The Old Town of Corfu
Panorama of the Old Town of Corfu from the highest point in the citadel of the New Fortress (built by the Venetians in the 16th century). Old Town of Corfu, with its Venetian fortifications and neo-classical housing was inscribed as a fortified Mediterranean port town of high integrity and authenticity included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The Greeks arrived to Corfu, an island at the Ionain Sea, around 750 BC, and established a colony from the city of Eretria. In 734 BC the Eretrians were driven out by the Corinthians who brought great wealth and culture to the island as well as the first of many colonies at Croton in southern Italy. But in 664 Corfu fought with her mother city of Corinth in what Thucydides described as the first sea battle in Greek history. It was not the last battle between the two cities who were at odds over economic matters for centuries.
During the Persian wars of the fifth century, Corfu had a fleet second only to Athens. They sent a fleet of 60 ships to the battle of Salamis. In 431 BC it was over yet another dispute between Corfu and Corinth that led to the Peloponesian wars which was the World War II of it's time with all the city-states of Greece taking the side of either Athens or Sparta, when the Athenians backed Corfu and the Corinthians sided with Sparta. The island lost half its population in these wars and eventually fell to the Spartans. In 229 it was invaded and conquered by pirates from Illyria. They in turn were driven out by the Romans who gave the island autonomy provided they were allowed to use it as a naval base. Nero, Julius Caesar, Vespacion and Cicero all visited the island and many wealthy Romans had estates here. The Roman influence lasted from 229 to 395AD.
From 395 to 1267 Corfu was part of the Byzantine Empire, but during the break-up of the Empire it was occupied by Genoese privateers (1197-1207) who in turn were expelled by the Venetians. In 1214-1259 it passed to the Greek despots of Epirus, and in 1267 became a possession of the Neapolitan house of Anjou. Under the latter's weak rule the island suffered considerably from the inroads of various adventurers; hence in 1386 it placed itself under the protection of Venice, which in 1401 acquired formal sovereignty over it.
The Venetians ruled the island until the fall of their Republic in 1797, and this was probably the most important period for the island, not only because of the economic progress and the building that went on but also because it was during this period that the rest of Greece fell under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. The island became a fortress and the base of the admiral of the Venetian fleet.
Corfu remained in Venetian hands till 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to four notable sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time. The effectiveness of the Venetian fortifications of the island as well as the strength of the Byzantine fortifications of Angelokastro, Kassiopi, Gardiki and others, was another great factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek civilization after the fall of Constantinople.
In 1797 Napoleon overthrew the Venetians and the French occupied the island. When Napoleon fell in 1814 Corfu was placed under the protection of the British. The Treaty of 1815 created a United States of the Ionian Islands with Corfu as its capital, administered under a British High Commissioner. The Ionian islands did not become a part of Greece until 1864.