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Corfu

If you’re arriving by ship, you’ll dock in the new port, which has a welcome center, car rentals and a taxi stand.  The trip from the port to the Old Fortress is 3 KM:  you can walk (30-40 minutes), take the Port/Kefalomandouko #2B Bus (about € 1.50) at the Blue Bus Stop, or take a taxi (about € 17).  Please note:  All bus tickets must be purchased in advance at the bus kiosk in the square or at village shops.  It is advisable to purchase your return trip at the same time.

Here’s a link to the Blue Bus schedules:  http://www.allcorfu.com/ou-buses.html

Corfu occupies a strategic location where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea, which made it key in the defense of Venice.  The Republic of Venice controlled the island from the 1386 to 1797, and held off Turkish sieges in 1537, 1571, 1573 and 1716.  In large part this was due to Corfu’s fortifications – the very thing that makes it different from other Greek cities and earned it the designation kastropolis (castle city).

Here’s a link to a map of Old Town: http://www.physics.ntua.gr/corfu2010/images/corfu-town-map-bw.jpg

And here’s an itinerary for a walking tour:  http://www.allcorfu.com/we-corfiot-0410.html

The walking tour starts in San Rocco Square, where the bus terminal is located, and traverses the city from the New Fortress to the Old Fortress. However, if you’re arriving by taxi, most sites recommend starting your tour at the Old Fortress.

At the east end of the town is the Old Fortress (Palaio Frourio).  The earliest fortifications were Byzantine, and were constructed after 6th century invaders destroyed the town.  When the Venetians took over, they improved the fortifications and dug the moat that separates the Fortress from the city proper.  Access is via a bridge; once inside, a covered staircase takes you into the heart of the fortress.  A hallway on the left leads to the higher part of the fortress and the old barracks; on the south side of the hill is the Church of St. George, built by the English in 1840, when they had possession of the island.  Other surviving buildings inside the fortress include the prison and the Church of the Madonna of Carmini.  An historical archive near the main gate includes a collection of Byzantine icons, sculptures and paintings.  (Open Tues thru Fri, 8:00 to 8; Sat, Sun & Holidays 8:30 to 3 – Admission  € 4)
Back on the “mainland” and just opposite the Old Fortress is the city park, Spianada.  To the west of Spianada is the Liston, two colonnaded buildings constructed by the French in 1807.  (The French controlled the island between 1797-99 and again from 1807-15.)  A miniature copy of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, the Liston was originally open only to the island’s aristocrats.  Today it is more egalitarian, and houses cafes, boutiques and restaurants open to the general public.

On the north side of Spianada is the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, also known as the Palaia Anaktora or “Old Palaces.”  Built to house the British High Commissioner (the English controlled the island from 1815 to 1864), it became a Royal Residence after the island’s unification with the Kingdom of Greece.  Today the Palace houses the Museum of Asian Art, the only such museum in all of Greece.  (Open Tues-Sun, 9 to 4 – Admission € 3)

A few blocks from the south side of Spianada is the Archaeological Museum of Corfu which was built in the 1960s to house the Gorgon Pediment, a 5th century BC carving that once adorned the Temple of Artemis in Kanoni.  One of the best-preserved archaic sculptures in Greece, the 56-foot long frieze depicts the snake-haired Medusa, flanked by giant lion-like creatures and her children Chrysaor and Pegasus.  The building was later expanded to exhibit finds from other excavations on the island.  (Open Daily Nov-June, 8:00 to 2:30, July-Oct, 8:30 to 3 – Admission € 3)

Other Museums:  There are a few other museums scattered throughout Old Town, including:

Solomos Museum (1 Arseniou Street – Open Tues-Sun, 8:30 to 3 – Free), which honours the life and work of Greek national poet Dionysios Solomos, writer of the Greek national anthem

Banknote Museum (Plateia Iroon – Open Mon-Sat, 10:00 to 4 – Free), which displays over 10,000 coins from the ancient world and a near-complete collection of Greek banknotes from 1822 to 2000

Byzantine Museum  (Arseniou Street – Open Tues-Sun, 8:30 to 3 – Admission € 2)  which shares space with the restored 15th century Church of the Blessed Virgin Antivouniotissa.  The exhibits here include early Christian sculptures, parts of Byzantine frescoes from the 11th, 13th and 18th centuries, and a collection of icons from the 16th to 18th centuries

Mantzaros Music Museum (10 Nikiforou Theotoki – Open Mon-Sat, 9:30-1:30 – Free) recounts the history of the Philharmonic Society of Corfu (founded 1840) and includes exhibits of old musical instruments, photographs, scores and rare early recordings.

Churches:  Bear in mind that Corfu is a Greek island heavily influenced by Italians, so there’s probably a church on every other corner.  That said …

St. Spyridon – built in 1589 to house the remains of St. Spyridon, Corfu’s patron saint.  Legend has it that St. Spyridon saved the island from plague and helped defeat the Turks during the siege of 1716, when he appeared to them holding a burning torch and a cross.  The saint’s life is depicted on the ceiling, while his relics reside in a golden shrine made in Vienna in 1867. Located on St. Spyridon Street.

Cathedral of Sts. Jacob and Christopher – Corfu’s Catholic “Duomo.”  The original church, built in 1364, was enlarged in 1658, restored in 1709 and greatly damaged in the Nazi bombardment of 1943.  The current restoration was completed in the 1970s.  St. Jacob’s remains have been moved to the Orthodox Cathedral, but I believe St. Arsenios is still in residence.  Located in Town Hall Square.

He Panagia Spiliotissa – the Orthodox cathedral (“Mitropolis”), also known as “Our Lady of the Cave.”  The church is more Greek than Venetian in style, and was built in 1577 to house the remains of St. Theodora Augusta, a 9th century Byzantine Empress.  In Mitropolis Square, near the Old Port.

On the western side of the Old Port is the New Fortress (Neo Frourio); these are the fortifications you see as you come in from the New Port.  Built by the Venetians in 1577, the fortress only recently opened to the public and offers stunning views of the bay on one side and Old Town on the other.  Entrance is from the Old Port or the Farmers Market – look for the winged lions on the gates.  (Open daily 8:30 to 5 – Admission € 4)

If you like markets, the Farmers Market is just south of the New Fortress, near San Rocco Square.  The north wing of the market offers fish; the rest is devoted to purveyors of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers.  (Open Mon-Sat, 6:30 to Noon)

South of Town

About 4 KM south of Corfu Town is Mon Repos, a Georgian villa built in 1824 as a summer residence for British Lord High Commissioner Frederick Adam. The property passed to the Greek royal family upon unification, then to the Hellenic Republic after the 1967 coup.  Today, it operates as a museum, and features exhibits of 19th century photographs of Corfu, a history of the island, and a collection of archaeological artifacts from Paleopolis, as the grounds of the Palace are known.  It seems that Mon Repos is actually built on the site of the ancient city of Kerkyra, which was destroyed by the Goths and Vandals in the 6th century; the grounds hold many ancient ruins, including temples dedicated to Hera, Apollo and Poseidon, as well as a Roman bath and a Byzantine basilica. (Grounds: Open Tues-Sun, 8:30 to 7 – Free; Palace: Open 8:30 to 3 – € 3)  Take a taxi, or the Blue Bus # 2 (the Kanoni Circular Route), which leaves every 20 minutes from Liston.

A few kilometers south of Mon Repos is the Kanoni Peninsula (named for the artillery battery placed there by the French in 1798) and the two small islands of Vlaherna and Pontikonisi (“Mouse Island”).  Vlaherna hosts a blazingly white 17th century monastery, and is connected to the mainland by a narrow wharf.  From Vlaherna, take a boat to the second island, Pontikonisi.  The staircase of the 13th century Pantokrator Monastery leads up the hillside to the Byzantine chapel at its top; it looks like a mouse’s tail, giving the island its name.  Blue Bus #2.

About 10 KM south of Corfu is the Achilleion, built as a summer palace by the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (“Sissi”) in 1890.  The Palace takes its theme from the statue of Dying Achilles, the centerpiece of the gardens.  The Pompeian-style palace abounds in paintings and statues of the mythical warrior.  Elisabeth was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898; Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased the property from her heirs in 1907, and used it as his summer residence.  Wilhelm commissioned his own statue of Achilles for the gardens:  the warrior stands in full hoplite uniform, facing north toward the city.  (Open daily, 8:00 to 7 – Admission € 7) Blue Bus #10 (Achillion) – leaves Methodiou every 3 hours, starting at 7 am; return buses leave Achillion at 7:30, 10:25, 12:30, 14:25, 17:30, 20:30

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