Corfu's History

Corfu, Kerkyra – A town with two names

According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Corcyra, daughter of Asopus and river nymph Metope, and abducted her. Poseidon brought Corcyra to the unnamed island and, in marital bliss, offered her name to the place: Corcyra, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra (Doric), the Greek name for the island. Together, they had a child, Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named Phaiakes (Phaeacians).

In Homers “Odyssey”, the hero Odysseus (Ulysses) is washed ashore with the help of the Goddess Athena and awakens to the laughter of princess Nausica and her friends washing clothes in a nearby stream.
He was taken home to the Phaeacian Palace and after revealing his identity to King Alcinous he is given a ship to take him safely to Ithaka.
However during the return trip the Phaeacian ship is turned to stone by the God Poseidon who was angry at them for helping Odysseus.
Jason and the Argonauts also visited here with the Golden Fleece and it was here that he married Media.

The name Corfu is an Italian version of the Byzantine Κορυφώ (Koryphō), meaning “city of the peaks” referring to the two hills each topped by an impregnable fortress, the Palaio (Old) & Neo  (New) Frourio) built to withstand sieges of pirates and the Ottoman empire.

During the period of Venetian rule the island became a haven and place of refuge for many scholars and artists escaping the Ottoman occupied mainland and thus helped make the island one of the most culturally developed regions in the east.
When Napoleon overthrew the Venetians and the French occupied the island in 1797 the Corfiot’s welcomed them with enthusiasm believing that because of the French revolution the lower classes would be treated better.
But this was not the case. The French imposed heavy taxes on the people though they did introduce a system of primary education and a printing house. But two years later a combined Russian and Turkish fleet captured the island after four months of fighting and Corfu became the capital of the Septinsular Republic which included all the Ionian islands.
Then in 1807 when Russia and France signed the treaty of Tilsit, Corfu and the other islands became provinces of “Napolean”. This time around the French took more of an interest in the intellectual and economic development of the island and founded the Ionian Academy, constructing new buildings and introducing new crops like potatoes and tomatoes.

When Napoleon fell in 1814 Corfu was placed under the protection of the British. Ioannis Kapodistrias (after whom the airport is named) submitted a proposal at the congress of Vienna which he hoped would grant independence to the island but Britain, Austria and Prussia vetoed it.

But during the Congress of Paris, he was more successful and the Treaty of 1815 created a United States of the Ionian Islands with Corfu as its capital, administered under a British High Commissioner. In 1848, after years of British rule, Kapodistrias was able to pass a revised constitution that granted freedom of the press which led immediately to the publication of the first newspaper in Corfu, Greek was recognized as the official language and a new system of education was set up. In 1824 the first Greek university, the Ionian Academy, was set up. Despite the tension between the British and the Corfiot’s, the years of British rule was responsible for the building of the roads and the creation of the island’s water supply.

The Ionian islands did not become a part of Greece until 1864. Corfu was declared neutral territory but was invaded by French and Serbian forces in World War I, bombed and occupied by the Italian Forces in 1923 and again during World War II by the German Forces.