Introduction to Corfu Town
In Corfu there’s something for everyone that’s for sure! From beautiful beaches to elegant architecture and a thriving nightlife, Corfu has it all!
Corfu town; now, especially in its oldest part, is one of the most charming and romantic places of all modern Greece. Almost 500 years of Venetian, French and British occupation have left their influence on one of the most delightful and romantic places of the modern Greece. Corfu’s secret little streets and panoramic points will unexpectedly surprise you!
Corfu town is surrounded by the sea and is closed between two Venetian fortresses; mixing the new with the old in a unique way!
Since 2007 the old town of Corfu has been inscribed in the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. According to UNESCO; Corfu is a fortified Mediterranean port and it’s urban and port ensemble is notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity.
You would love to wander around Corfu’s streets, visiting the thriving mass of shops and businesses set amongst some very distinctive buildings and churches.
We will take you through the old town showing you all the important sites and buildings along with their finest hidden secrets and myths!
Let’s start our tour of Corfu’s Old Town
You will be starting at San Rocco or Saroko Square which is where most probably one of the blue busses will leave you if your hotel is outside Corfu town.
Moving from San Rocco or Saroko Square to the Old Town go along the Evgeniou Voulgareos Street which is full of boutiques, shoe shops, jewellery shops and cafes. You will at same point meet the crenelated belfry of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation. This is a venerable building from the end of the 14th century. The whole building was destroyed in the World War II bombing, and the only remains are actually the belfry, two inscriptions and bas-relief representing war trophies.
Between Evgeniou Voulgareos Street stands the most elegant of the Venetian buildings in Corfu; the Town Hall in baroque style.
On the Town Hall Square you will see there the Town Hall itself, San Giacommo which is the Catholic Cathedral and the former home of the Catholic Archbishop which now houses the Bank of Greece. The Town Hall was built in Baroque style between 1663 and 1691. It was originally used as a meeting place for noble citizens and was then converted into a theatre in 1720. The external walls are decorated with masks, medallions and historical symbols.
Ascending the Gilford street at the left of the Bank of Greece and at the corner with the Moustoxydou street, when at the end of this street go to the right and there you will see another building of the period of British rule; the historic building of the Ionian Parliament. Heading back down the Moustoxidou Street you will come to the Esplanade (or Spianada square) which is one of the biggest squares in Europe, and is the hub of the Corfiot's life. On the upper side of Esplanade where you have come out now stands a memorial to the British Lord High Commissioner Sir Thomas Maitland. It was built in 1816 in the shape of a circular building with Ionian columns. The Corfiot’s call this building 'sterna' (cistern) because this was where the entrance to the largest underground cistern of the town was to be found. Near the Maitland's monument, you will see a tall pink-orange corner building. The Ionian Academy was the first University of Greece and was founded in 1808. In front of this the Ionian Academy stands the statue of Ioannis Capodistrias, the first Governor of Greece. It is a work from the end of the 19th century showing the Governor standing deep in thought.
In the middle of the Esplanade you will see an ornate music pavilion. This is where the local Philharmonic Orchestras mount classical performances in the artistic and musical tradition for which the island is well-known. Corfu Island is home to more than 40 Philharmonic Orchestras. The Philharmonic Orchestras give regular summer weekend concerts at the music pavilion and play a prominent role in the yearly Holy Week ceremonies.
As we already said; the hub of Corfiot life is the Esplanade. Here you can walk around or sit in one of the many cafe bars underneath the arches of the 'Liston'. This is a name that probably derived from a similar promenade in Venice. The arched Liston was built by the French in 1807 after of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. Just grab a table in one of the many cafes, relax and watching the world go by… This is after all what the locals like to do!
During the summer months cricket matches occasionally take place at the cricket field that was built behind the Liston. You can watch them for free while drinking your coffee and relaxing at one of Liston’s many cafes.
Opposite the Liston are the Old Fortress and the Municipal Gardens which overlook the Old Fortress. In the gardens there is the statue of Lord Guilford, showing the founder of the Ionian Academy in his academic robes holding an open book. Nearby are the busts of two famous Corfiot’s, the poet Lorenzo Mavilis and the writer Konstantinos Theotokis.
At the northern end of Esplanade stands the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, one of the most elegant buildings in Corfu.
The Palace of St. Michael and St. George opened in 1823; the palace is the most impressive monument from the British rule of Corfu. The palace originally served as a residence for the British High Commissioners and as a seat for the Ionian Senate. When the British left in 1864 the building was handed over to King George I of Greece, hence it is known as the Royal Palace.
From the English domination near the Esplanade on the north side, there’s also the Royal Palace of Corfu, called also St. Michael and St. George palace. Built in 1820 under George Whitmore who was an Army General; this is the only Georgian art example in all the Mediterranean area.
Used in the past by the English and then by the Greek Royal Family, today it hosts the Museum of Asian Arts.
As one's gaze leaves the Esplanade after lingering on the palace, it embraces a magnificent view towards the coastal road (Arseniou Street) with its sea-walls. Following along this road will take you to the Old Harbour of Corfu and the other Venetian castle, the one called the New Fortress. Along this road the narrow lanes ('cantounia') lead to the Campielo, the oldest quarter of the town. Here the visitor can find the oldest houses and many of the historic churches in Corfu. If you pass through here at sunset we suggest that your walk starts from the St. George Arch beside the Palace, then over the one-way road leading down the Old Harbour. You will pass by the great arch then you have just to follow the road that runs alongside the sea, and it will take you down to the entrance of the old town of Corfu.
This road follows the ancient walls of Corfu called 'mouragia' which means “sea-walls” and the most marvellous sunset will be in front of you. You will pass near historical buildings like the Capodistrias Mansion, an excellent example of neo-classical architecture. It was built in 1835 by the Corfiot architect John Chronis and is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Greece. It was here that Ioannis Capodistrias, the first Governor of Greece was born.
Further down is the church of “Antivouniotissa”, the Byzantine Museum with its elegant selection of icons from around Corfu, the Old Port and the ancient arch of St. Nicholas. The close-by small island in the background is called Vidos and you can visit it for a walk, for swimming or to have dinner at its one and only restaurant. A boat to Vidos leaves the Old Port every half hour. Ticket costs 1 euro.
Opposite the west front of the palace is a beautiful building which now houses the Reading Society of Corfu. This is the oldest cultural institute in modern Greece and was founded in 1836. The Reading Society contains a unique library of Greek and foreign books as well as a large collection of manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals, paintings, maps and engravings that are mostly related to the Ionian Islands.
The most interesting street here in old town is Nickiforou Theotoki Street; as the rows upon rows of 'volta' standing on their stone columns and the tall buildings form one of the most characteristic aspects of Corfu Town.
In a little square on Nickiforou Theotoki Street stands the building of the Ionian Bank, which was built in 1846 and displays a well-proportioned facade with finely detailed Ionian pilasters and pediment. On the first floor of the building the Paper Money Museum is housed.
At the far end of the square is the Church of St. Spyridon. It shelters the body of St. Spyridon who is the patron saint of Corfu and one of the great Saints of Greek Orthodoxy. This alone draws a constant stream of pilgrims from all over Greece every year. Built in 1589, the church is dedicated to Corfu’s much loved patron saint. A chapel in the church houses the casket with the remains of St Spiridon. Situated in Corfu Town, the church has the tallest belfry on the island.
The church of Saint Spyridon is dedicated to the patron saint of the island of Corfu. On the exterior of the church there is a tall, castellated bell-tower with a clock which resembles the one of the church of St. George in Venice.
The most valuable treasure of the church is the golden shrine made in Venice in which Saint Spyridon remains are kept.
The wonderful icons on the dome have golden frames and they are divided into 17 pieces, they represent among other things, the life of Saint Spyridon.
On December 12th ever year there is a feast in honour of the saint. The litanies of St. Spyridon are also famous, as they have been performed here since the Venetian years. They are connected with the history of the island.
In Corfu you can find an extensive and a huge variety of traditional Greek dishes as well as many Western and Italian favourites as well. You can visit a traditional ouzeri and enjoy a glass of ouzo with a Greek dish of fried calamari or shrimps. Maybe try the famous tzatziki, olives or a selection plate of small starters called pikilia in Greek. There are also many great quality restaurants and taverns, where you can enjoy live music while eating the Greek dishes such as moussaka, pastitsio and local fish cooked after the local recipes.
Corfu’s restaurants also specialise in Italian dishes since there is connection through centuries with Italy. Finally we strongly recommend that you taste some of Corfu’s specialties like sofrito (meat in white wine, garlic and herb sauce) and pastitsada (meat in red sauce), or fish dishes like mpourdeto for instance. Do not forget to drink ginger beer (tsitsibira) and buy some famous Kum Quat products to bring back home!
Basilica of Paleopolis & the remains of the Roman thermal baths at Paleopolis
The early Christian Basilica of Paleopolis was originally built around the first half of the 5th century. It features two aisles on each side of the nave and is covered by a timber roof. It was one of the largest basilicas in Greece, but it has been damaged and repaired many times on many different occasions.
The Basilica of Paleopolis is connected with one of the most well known and popular legends of Corfu; the legend of St. Kerkyra, the first Corfiot woman Martyr. She was the daughter of the Roman Governor of the island at that time and was subsequently put to death around the time of 70 A.D, after her father’s orders for becoming a Christian. According to the legend St. Kerkyra is the guardian of the fabulous treasures hidden in the catacombs of the church!
Right across the Basilica of Paleopolis you will see the ruins of the Roman baths that were built originally around 200 A.D; they were then later destroyed in the 6th century.
It will be an unforgettable experience to spend hours and hours just walking up and down along the small paved streets between high old houses, old Venetian wells and hidden gardens looking around to discover the old town secrets.
Corfu is a great place to have a great holiday; there is so much to see and to do and you will never get bored coming here again and again. Keep the traditions alive and come to Corfu every year and you will always experience something different!