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WHS #566: Corfu Old Town

The Old Town of Corfu with its Venetian/British architectural mix is the odd one out among Greek WHS. It entered the list in 2007, 8 years after they were done adding the Classical Greek sites. Despite Corfu’s prominent package holiday profile (worth a million visitors a year), the WHS isn’t covered well at this website. No photos at all have been posted for example. So I was eager to explore Corfu Town as a prologue to my 'Balkan Tour 2015', which will take me to Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo.

Venetian winged lion, at the walls of the New Fortress

The Venetians were here for the longest period: from 1386-1797. They mainly used the site as a militairy stronghold, to keep tabs on the entrance to the Adriatic Sea via the Straits of Corfu. They constructed the Old and the New Fortress, which protect the town of Corfu on both sides. These fortresses still are the major landmarks and tourist attractions in town.

The Old Fortress lies on an artificial peninsula. It was something like a self-contained village, where the Venetian rulers were safe from the hands of the Ottomans while the onshore general population suffered. The British used it in the same manner during the 19th century. Most buildings date from that period, including barracks and the great neoclassical Anglican Church of St. George.

British St. George Church in Old Fortress

The New Fortress was placed on a hill, overlooking the town. It seems less visited than the Old one, maybe the steep uphill walk deters tourists. There are some nice surprises waiting at the top though, so it shouldn't be missed. First: the entrance fee of 4 EUR is equal to that of the Old Fortress. But this one is collected by a bar with an alternative streak. So included in the price is one drink of your choice. It’s best to leave that to the end, as first you will have to climb an iron flight of stairs which has seen better times. The views that await you are worth it though: especially in the late afternoon it shows Corfu, the Old Fortress and the surrounding waters in a great light. While I’m not sure about the originality or uniqueness of Corfu to be a WHS, it definitely is a pretty town seen from here.

In the town proper there are a couple of buildings left from the British period that are worth a closer look. The Palace of St. Michael & St. George (now a museum) for example, and the pink Ionian Academy (not far from the cricket field!). Also there’s the remarkable Venetian theatre, turned into Town Hall.

City view from New Fortress

The fortresses of Corfu Town also feature in the TWHS Late Medieval Bastioned Fortifications in Greece. We have it as part of our connection 'Extensions on Tentative List.'. However, the description of the TWHS seems to hint at a complete new nomination covering the defensive works of several Greek islands! Probably the Greeks thought that when a number of Mexican colonial towns or French religious sites could become double WHS, why can't Corfu and Rhodes?

Published 24 May 2015 Leave a Comment

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