Corfu
Island
 
   
 
History
Early history

Corfu "Korkyra" has first been revealed in Homer’s Odyssey trough Ulysses’s voyage as the island of Scheria where its earliest inhabitants were the Phaeacians.

Eclipsed by the foundation of Nicopolis, Kerkyra for a long time passed out of notice.

Venetian rules

With the rise of the Norman kingdom in Sicily and the Italian naval powers, it again became a frequent object of attack. Kerkyra, the "Door of Venice" during the centuries when the whole Adriatic was the Gulf of Venice, remained in Venetian hands from 1401 until 1797, though several times assailed by Turkish naval and land forces and subjected to notable sieges between 1537 and 1716, in which the great natural strength of the city and its defenders asserted itself time after time.

The effectiveness of the powerful Venetian fortifications of the island as well as the strength of some old Byzantine fortifications in Angelokastro, Kassiopi, Gardiki and others, was another strong factor that enabled Corfu to remain the last bastion of free, uninterrupted Greek Christian civilization in the southern Balkans after the fall of Constantinople.

Indubitably Corfu owed to the Republic of Venice the fact that it was the only part of Greece never conquered by the Muslim Turks.

Corfu Town looks very different from most Greek towns, because of its unique history. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility; much of the town reflects this era when the island belonged to the Republic of Venice, with multi-storied buildings on narrow lanes.

The Venetian feudal families pursued a mild but somewhat enervating policy towards the natives, who began to adopt some segments of Venetian customs and culture. The Corfiots were encouraged to enrich themselves by the cultivation of the olive, but were debarred from entering into commercial competition with Venice. This is why the island counts so many olive gloves. The Venetian influence also was important in the development of opera on Corfu.

During Venetian rule, the Corfiots developed a fervent appreciation of Italian opera, which was the real source of the extraordinary musical development of the island during that period. It was in Venetian times that the town saw the erection of the first opera in Greece (a copy of the Scala of Milan), but it was badly damaged during World War II by German artillery.

19th Century

During the 19th century, Corfu was ceded to the French, who occupied it for two years, until they were expelled by a joint Russian-Ottoman squadron under Admiral Ushakov. For a short time it became the capital of a self-governing federation of the "Seven Islands", under Ottoman suzerainty; in 1807 its faction-ridden government was again replaced by a French administration, and in 1809 it was besieged in vain by a British fleet, which had taken all the other Ionian Islands.

In 1815, the Ionian Islands became a protectorate of the United Kingdom as "the United States of the Ionian Islands", Corfu became the seat of the British Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands.

The British commissioners, who were practically autocrats in spite of the retention of the native senate and assembly, introduced a strict method of government which brought about a decided improvement in the material prosperity of the island, but by its very strictness displeased the natives.

In 1864, the United Kingdom, Greece, France and Russia signed the Treaty of London, pledging the transfer of sovereignty to Greece upon ratification. Thus, on 28th May, by proclamation of the Lord High Commissioner, the Ionian Islands were officially added to Greece.

World War I

During the First World War, the island served as a refuge for the Serbian army that retreated there on Allied forces' ships from a homeland occupied by the Austrians and Bulgarians. During their stay, a large portion of Serbian soldiers died from exhaustion, food shortage, and different diseases.

World War II and Resistance

Italian occupation

During the Greco-Italian War, Corfu was occupied by the Italians in April 1941. They administered Corfu and the Ionian islands as a separate entity from Greece until September 1943, following Benito Mussolini's orders of fulfilling Italian Irredentism and making Corfu part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The German occupation and the Holocaust

Upon the fall of Italian fascism in 1943, the Nazis moved to take control of the island. In September 1943, Corfu was bombarded by the Luftwaffe; these bombing raids destroyed churches, homes, whole city blocks, especially in the Jewish quarter, and a number of important buildings, such as the Ionian Parliament, the Municipal Theatre, the Municipal Library and others.

The Italians capitulated, and the island came under German occupation. The Gestapo rounded up the Jews of the city, temporarily incarcerated them at the old fort, and sent them to Auschwitz, where very few survived.

Liberation

Corfu was liberated by British troops, which landed in Corfu on 14th October 1944, as the Germans were evacuating Greece. The Royal Navy swept the Corfu Channel for mines in 1944 and 1945.

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