of Corfu, the northwesternmost end
is truly a magnificent island. Corfu Town
looks like what every other Greek town would like to look like, had it not
been bulldozed under concrete after WWII. The interior is a lush green
garden, over gentle rolling hills in the middle and the south, and
Pantokrator mountain in the north. And the Corfiots, with a reputation for
being devious, fun- loving bon viveurs, are some of the warmest hosts
anywhere in the country.
Corfu is large, pretty, and important. It has
always been that. In Homeric times, Corfu
was the island of the Phaecians. Odysseus was washed ashore after a
shipwreck, and was awakened by the song of the daughter of Nafsica, the
daughter of King Alcinoos, and her entourage, who were frolicking by the
seashore. Odysseus, according to Homer, got up and approached the girls to
seek help, but they were startled and run away because he was stark naked. Only
Princess Nafsika remained cool, talked to Odysseus, took him to Alcinoos'
palace, who first wined and dined him and then gave him a ship and crew to
sail him to Ithaca.
In Classical times, Corfu played a major role in history-making when its
quarrel with Corinth, whose colony Corfu was, drew in first Athens and then
Sparta, Corinth's ally, and led to the 27-year Peloponnesian War,
immortalized by Thucededes. The war resulted in Athens'
demise and marked the beginning of the end of Greece's glorious Classical
The history of Corfu after the Peloponnesian
War was of Roman conquest and raids by the many barbaric tribes that
descended on the Balkans at the dawn of the middle ages. Between 1204 and
1576 the island withstood two devastating attempts by the Ottoman Turks to
bring it into the Imperial fold, a number of rebellions against invading
Crusaders, and a number of bloody raids by wandering pirates. Finally, in
1576, after more than half of the population had been killed in the previous
few decades, the Corfiots sought Venice's
patronage and protection.
Venetian rule, as in Zakynthos, meant vigorous economic activity, rebuilding
of the cities, and especially Corfu Town, and the establishment of a new
class of nobility, the members of the Gilded Book, or the Libro d' Oro. Thus,
the island withstood more Turkish attempts, and only fell to the French
during the Napoleonic wars. The French rule is marked by a number of great
buildings, including those lining Liston
Corfu came under British rule in 1815, after Waterloo, and acquired most of
its present-day character and color, including the Ionian Academy, Corfu's
university, that has been recently revived, the Corfiot's love of cricket and
ginger beer (or "tzitzimbira", as it has come to be known) and the
close ties between the island and the United Kingdom. Today, there are
about 6,000 of Her Majesty's subjects living permanently on Corfu,
and the presence of Brits in the northern part of the island is so dominant
that Kassiopi is called affectionately Kensington-on-the-Ionian.
Among the famous foreigners that have, at one time or another, found love,
inspiration, or refuge in Corfu are the family of Laurence Durrell, Queen
Elizabeth, also known as Sissy, of Austro-Hungary, who built the Achilleion, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, who bought it
after Sissy's assasination by an Italian anarchist.
In 1864, Corfu, along with the rest of the Ionians, was given to Greece as a gift by Queen Victoria to the newly enthroned and
Danish-born King George I. Since then, the island has seen two of its sons
become Prime Ministers and various others playing key roles in the country's
political, cultural, and social life. Corfiots, especially the descendants of
the aristocracy created by Venetian edict, are very elegant and pleasant
people, always well appointed and well spoken, and always ready to tell a
joke and crack up in roaring laughter.
The northern part of the island, from Ipsos to Kassiopi, is dotted with
luxury villas . Finally, the northwestern and western parts are less crowded, except
for Paleokastritsa, greener and almost isolated. When driving from Peroulades
to Paleokastritsa don't try to jog your radio dial in frustration: you are
still in Corfu although you can only receive radio stations from Italy.