CORFU - HISTORY
Legend has it that the island wasScheria or Drepani, home of the Phaeacians (Alkinoos`s people) inHomer`s `Odyssey`. Early settlers from Euboea on the mainland weredisplaced in about 735BC by a colony from Corinth. These people werevery independent and would not obey the rulers of Corinth and around664 BC the first naval battle in Greek history took place just off theCorfu coast. As a result the colony was eventually punished and heavilyreduced by the Corinthian tyrant Periander. Over the next century or sothe colony regained its independence and fought hard to become acommercial center, benefiting from its geographical location. In 435the island`s government asked Athens to assist in a quarrel withCorinth. This request was granted, and was one of the contributoryfactors leading to the Peloponnesian War (431-404BC). Corfu ended itsinvolvement in the war in 410BC, but a further alliance with Athens in375 caused more hostilities.
After a short period of relative stability the island changed handsmany times during the 3rd century BC. In 229BC, Corfu sought help fromRome in sorting out the difficult situation in the Aegean andvoluntarily became part of the Roman Empire. The Romans recognizedCorfu`s naval significance and retained the island as a free state.They established an Aristocracy and there are several sites with Romanremains including the castle at Kassiopi. In 31BC Octavian (later tobecome the emperor Augustus) used it as his naval base against MarkAnthony and founded a new town at Nicopolis on the mainland. Augustusdecreed that the population relocate to the new town and so began aperiod of decline for Corfu.
The Roman Empire split in 337AD and Corfu came under the rule of theEastern Roman Empire and thus the military and administrativejurisdiction of Constantinople or Byzantium. Dark times were to followduring the greater part of the 5th century, and in 455AD the Vandals ofGenzerichou, who were basically pirates, savaged Rome and also attackedthe Ionian Islands, starting with Zakinthos and then moving on toCorfu. The island was again depopulated and heavily damaged. By 535such population as there was had strengthened themselves again andcontributed ships and men to an imperial force led by Belissarius, therenowned general of the Emperor Justinian (527-565). In retaliation,the King of the Goths, Totila sent 300 ships to Epirus after which,they laid waste to Corfu and its neighboring islands.
There follows a period of some four centuries where very littleinformation is available about the history of the island although it isbelieved that raids from numerous sources continued to blight theisland. In the 7th century, the Byzantine Empire was reorganized intothemes and Corfu first came under the rule of Epirus and later, thetheme of Kefallonia. In 968 there is the first reference to the islandsname of Corypho, which is where the old fortress stood with its twopeaks. The name gradually spread to include the whole island.
Arab raids continued to ravage the islands during another period ofunsettlement. Corfu`s position between Greece and Italy continued toattract the attention of powers from east and west and in succession itfell to Lombards, Saracens, and Normans and was fought over by thekings of Sicily and the Italian city-states of Genoa and Venice.
By the end of the 12th century the state of Byzantium was in a bad waydue to internal and external conflicts. In 1204, the Fourth Crusadewhich took Constantinople and overthrew the Byzantine Empire, hadpassed through the island and had awarded territories including Corfuto the Venetians because of the level of support that they had shown tothe Crusade. The Venetians were keen to have these territories as theyrecognized the commercial value that they provided. For ten years thishappy compromise continued but the Despotate of Epirus had set hissights on first, Dyrrachium and then Corfu which he took in 1214. ThusCorfu became part of the Despotate of Epirus which was one of the threeindependent Greek States. It is believed that the Despot Michael did agreat deal of building on the island, but all that remains is thecastle of Angelokastro above Paleokastritsa in the north-west. Much ofthe ecclesiastical power of the island at this time was given over tothe Metropolitan Basil Pediadites who was a champion of Orthodoxy andso the first significant hold of that branch of the church wasestablished. The Church broke away from the control of the Pope andcame under the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The island passed by force to King Manfred of Sicily in 1258 and thenin 1267 was taken by the Angevins. Their rule lasted until 1386 whenonce again, the Venetians returned when Admiral Miani took Corfu aftera long battle. Venetian rule continued until 1797 and constitutedprobably the most significant period of foreign rule in the island`shistory. You only need to walk around the elegant town to see theinfluence of these great traders and builders and Corfu remains,architecturally at least, a Venetian City.
The Venetian Republic was dismantled after defeat by Napoleon in 1797and the French ruled Corfu for two periods between 1797 and 1814,separated by a brief incursion by a Russian-Turkish force. The Frenchwere responsible for building the Liston in Corfu Town and had greatplans for the development of the city. However, after the emperorNapoleon`s defeat in 1815 it became a British protectorate and so began50 years of British rule which saw significant development of the cityand the island`s infrastructure, including the prison, roads and themains water and sewage system in Corfu Town.. During this period someof the island`s most magnificent buildings were erected including thePalace of St Michael and St George and the Mon Repos estate. In 1864Corfu was ceded, with the other Ionian Islands, to Greece. To this daythe islands celebrate their Day of Unification on 21st May.
Corfu was invaded by Italy during WWII, as part of Mussolini`s grandplan to resurrect the mighty Roman Empire. When Italy surrendered tothe Allies in 1943, the Germans massacred the thousands of occupyingItalians and sent some 5000 of Corfu`s Jewish population to Auschwitz.
During the difficult years that followed the end of the war, Corfushared the fortune of the rest of Greece. Poverty, crisis andemigration continued until the late 1960`s, when tourist developmentgave a new impetus to the economic and social life of Greece. From theearly years of the century up until the Second World War, Corfu hadrivaled Capri and Mallorca as the favorite Mediterranean destination ofthe European elite. During the last 40 years, the explosion of masstourism, coupled with the island`s natural beauty and historic past,has made Corfu one of the most popular holiday destinations formillions of people.