Corfu’s turbulent history is full of battles, conquests and changes of ownership. It’s Greek name (Kerkyra) has its origins steeped in Greek mythology; the god Poseidon abducted his lover (Korkyra) to the island, and gave her name to it. Korkyra became Kerkyra.
Corfu’s earliest inhabitants were Phaeacians, after which the island received a steady stream of immigrants from Eretria, before it was settled in an organized way by Corinthians. Corfu’s geographically strategic position on the trade route between Greece and the west, ensured its continued growth, but at the same time made it a prime target for pirates and avaricious nations. The Romans brought stability to the island in 229 BC, giving it the status of “Free State”.
In medieval times, Corfu was batted back and forth, very much like a tennis ball. It was conquered by Italy, Genoese Pirates, the Venetians, Greek despots from Epirus, and the Neapolitan House of Anjou, before finally placing itself under the protection of Venice in 1386. It remained in Venetian hands for almost 400 years, although during that time it suffered many attacks from the Turks, who were successfully repelled, due in large part to the Venetian fortifications (such as can be seen in Corfu Old Town, Kassiopi and Angelokastro).
Corfu served as a refuge for scholars, and in 1732, the first Greek university was built. After a short period of French and Russian – Ottoman rule at the beginning of the 19th century, Corfu was ceded to The British Government in 1815, under whose auspices it remained until sovereignty was passed to Greece in 1864.
During the First World War, Corfu served as a refuge for the Serbian army fleeing occupation by Austrian and Bulgarian armies. Many Serbs died of exhaustion and starvation whilst here, and were buried at sea near Vidos Island in the mouth of Corfu Bay. During the Second World War, Corfu was occupied by Italy in 1941. Upon the fall of Italian facism in 1943, the Nazis moved in and occupied the island until its liberation by British Troops in October 1944.
Today, the island’s architecture, language (many Italian words are incorporated into “Corfiot Greek”), cuisine, and indeed, inhabitants themselves, all bear witness to Corfu’s rich and turbulent past. All of history is represented in microcosm here in Corfu, presenting a unique opportunity of discovery for all who land upon its shores.