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Corfu - Κερκύρα

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  • Prime Minister Georgios Theotokis (1844 - 1916)
    Georgios Theotokis (Greek: Γεώργιος Θεοτόκης) (1844 – 1916) born in Corfu, Greece was a Greek politician and four times prime minister of Greece. He represented the New Party or Neoteristikon Komma (NK...
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    Wikipedia: English: Deutsch: . references P.v.Gebhardt: AT des Reichspräsidenten Generalfeldmarschalls Paul v.Beneckendorff u. v.Hindenburg. AT berühmter Deutscher, Leipzig, 1933-1935
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    From "DEIN ÖSTERREICH BLOG-MAGAZIN" "Elisabeth of Austria (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898) was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. Born int...
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Settlements

Introduction

Corfu, an island off Greece’s northwest coast in the Ionian Sea, is defined by rugged mountains and a resort-studded shoreline. Its cultural heritage reflects years spent under Venetian, French and British rule before it was united with Greece in 1864. Corfu Town, flanked by 2 imposing Venetian fortresses, features winding medieval lanes, a French-style arcade and the grand Palace of St. Michael and St. George.

Prehistoric and Ancient times

Corfu has been inhabited since the Stone Age. At that time it was part of the mainland and the sea that today separates it from the mainland was only a small lake.

It became an island after the rising of the sea due to glaciers melting at the end of the Ice Age in about 10.000-8000 BC.

Evidence of a Paleolithic settlement has been found near the village of Agios Mattheos in the southwest and a Neolithic settlement near the village of Sidari.

The Greek name Kerkyra came from a mythological Nymph called Corcyra, a daughter of the river god Asopos, Corcyra was kidnapped by the god of the sea Poseidon who brought her here and gave her name to the island. Corcyra became Kerkyra later in the Doric dialect.

The first residents in the 12th century BC were the Phaecians, the first founder was Phaeks and his son was Nafsithoos who was the father of the Homeric king Alkinoos. According to Odyssey King Alkinoos and his daughter, Nausikaa helped Odysseus to return to Ithaca. At this point, mythology gets muddled with history, and we do not know the exact origin of the Phaecians, according to Homer they had some relationship with the Mycenaeans, although archaeological investigations have failed to find a link with any Mycenaean remains. Later more immigrants came from Illyria, Sicily, Crete, Mycenae, and the Aegean islands.

The Ancient times – the first Greek colonization

In the year 775 BC, we had the first Greek colonization by the Dorians from Eretria of Euboea, soon followed by also Dorian refugees from Corinth in 750 BC, who with their leader Hersikrates created a strong colony.

They dominated the area around Corfu creating their colonies, one of which was Epidamnus in ancient Illyria (today Dyrachio in Albania). The ancient city of Corfu was then in the area where Garitsa and Kanoni are today.

Kerkyra(the Greek name for Corfu) was the first of the Greek cities, to build a fleet of triremes in 492 BC. In the lagoon of Chalikiopoulos, where the airport is today, the harbor was situated, the home base of the strongest fleet of ancient Greece (second only to the Athenian navy) with more than 300 triremes and other vessels.

The fast-growing colony quickly gained strength and openly challenged the metropolis of Corinth, therefore the unhappy Corinthians sent their fleet to occupy the island of Corfu and regain control of this strategic region and especially the colony of Epidamnus.

The first naval battle between Greeks took place in 680 BC and was a failure for the Corinthians. After the battle both Corfu and Corinth sent ambassadors to Athens trying to gain their support, the Athenians preferred the great naval power of Corfu and chose to conclude a defensive alliance with the Corfiots sending 10 triremes and later another 30 on the island.

The alliance continued during the Peloponnesian war and lasted more than a century.

The Corinthians came back in 435 BC with a strong fleet of 150 ships against the Corfiots, the battle raged near to the coast of Lefkimi in the south narrow channel of the island and near Sivota off the mainland coast. The right-wing of the Corfiot fleet started to buckle so the 10 Athenian triremes and shortly another 20 intervened, after this, the Corinthians decided to retreat. Later in 375 BC, Corfu became a member of the Athenian Confederation and fought for Athenian interests during the entire Peloponnesian war.

The Corfiot issue, as the ancient historian Thucydides writes, was one of the causes of the thirty-year long civil Peloponnesian War that eventually weakened and broke Greece, but the real reason was the growing fear of Sparta about the expansionist imperialist policies of Athens that made the war inevitable.

Roman era and early Byzantine period

First Roman era (229 BC– 379 AD)

After the Peloponnesian War, internal political conflicts disintegrated the alliance.

The island then for a very short period was captured by Illyrian pirates, so the Romans exploited this opportunity and captured the island in 229 BC. Romans gave autonomy to the Corfiots provided they were allowed to use the island as a naval base.

Corfu followed the fate of all other Greek city-states, they accepted the sovereignty and protection of Rome from the various invaders and intruders of that era.

During the first century AD. Christianity arrived, brought by the two disciples of St Paul, Jason, and Sosipatros.

After the death of emperor Constantine at 337AD the Roman empire divided into three sections- the north (Spain, France, England), east (Constantinople and Asia Minor) and the west which included Greece, Italy, and Rome’s African territories.

Corfu then was included in the so-called west empire.

Early Byzantine period (379 AD– 562 AD)

At the time of emperor Theodosius (339 AD), the Roman empire was re-divided into east and west, Corfu then belonged to the eastern empire and this period known as early Byzantine lasted for about three centuries.

During this period the whole island was exposed to frequent barbarian raids and pirate invasions.

Middle Ages and Byzantine period

East Roman Empire (Byzantine empire)

At the time of emperor Theodosius (339 AD), the Roman empire was re-divided into east and west. Corfu then belonged to the east and this lasted for about three centuries.

During this period of emperor Theodosius, Corfu was attacked at 562 AD by the Goths. In this raid the Goths destroyed the ancient city of Corfu, leaving the ruins that today are called Paleopolis.

This was the end of the ancient city and the beginning of medieval age for the island, the old citys remaining inhabitants abandoned the location. They fled further north to the natural promontory of land which later became the old fortress, and from there the new city slowly expanded to the area where it is today.

The period from 562 AD until 1267 AD, when Corfu was occupied by the Angevins, is known as the Byzantine period.

It was a very difficult period for Corfu which, as the westernmost corner of the empire, was very vulnerable to the constant pirate attacks and the various appetites of their neighbors.

The multicultural Byzantine Empire was trying to protect it in every way moving here several mercenary guards of various races and peoples.

Guards consisted of Greeks, Syrians, Bulgarians, Byzantines soldiers (stradioti) scattered in outposts which began from the northeast of the island and reached up to the southwest, the border guards were slowly merged with the local population.

This was the era when most fortresses scattered around the island built, the redesigning and strengthening of the old Corfu fortress in the city happened then, Angelokastro fortress in northwestern Corfu, the fortress at Kassiopi, the fortress in Gardiki at the southwest and other smaller ones were also constructed.

Τhe turbulent years after the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD – 1214 AD)

In the year 1204AD Corfu was captured by the Normands of the 4rth crusade, followed by the Venetians for a short period until 1214 AD.

The Despotate of Epirus (1214 AD – 1267 AD)

From 1214 to 1259 AD, Corfu became part of the Byzantine domain of Epirus (called Despotate of Epirus) and at this time the Gardiki fortress near todays Chalikouna area and the fortress of Angelokastro at the northwest part of the island north of Paleokastritsa was built by the Despot Duke Michael-Angelos Komnenos the second.

Period of Sicilian rulers

During the turbulent period from 1259 to 1267 various Sicilian rulers attempted to claim Corfu, sometimes as a dowry and other times with the arms.

The first who conquered the island was Manfred, king of Sicily, and when he was killed in a fight, his Franco-Cypriot adjutant named Philip Ginardo took over.

Philip Ginardo was later murdered and the island passed into the hands of his generals, the Garnerio brothers and Thomas Alamano, to mention here that the surname Alamanos is widespread today on Corfu, apparently of Sicilian origin.

The House of Anjou (1267 AD – 1386 AD)

At 1267 the Angevin King of Sicily Charles of the house of Anjou conquered the island. The island was divided into four departments-regions, called Gyrou, Orous, Mesis, and Lefkimi respectively – names still heard today.

That was the era when large numbers of Jewish people, mainly from Spain, settled on Corfu and created the Corfiot Jewish community.

Charles of Anjou attempted to erase the Orthodox Christian faith by changing all Orthodox churches into Roman Catholic and persecuting all the Orthodox, this attempt failed and stopped later when the Venetians returned to the island.

The Venetian domination on Corfu 1386 – 1797 AD

The Council of Corfu did not expect comprehensive protection from the collapsing Byzantine Empire, and because of the ever-present Ottoman threat, they requested protection from the Venetian Republic in the year 1386AD.

The Venetians knew that Corfu was a strategic location to guard their naval interests in the region as well as a very fertile island for agriculture, therefore they bought the island from the kingdom of Naples, paying an amount of 30,000 gold ducats. Their forces arrived on Corfu led by the “Admiral of the Gulf,” Giovanni Miani.

In that turbulent era, where there was no national awareness, while Venice occupied the Old Fortress without resistance and secured their dominance over most of the island, in the north the fortresses of Angelokastro and Kassiopi were still controlled by some Angevins who did not agree with the sale of the island, strangely many locals were supporting them and fought along the Angevins against the Venetians.

The Venetians sent their army to capture the two forts, and while Aggelokastro surrendered almost immediately, the Angevins and Corfiots of Kassiopi resisted furiously, the Venetians got angry to such an extent that after the conquest of the castle they destroyed it completely and for this reason, there are now only remnants of that fort.

Thus started the second long period of Venetian rule on Corfu that lasted more than 400 years, actually 411 years, 11 months and 11 days precisely. Venetians established the feudalistic system to rule, There were three social classes, the nobility of aristocrats, the citizens (civili) and the poor people (popolari).

In the next painting, we see a typical snapshot of medieval Corfu, currently called Nikiforos Theotokis street, apart from the costumes not much have been changed since then.

Agriculture had developed with the planting of many olive trees, Arts and Science were also evolving now that Corfu had links with one of the great empires.

The Venetian era left indelible marks on Corfu in all areas such as art, musical tradition, culture, in the formation of the local linguistic idiom, Corfiot cuisine and most noticeably the architecture of the city and the villages.

The migration flow from Turkish-occupied Greece

The Venetians did well to protect the city of Corfu, but despite their military measures in the first centuries they failed to protect the island’s countryside which saw many tragedies and often paid a heavy toll in barbarian raids.

Corfu also suffered from pirate attacks, especially during the first two major Turkish raids, one in 1537 and the second in 1571.

In 1537 AD the Turks invaded and seized 20.000 men from the countryside to sell as slaves in Constantinople and Egypt. The countryside was devastated, so, many Greeks from Peloponnese, Epirus, and Crete came as migrant workers to the island, and later became part of the resident population. More recently especially under the British rule, many immigrants came from the small Mediterranean island of Malta, the original home of many, mainly Roman Catholic, Corfiots.

Following the raids of 1537 Corfu was almost deserted, and a few years later, in 1571 the Venetians lost Peloponnese, Crete, and Cyprus, all three islands were conquered by the Turks. This created an inevitable large wave of refugees from these areas looking for a new home, and the Ionian Islands was the ideal destination, so by this coincidence, the Turks helped to repopulate Corfu.

The Venetians also gave impetus to this migration stream for at least two additional reasons, firstly to revive the dead countryside, and secondly to encourage people with great spiritual, military, technical and economic potential to leave the Turkish dominated land- which would also weaken the Ottoman occupiers, and at the same time strengthen Venice.

A large group of refugees came from Nafplio and Monemvasia, half of them settled in the area of Lefkimi and build Anaplades village, the others scattered on the northeast coast, from Pyrgi up to Kassiopi.

Their leader was the chieftain Barbatis, after him the area south of Nissaki today is called Barbati. There is a suburb north of the city called Stratia, formerly known as Anaplitochori.

Another group from the Peloponnese built the village of Moraitika, some others took over the deserted village of korakiana and spread to other villages such as Benitses. Across the island, there are many families with the surname Moraitis and also many whose last name ends with the Peloponnesian suffix. . “opoulos”.

The largest group of all immigrants was from Crete, many settled in Garitsa, just south of the city, and the most prosperous new arrivals moved into the city itself. Others built the village of Saint Markos in the north above Ipsos, whilst in the south of Corfu the villages of Stroggyli, Messonghi, Argyrades and Kritika were also established by Cretans.

All these populations introduced elements of their tradition and culture to Corfu, especially the Cretans who contributed much to the formation of the Corfu idiom which anyway was constantly evolving, the prefix “chi” instead of “tis” is pronounced like this only in Crete and the Ionian Islands.

After some time the Corfiot culture proved too strong, and all these people were absorbed into the local community and within a few years became regular Corfiots. Later in the year 1800, a large group of refugees from Souli, after its destruction by Ali Pasha, fled to Corfu and many of them settled in Benitses, their descendants today constitute about 70% of the Benitses population

The Venetian fortifications and the frequent Turkish raids

The Venetians tried to convert the population to Catholicism, but they did not succeed, and later for political reasons, as they had come into conflict with the Vatican and especially after the loss of Cyprus in 1571, they abandoned any such effort, and justified this religious tolerance with the famous saying “Siamo prima Veneziani e poi Cristiani”, which means, we are first Venetians and then Christians.

Indeed to be liked by both faiths they organized and established many common religious events in which both faiths took part, some of these events are still observed today.

The failure of the Venetians to protect the countryside and suburbs of the town from Turkish incursions roused wide public discontent. Moreover, especially after the loss of Crete and Cyprus, Corfu was the most important possession after Venice herself, and therefore they decided to increase the island’s defenses.

The Venetians made the most ambitious defense plans, by constructing the largest and most modern fortifications of the age for Corfu. From 1576 to 1588 they built a new fortress on the hill of San Markos in the west of the town, then cleared the open space in front of the old fortress to make the vast Esplanade Square.

They joined the two fortresses with a wall that protected the whole city from the west, with powerful defensive systems like the bastions of Raimondos, St. Athanasius and the bastion of Sarantaris, also they built four main city gates for residents and two more gates for military purposes.

The four main gates of the city were the Porta Reala, the Porta Raymonda, the gate of Spilia and the gate of Saint Nicholas. Porta Reala was of unique beauty and was demolished without reason in 1895 creating an international outcry.

These defensive plans were made by the engineers Michele Sanmicheli from Verona and Ferrante Vitelli.

Fortifications were constantly enhanced and later in the 17th century, another wall was added outside the existing one, designed by the engineer F. Verneda, following the third great Turkish siege in 1716 which was successfully repulsed by the Prussian Marshal Johann Mattias Von Schulenburg, who then was responsible for the defense of Corfu.

After the Turkish invasion of 1716, Venetians fortified the island of Vido too, and the hills of Avrami and Saint Sotiros, they also built a fortification for the area of San Rocco (today Saroko).

The Turkish siege of 1716

The 1716 siege of Corfu was part of the Seventh Venetian-Turkish war, the occupation of this strategic importances island would open the path for the occupation of Venice and then the rest of Europe.

Turkish forces estimated that were 25000-30000 men along with auxiliary and irregulars and 71 ships with about 2,200 guns if we add the crews of the ships they reached a total power of 45-50,000 men.

On the contrary, the military forces of Venice were only 3097 men, of whom only 2.245 combatants. Corfu New fortress where the big fights held had 144 guns and four mortars.

Marshal Johann Mattias Von Schulenburg who had the responsibility of Corfu defense, at first managed to successfully deal with the chaos that prevailed within the local population, locals were trying in every way to leave the island or take refuge in the mountains.

He immediately ordered the recruitment of those who were able to fight and so secured several reservists and revived the morale of the besieged.

The siege had begun on July 8th when the Turks landed in Ipsos and Gouvia and ended after many cruel and deadly battles on Saturday, August 22nd.

Meanwhile, on the 20th of August, an unprecedented storm scattered the Turkish ships and drowned many Turkish soldiers and sailors.

This storm and the salvation of the city was attributed by the common people to a miraculous intervention by St. Spyridon, and ever since then, there has been a litany, and a procession of Saint Spiridon on 11th August.

But despite people’s beliefs, the historic truth is that two were the main causes for Turkish defeat, first the strong resistance by the defenders up to the last minute, and second the defeat and destruction of the Ottoman army in Peterwardein by Eugene of Savoy, which forced the Turks to retreat.

Yielding the victory to divine intervention, we misrepresent history and underestimate the heroism of the defenders.

Final losses for the defenders were about 800 dead and 700 wounded while for the Turks losses were high and reached 6,500 men, among those killed, was Muchtar, grandfather of Ali Pasha.

Fighting alongside Corfiots were Venetians, Germans, Italians, 4 Maltese ships, 4 Papal galleys, 2 galleys from Genoa, 3 galleys from Tuscan, 5 Spanish galleys and even Portuguese forces who also participated before the end of the siege.

The Jews of the city showed great courage in fighting, equipped at the expense of the Corfiot Jewish community and under the leadership of the son of Rabbi himself. General Proveditor of Corfu was Antrea Pizanis who had the leadership of the light fleet and adjutant of Marshal Schulenburg was the Corfiot Lieutenant Dimitrios Stratigos.

Marshal Schulenburg was honored for his determination and bravery to life pension from the Senate of Venice and his statue can still be seen at the entrance of the Old Fortress, also everyone who showed bravery during the fighting was honored.

The Ottoman Empire's failure to take Corfu was a historical event of enormous importance, a landmark that influenced the historical course of all Europe and especially Greece. Τhe successful defense of the Ottoman invasion in 1716 was celebrated throughout Europe, Juditha triumphans by Antonio Vivaldi was written because of this event and played in all the major theaters for many years.

This was the last of many Turkish attempts to expand their empire into Europe.

The period of Venetian rule left many positive elements in the culture and civilization, but was also marked by many dark spots, relations between people and nobility was like relations between slaves and master, therefore there were numerous popular uprisings, mainly in the villages due to the authoritarian rule of the Venetians and the arbitrariness and lawlessness of the ruling class of nobles.

But certainly, Corfu was very important to Venice and remained an integral territory of the State until the fall of Venice to the French.

The Ionian State (Septinsular Republic) 1800-1807 and the United States of the Ionian islands 1815-1864

The Venetian period was followed by the first French occupation in 1797, It was the end of the feudal system. A period of instability ensued, people were divided, the nobles began to exploit the popular discontent against the French administration and a plan was put forward for a Russian-backed protectorate on Corfu. This succeeded in the year 1799 when a strange alliance between the Russian and Ottoman administrations were successfully implemented.

The Russian admiral Ousakof immediately restored the privileges of the nobility and on the 21st of March 1800, at the instigation of Ioannis Kapodistrias, then foreign minister of Russia, the Ionian State was established, also known as the Septinsular Republic.

Τhis was the first independent Greek state, something that Kapodistrias envisioned as a harbinger of the rebirth of a Greek state. It was a federation of the seven larger island states, Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos(Zante), Paxos, Lefkada, Ithaka, and Kythyra, also included all other smaller Ionian islands, the capital was Corfu.

This state existed until 1807 when the French under Napoleon returned and stayed until 1814.

It was the time when the two buildings which today are the famous Liston were built by the French for use as military barracks.

In 1815 Corfu went under British rule, the seven Ionian island state declared its independence under British protection with Greek as the official language and Corfu town as the capital. The first “Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands” was Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Maitland.

The states government had 29 members, 7 members from Corfu, 7 from Kefalonia, 7 from Zante, 4 from Lefkada. Paxos, Ithaka, and Kythera elected 1 each plus a second member which was elected in rotation by the three.

The official name of the new protectorate was: “United States of Ionian islands”.

During this period the Ionian Academy, the Reading Society, and the public library were established.

Under British rule the local economy was well developed, the palace of Saint Michael and George was built and also the road network of the island was expanded as well as the construction of the aqueduct that supplied Corfu town with water from the hills around Benitses.

Power plants too were built on Corfu, which however after the union with Greece were moved to Piraeus.

Many other projects and significant improvements to the island’s infrastructure were made during this period.

Ioannis Kapodistrias in the history of Corfu The first governor of modern Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias, an offspring of an aristocratic family, was born on the island but left for Russia of the Tsars, where he made a brilliant career reaching the office of foreign minister, a position that allowed him to participate actively in many European political affairs. One of them was the creation of the constitution and state entity of Switzerland, something for which the Swiss are honored him.

Regarding the historical course of Corfu, his only involvement was his diplomatic role in the occupation of the island by the then alliance of the Russians and Turks when they took the island from the French domination in 1800.

Modern Times, union with Greece

On 21 May 1864 after the London treaty and the positive vote of Ionian Parliament, Corfu and all Ionian islands united with Greece.

It was one of the most important turning points in the history of Corfu, the turbulent historical past of the island ended, so ends the prominence of Corfu as capital of the Ionian State, the emergent Greek state could not afford the existence of two centers of economic and cultural strength, so in the battle with Athens Corfu lost its university, its fame, its cultural lead and after just 40 years became a Greek provincial town.

But the memories of the glorious past remain and this is what makes Corfu unique, a Greek island which does not look like the others.