who eventually handed the island over to the Romans, in 229 BC.
In occupying Corcyra, the Romans conquered their first Greek territory. From the oligarchic party, they fashioned their own ruling class and thrust the entire island into a state of deep decline. In their time, the first century AD, Jason and Sosipatros, disciples of the Apostle, Saint Paul, brought Christianity to the island. A little later, Nero visited Kassiopi, a plague epidemic struck the island, and the persecution of the Christians began.
337-1267 A.D. THE BYZANTINE PERIOD
In 337 A.D. the Roman Empire was divided into East and West for the first time, with Corfu being included in the Western section. The partition however was finalised in 395 A.D. and Corfu was ceded to the Eastern Roman Empire.Centuries of darkness followed, during which Corfu suffered barbarian raids repeatedly, such as the one in 455 A.D. when the Vandals of Genzerichou laid waste to the island. The sack of Corfu by the Goths under Totila folowed in 550 A.D., an event which led to the adandonment of the ancient city and its relocation for defensive purposes behind the fortifications of the Old Fortress. In the second half of the 7th century A.D. Saracens seized Corfu, ravaged it and then used it as a base of operations.
In 733 A.D. the Byzantines expelled the Saracens, signalling the start of a new era for Corfu, under Byzantine Orthodox rule. In 1081 A.D. the Normans under the leadership of Robert Guiscaud besieged and captured the island. Their rule did not last long, however, since the Byzantines, with the help of Venice, beat them in a naval battle and again took possession. Various Frankish knights conquered the island in subsequent years and in 1204 A.D., when knights of the Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople, Corfu fell into Venetian hands. The next decade was Corfu's first period under Venetian rule, but in 1214 A.D. Byzantium again took possession of the island, which became part of the Despotate of Epirus, at that time one of three independent Greek states. Half a century of peace followed, until a new threat, this time from Sicily, arose.
The use of the Greek language in the Eastern Roman Empire constituted the basis for the development of a separate consciousness from that of Rome. The Church of Western Greece left the control of the Pope and came under the auspices of the Patriarch in Constantinople. Corfu became a Metropolitan Bishopric and the Greek world came into opposition with the Latin one.
When in 1267 A.D. the Angevins conquered Corfu, they attempted to impose the Catholic religion in place of the Orthodox. The attempt failed completely, since the end of Byzantine rule did not by any means signify the end of the Greek Orthodox consciousness and culture amongst the people of Corfu
1267-1386 THE ANGEVIN OCCUPATION
In 1267, Charles of Anjou, the French King of Sicily, seized the island and began efforts to replace the Orthodox Church with the Catholic one. During this period the island was divided into the four districts which still exist today - the regions of Giros, Oros, Mesis and Lefkimmi. Also at this time, Corfu was settled by two new peoples. The first group consisted of Jews banished from Spain, who were treated little better when they came to Corfu. Despite protective measures imposed by the Angevins, they were persecuted until 1386, when, having become a large community, they were at last allowed to play a part in public life. The second people were the Vagenets, who came from the coastal region of Epirus and involved themselves in tough manual labour, thus becoming a separate lower class. Meanwhile the external threat from the Turks was always present and, fearing an attack, the Council of Corfu sought the protection of the ruler of the seas, the Serene Republic of Venice. So it was that on May 20th 1386, the banner of St. Mark was raised upon the Old Fortress.
1386-1797 THE VENETIAN PERIOD
Four centuries of Venetian rule were to determine the character of the island. The existing feudal system was strengthened through the nobility which was listed in the ''Libro d'Oro'', while at the same time new social classes made their appearance, the civili (bourgeoisie) and the 'popolari'. (the common people). Not only were commerce and agriculture at their peak, thanks to the compulsory planting of olive trees and their cultivation, but intellectual and artistic life also flourished. While the rest of the Greek world was under the Turkish yoke, the protected Corfiots spoke Italian and enjoyed a flowering of literature and the arts. For this reason, many literary and artistic figures from other parts of Greece made their way to Corfu to settle. But this cultural development was the privilege of the aristocracy, and was made at the expense of those in the country who, working without economic profit and living in a cultural void, began to revolt. The first uprising came in 1610 and was followed by four major and several minor revolts, all of which were savagely suppressed. As a result, when the French fleet sailed into Corfu they were welcomed as liberators. During the Venetian period, Corfu suffered repeated but ultimately unsuccessful attacks by Genoese pirates and Turks, who razed villages and devastated the countryside. The resulting decline in the population forced the Venetians, who needed a labour force to exploit the resources of the island, to encourage immigration from the mainland
1797-1814 THE FRENCH PRESENCE IN CORFU
When the French occupied Corfu the local people, fired by the ideals of the French Revolution, had visions of their own independence and of an end to the days of the nobility. The 'Libro d'Oro' was burned and emblems of Venetian rule were destroyed, but the authoritarian policy which the French in turn imposed soon antagonised the people of the island.
In 1799 Russia and Turkey, concerned about French territorial expansion, formed an alliance and took Corfu. A year later, on March 21st 1800, Corfu and the other Ionian islands joined to create the independent Septinsular Republic, but this was dissolved when, in 1807, Corfu was again ceded to France under Napoleon, a situation which lasted until 1814. By then the Ionian Academy and the Library had been established and the local economy had improved.
1814 - 1864 THE BRITISH ERA
In 1814 the Ionian islands were declared an independent state under the protection of Great Britain. Under British rule, the economy recovered fully, a road network was constructed, the Ionian Academy (1824) was established as the first Greek university, and, most important of all, Greek became the official language. The British remained in Corfu until 1864, when the islands were united with the rest of Greece.
1864 - TODAY
On May 21st 1864, Corfu and the other Ionian islands finally regained their Greek identity, and the long years of foreign occupation came to an end. But this also signalled the end of Corfu's brilliance as the capital of the Ionian State. The small, newly established Greek state could not afford the existence of two separate poles of culture and wealth, and the University and other cultural institutions had to be sacrificed. By 1900, Corfu was just another provincial town with memories of a glorious past. In 1923 it was bombarded and temporarily occupied by the Italians, after the Italian General Cellini was murdered on Greek territory. During the Second World War, in 1940, it was bombed and once again occupied by the Italians and in 1943 suffered a huge catastrophe when bombed by the Germans, and the Ionian Academy, the Library, and the Municipal Theatre were burnt down.
In the hard years that followed the end of the war, Corfu shared the fortune of the rest of Greece. Poverty, political crisis and emigration continued until the late 1960's, when tourist development gave a new impetus to the economic and social life of Greece. The island's attraction for tourists was already evident by the turn of the century. As well as being the spot chosen by the tragic Empress Sissi for her Achillion Palace, built in 1890 as a refuge from the intrigues of the Hapsburg court, it also became the setting of the Bella Venezia Hotel, a beautiful hostelry which was often compared with the Grande Bretagne in Athens and attracted the aristocracy of Europe as guests. From the early years of the century up until the Second World War, Corfu rivalled Capri and Majorca as the favourite Mediterranean destination of the European elite. During the last 40 years , the growth of mass tourism, combined with the island's natural beauty and historic past, has made Corfu one of the most popular holiday destinations for countless people from all over the world, who never cease to recall the wonderful summer days they spent in Corfu.
Visiting the fortresses, the old mansions, the monasteries, passing the time at cafes and village tavernas, the visitor can take pleasure in experiencing a living culture, one which is evident in the character of the charming Corfiots.
Corfu (Korfu) history