Corfu – Greece Travel

From whichever side our traveler draws near to Corfu, he comes from lands where Greek influence and Greek colonization spread in ancient times, but from which the Greek elements have been gradually driven out, partly by the barbarism of the East, partly by the rival civilization of the West. The land which we see is Hellenic in a sense in which not even Sicily, not even the Great Hellas of Southern Italy, much less than the Dalmatian archipelago, ever became Hellenic. From the first historic glimpse which we get of Korkyra, it is not merely a land fringed by Hellenic colonies; it is a Hellenic island, the dominion of a single Hellenic city, a territory the whole of whose inhabitants were, at the beginning of recorded history, either actually Hellenic or so thoroughly hellenized that no one thought of calling their Hellenic position in question. Modern policy has restored it to its old position by making it an integral portion of the modern Greek kingdom.

To the south of the present town, connected with it by a favorite walk of the inhabitants of Corfu, a long and broad peninsula stretches boldly into the sea. Both from land and from sea, it chiefly strikes the eye as a wooded mass, thickly covered with the aged olive trees which form so marked a feature in the scenery of the island. A few houses skirt the base, growing on the land side into the suburb of Kastrades, which may pass for a kind of connecting link between the old and the new city. And from the midst of the wood, on the side nearest to the modern town, stands out the villa of the King of the Greeks, the chief modern dwelling on the site of ancient Korkyra. This peninsular hill, still known as Palaiopolis, was the site of the old Corinthian city whose name is so familiar to every reader of Thucydides. On either side of it lies one of its two forsaken harbors. Between the old and the new city lies the so-called harbor, of Alkinoos; beyond the peninsula, stretching far inland, lies the old Hyllaic harbor, bearing the name of one of the three tribes which seem to have been essential to the being of a Dorian commonwealth.

This last is the Corfu whose fate seems to have been to become the possession of every power which has ruled in that quarter of the world, with one exception. For fourteen hundred years the history of the island is the history of endless changes of masters. We see it first a nominal ally, then a direct possession, of Rome and of Constantinople; we then see it formed into a separate Byzantine principality, conquered by the Norman lord of Sicily, again a possession of the Empire, then a momentary possession of Venice, again a possession of the Sicilian kingdom under its Angevin kings, till at last it came back to Venetian rule, and abode for four hundred years under the Lion of Saint Mark. Then it became part of that first strange Septinsular Republic of which the Czar was to be the protector and the Sultan the overlord. Then it was a possession of France; then a member of the second Septinsular Re-public under the hardly disguised sovereignty of England; now at last it is the most distant, but one of the most valuable, of the provinces of the modern Greek kingdom.

Of the modern city there is but little to say. As becomes a city which was so long a Venetian possession, the older part of it has much of the character of an Italian town. It is rich in street arcades; but they present but few architectural features; and we find none of those various forms of ornamental window so common, not only in Venice and Verona, but in Spalato, Cattaro, and Trau. The churches in the modern city are architecturally worth-less. They are interesting so far as they will give to many their first impression of orthodox arrangement and orthodox ritual. The few ecclesiastical antiquities of the place belong to the elder city. The suburb of the lower slope of the hill contains three churches, all of them small, but each of which has an interest of its own.