A Brief History of Corfu
13th May 2015
A short journey off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, will take you to the gorgeous popular holiday destination of Corfu. Although this is one of the many islands which belong to Greece, Corfu has endured many changes – having been conquered and ruled by a long list of nations.
Today, the hospitality that greets travellers in Corfu is second to none and this island can be visited on a cruise around the eastern Mediterranean with Star Clippers. This week, Star Clippers takes a closer look at the history of Corfu and how it has become an established tourist destination.
The island plays an integral part in the history of Greece, as it is thought that Odysseus became shipwrecked on the beach of Scheria – otherwise known as ancient Corfu. The Goddess Athena took pity on Odysseus and arranged that Princess Nausicca and her handmaidens travel to the nearby river to launder her clothes.
After the washing was done, the Princess and her handmaidens began playing – which woke Odysseus. The handmaidens fled, but the Princess stayed to hear his story and urged the Phaecian King and Queen to aid the traveller – who remained anonymous.
Over dinner, Odysseus told his stories and his identity was eventually revealed. The King organised transport in the form of a ship and, within a day, Odysseus arrived home on the Greek island of Ithaca. However, Poseidon had vowed to prevent Odysseus’ return and turned the ship into stone as it entered the Paleokastritsa harbour of Corfu.
The first reported settlers on the island were the Dorians from the ancient Corinth region, who arrived in the 8th Century BC. There were many squabbles over the ownership of Corfu, due in part to its enviable location for trade. From 336 AD onwards, it was ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire, which later became known as the Byzantine Empire.
Following the breakup of the Byzantine Empire, the island was settled by, in turn, Genoese Privateers and Romani people before being controlled by the Republic of Venice in 1386. The Venetians had a huge impact on the island, who planted olive trees and built great fortresses. They brought much wealth and prosperity to the island, before it became an enviable asset for North Africans Turks.
Napoleon offered “liberation” to the island in 1797, which was accepted but soon came to an end following an invasion by a Russo-Turkish force two years later. After a decade of Ottoman rule, Tsar Alexander I of Russia returned the island to Napoleon and the French. Following the fall of Napoleon, the 1815 Treaty of Paris gave the Corfiots autonomous rule over the island. In 1864, Corfu finally decided to join the Kingdom of Greece.
Today, many aspects of Corfu look more Italian than Greek – which is thanks to the long and successful Venetian era. The Paleokastritsa village is home to the beach where Odysseus is thought to have become shipwrecked. Today, this is arguably the most beautiful beach on the whole of the island.
The island’s Greek name is Kerkyra, which originated after Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph, Korkyra. Her name was offered by Poseidon to the island, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra. Additionally, Poseidon and Korkyra had a child which they called Phaiax and the inhabitants of the island were named “Phaiakes”, which is transliterated via Latin into Phaeacians.
Corfu didn’t become the name of the island until much later and is a reflection of the historic battles and conquests. Korypho is an Italian corruption of a Byzantine name, which means city of peaks. This derives from the Greek Koryphai, which means peaks or crests.
Now that you've read all about the history of Corfu, the best way to find out more is to experience it for yourself. Star Clippers operate a range of exciting itineraries around the Eastern Mediterranean that can take you to the beautiful island paradise of Corfu.