Corfu Old Town Walking Tour, Corfu

Corfu Old Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Corfu

Poseidon, the god of the sea, was obsessed with the beautiful nymph Korkyra, the daughter of the river god Asopus. Poseidon abducted Korkyra and carried her off to an unnamed island. He called the island Korkyra, after his lady love. This island later became Corfu.

The medieval castles on the island tell of struggles in the Middle Ages against invaders like Roman-era Germanic tribes, Arabs, and Ottomans. Under Venetian rule from 1401 until 1797, it was one of the few parts of Greece not conquered by the Turks. The Old Town of Corfu shows strong Venetian influence with multi-storied buildings and fortifications.

Spianada, the largest square on the island and surrounded by French architecture, is a venue for events, concerts, and cricket matches. Liston, bordering Spianada Square, is a wide pedestrian boulevard lined with arcades where the nobility took their ease.

There is a certain romance in the labyrinth of alleyways of the medieval old town. There are the marching bands on festival days and the food! Then there are the beaches and the Channel of Love, where, legend says, like Poseidon, you will find your soulmate.

On the east side of the old town is an artificial island crowned by two fortified peaks. The island is where the old Fort was built in the 13th century. It is connected to the mainland by a bridge over a navigable moat. Here are the towers of the Sea and Land, the winged lions of St Mark, and the Catholic chapel Our Lady of Carmel (Madonna del Carmine).

Easter celebrations in Corfu are different from other Greek towns. The Philharmonic Society leads the procession of Christ's Epitaph on Good Friday. Crowds march along, carrying the sacred remains of the island's patron, Saint Spyridon.

The Greek mythology hero Odysseus once took refuge in ancient Corfu. Today Corfu welcomes all visitors. Walking the Liston and gazing at the fortresses and churches, you feel like an aristocrat.
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Corfu Old Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Corfu Old Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Greece » Corfu (See other walking tours in Corfu)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Old Fortress
  • Spianada Square
  • Liston
  • Cathedral of Saint James and Saint Christopher
  • Town Hall
  • Casa Parlante
  • Saint Spyridon Church
  • New Fortress
Old Fortress

1) Old Fortress (must see)

The site of the Old Fortress was first fortified in the 6th century AD. Invading Ostrogoths, as was their wont, had destroyed the nearby city of Corcyra. Local Corcyreans found refuge in fortifications on the promontory of Corfu.

In the 12th century, the Byzantines further strengthened their defenses. A citadel was formed by two peaks with strong towers. The eastern peak was named Castle by the Sea (Castle a Mare) or Old Castle (Castle Vecchio). The peak to the west was called Castle near Land (Castel a Terra) or New Castle (Castle Nuovo).

Venetians occupied Corfu from 1386 until 1797. They mostly replaced the fortifications they found with their own designs. They separated the promontory tip from the rest of the city by digging the Contrafossa, a navigable canal from the Gulf of Kerkyra in the north to the Bay of Garitsa in the south, creating an island citadel.

The fort successfully repelled three determined Ottoman sieges in 1537, 1571, and 1716. After the first siege, military engineers Savorgnan and Martinengo designed new defensive zones with bastions and towers. Access over the Contrafossa was by a drawbridge. A permanent bridge is in place today.

The final Ottoman siege lasted seven weeks. The Ottomans were defeated by troops commanded by Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg. In 1718, a flash of lightning struck the powder magazine in the Old Castle, creating a chain of explosions. Hundreds died, including the Venetian Commander.

In 1923 both Old and New Fortresses were bombarded by the Italian air force. In the Second World War, Nazis used the Old Fortress as a prison for Jews in transit to death camps in Germany. Out of the 1,800 Jews deported from Corfu, only 120 returned.

Today, the Old Fortress houses the Public Library of Corfu. It is the venue for art and cultural events, and the Hellenistic Music Research Lab of Ionian University is located there.
Spianada Square

2) Spianada Square

"Spianada" is from the Italian word "spianare," meaning "to flatten." The Spianada Square of Corfu is located in front of the Old Fortress and is considered the largest square in the Balkans. The open defensive area was created by French occupiers by flattening houses.

At the "top end" of the Spianada Square is a peristyle of 20 Ionic columns, designed by British General George Whitmore in 1817. It was built over an old cistern. The locals call the Peristyle "sterna," meaning "cistern" in Greek.

A statue by sculptor Antonio Carradini of Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, who commanded the Venetian force against the Turks in 1716, now commands the square. Bewigged and armored, the General seems to be looking for stray Ottomans.

Relax at the "Boschetto," a beautiful municipal garden with a fountain. It has busts of famous visitors, including poet Konstantinos Theotokis and writer Gerald Durrell.

Liston is a fashionable boulevard by the Spianada Square, designed and built by the French imperial commissioner Mathieu de Lesseps in 1807 to look like Rivoli street (Rue de Rivoli) in Paris. It houses arcaded terraces and fashionable cafes.

The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George is on the Square. Once the home of the Ionian Senate and later a royal palace, it was built if 1824. Today it houses the Museum of Asian Art of Corfu. The Church of Saint Spyridon is on Liston street, close by.

3) Liston (must see)

It is generally believed that "Liston" is derived from the Venetian "lista," meaning a wide, pedestrian street. Others say that before Corfu was united with Greece in 1864, access to Liston was restricted to the nobility of Corfiot society. Their names were posted on a "List" at the head of the street. Ordinary people could walk somewhere else.

This may all be a myth. There is no documentary proof, but one thing is for sure. It is a delightful place to walk, at any time of day, in any season. Liston lies beside Spianada Square, the largest square in the Balkans and the scene of many a cricket match.

The boulevard connects the historical center of the Old Town (with the Old Fort and the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George) with the South end of Spianada Square. It also lies close to the Church of Saint Spyridon, the patron saint of Corfu.

Liston is a popular social area and a venue for many cultural events. Philharmonic bands and traditional dancing and singing groups in 19th-century costumes often appear. There are, as well, book and photography exhibitions.

Huge Easter events take place in Holy Week. Innumerable lanterns glow in Liston, emitting a mournful purple light throughout the week. The epitaphs and processions end on Easter morning with the traditional throwing of jugs in front of Saint Spyridon's.

Liston lines the northern half of Spianada Square. It owes its elegant arcades and Rivoli street "rue de Rivoli" Paris-style buildings to the French occupiers of 1807 to 1814. Under the canopied arcades sprawl see-and-be-seen cafes, touching the Spianada and the Kapodistriou behind the block. The Napoleonic era was not all bad for everybody.

In the mornings, take coffee in a cafe under the arcades. Enjoy delicious Corfiot sweets with kumquat or ginger beer. Watch the people go by and listen to a cricket match in the square.
Cathedral of Saint James and Saint Christopher

4) Cathedral of Saint James and Saint Christopher

Some believe all creatures reincarnate, passing from one form to another. This theory has eluded solid proof, but monuments of institutions change forms more often than not. Take the old cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, once located in the Old Fortress of Corfu.

Roman Catholic from the 13th to the 17th centuries, the structure was a three-aisled basilica with a chapel attached. In the 15th century, the Brotherhood of Saint James and Saint Christopher asked Rome to build a new church and alms-house. The church was consecrated in 1533 by Bishop Cocco.

Heavily damaged in the Ottoman siege of 1571, it was reconstructed in 1658. It was renovated in 1709 by Archbishop Zacco. After the explosion of a nearby powder magazine in 1718, the church was rebuilt smaller. It was renovated again in 1905. In 1943 the Luftwaffe destroyed it again and it was rebuilt again.

The final form is a basilica with a wooden roof. There are three-sided chapels on each side. Arches of monastic vaults connect to the center aisle. The floor rests on four marble columns from the 17th century. A painting of Virgin and Child of 1654 by Greek painter Konstantinos Tzanes is kept in the church.

The central part of the facade is in three parts with Tuscan pilasters. There is a triangular pediment. The appearance is like the late Baroque churches of Venice. A Gothic bell tower with a pyramidal cap is next to the sanctuary.
Town Hall

5) Town Hall

The Town Hall of Corfu dominates the Town Hall Square in the Old City. It is probably the best example of a Venetian Renaissance-style building on the island. Constructed between 1663 and 1693, it is made chiefly from marble and stone. At first, it housed the "Lodge of the Noblemen."

Along with many other sculptures outside, the Town Hall is a bust of 17th-century Venetian Admiral Francesco Morosini, supreme commander of the Venetian Fleet. His statue was placed on the eastern wall in 1691. In 1720 the building was home to the Noble Theatre of San Giacomo of Corfu. In 1903 it became the Town Hall of Corfu.

Unhappily, the Town Hall and its historical archives, especially those of the Noble Theatre, were destroyed in 1943 by the ubiquitous Luftwaffe. Only the main stage curtain was salvaged. Today it is in the New Municipal Theatre of Corfu.

The facade and the back of the building are laden with stone decorations. The walls carry masks, engravings, and iconic symbols of the island. The bust of Admiral Morosini is accompanied by figures of four children who symbolize his virtues.
Casa Parlante

6) Casa Parlante (must see)

Casa Parlante, a "Talking House," is a museum. It is a very special museum in the center of Corfu Old Town, a short distance from Liston and Spianada Square. The museum is housed in a 19th-century noble mansion. It presents the daily life of a noble family of Corfu in the 19th century.

"Welcome! Please come in!" Declares a costumed figure at the front door. "The Count will be with you presently. He hopes you will join him and the Countess in the drawing room for tea." There is something different about this 19th-century butler. He is an animatronic, a robot. Tea with well-dressed robots in "the drawing room." This is new.

Casa Parlante aims to provide an accurate look into Corfu at a historic time. In the 19th century, Corfu was the "capital of the Ionian Islands" and the cultural center of Greece. Old Town's noble residence presents the past of a noble family, using heirlooms, objets d'art, paintings, and furniture.

The "Talking House" comes to life. Children play music. The Count reads his paper. From the kitchen come aromas of fine cuisine. The Countess sips tea. Refreshments include candy and a liqueur. Living knowledgeable guides are multi-lingual. The rooms have moving mannequins. The elderly rocking chair lady may seem a tad spooky.
Saint Spyridon Church

7) Saint Spyridon Church (must see)

Saint Spyridon died in the 4th century AD. He had suffered some persecution for his faith while he lived. After his death, his remains continued to be pursued. They were kept in Constantinople. In 1489 the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottomans. Again his remains were moved. This time they were taken to Corfu by the monk Georgios Kalochairetis.

Georgios' daughter, Asimia, received the saints' remains as a dowry when she married into the Voulgaris family of Corfu. The Voulgaris family kept the saint in their private church. The church was demolished in the 1580s. The remains were then taken to the new church built within the city walls.

The Church of Saint Spyridon and its bell tower are similar in design to the Church of San Georgio Dei Greci in Venice. Inside the crypt are two sarcophagi, one within the other where the saint's remains are kept. The crypt has 53 incense burners. Eighteen are gold. The rest are silver.

Ceiling panels depict scenes of Saint Spyridon's life and miracles. The paintings, created in 1727, had to be copied over because of rot damage. The Romanov imperial coat of arms is above the west door of the narthex.

It is believed Saint Spyridon miraculously saved Corfu by raising a storm in the siege of 1716. The Venetian Senate donated a silver lamp to hang in the west corner of the nave. The inscription read: "For the Salvation of Corfu, to the Patron Saint Spyridon."
New Fortress

8) New Fortress (must see)

The first Ottoman siege of Corfu ended in 1537. The Ottomans did not succeed, but the siege revealed the urgent need to expand fortifications. The Old Fort might not be enough next time. With the Ottomans, there always seemed to be a next time. The Venetians hastened to build fortifications for parts of the town outside the walls.

They razed some 2,000 homes and built new walls and fortifications in their place. With the walls completed, they proceeded to build the New Fort on the hill of St. Mark. All this had the effect of widening the defense perimeter of the old citadel inside the Old Fort. The work is said to have started in 1577. The finish date could be 1645.

The fortress complex is on two levels. A three-story building called "Punta Perpetua" and a pentagonal-shaped bastion are on the lower level. Inside are arched rooms, galleries, staircases, and ramps. There are two Baroque gates. A dry moat on the west side runs from the vegetable market to the new harbor.

The New Fortress has two bastions, "Skarponas" and "Epta Anemoi." They are on the second level, accessed by the Bell Castle (Castello della Campana). The town defenses were further reinforced on the three hills to the west in the 18th century. Vidos Islet was fortified by French occupiers in the early 19th century.

Below the bastion is the former British military barracks. Today it is a venue for art exhibits and events. Two inscribed monuments survive, attached to the ramparts. The better-preserved one dates from 1728. It shows the symbol of Venice, the Lion of St Mark, and the arms of Marco Antonio Diedo, Supreme Governor.

Walking Tours in Corfu, Greece

Create Your Own Walk in Corfu

Create Your Own Walk in Corfu

Creating your own self-guided walk in Corfu is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
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Paleopoli Ancient Ruins Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles

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