By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
Corfu is a little piece of Greece, the seventh largest of the country’s islands.
But its status is a lot more complicated.
The history of Corfu includes a long period of domination by the Venetians, a bit of French, and a few decades of British rule.
It was the occupation by the Venetians, though, and the strong fortress structures they erected that was one of the main reasons why Corfu was the only significant part of Greece never conquered by the Muslim Turks, the Ottomans.
A CORFU ALBUM
Photos by Corey Sandler
The island, along with a few smaller islets, forms the northwestern frontier of Greece. The island’s north-eastern coastline is just 3 kilometers or 2 miles away from Albania.
I said that the island was never taken by the Ottoman Turks, but that was not for lack of trying.
The Siege of Corfu in 1537 landed 25,000 soldiers from the Turkish fleet of Suleiman the Magnificent. They pillaged parts of the island and took 20,000 hostages.
But in the city, the castle held and the Turks withdrew because of lack of supplies and an epidemic.
The second great siege of Corfu took place in 1716, during the last Turkish-Venetian War.
On July 8 the Turkish fleet of 33,000 men was encountered by the Venetian fleet off the channel of Corfu and was defeated. Despite repeated assaults and heavy fighting, the Turks were unable to breach the defenses and were forced to end the siege after 22 days.
The 5,000 Venetians and foreign mercenaries, together with 3,000 Corfiotes, were victorious.
Once again Venetian castle engineering had proven itself once again against considerable odds.
The repulse of the Ottomans was widely celebrated in Europe, Corfu being seen as a bastion of Western civilization against the Ottoman tide.
Back in Venice, hometown composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote an oratorio: “Juditha triumphans.”
Today Corfu city looks very different from most Greek cities.
The Venetians set the tone for architecture, and also created a culture more open and diverse than existed in many other places.
Today I made a visit to one of the remnants of the many other cultures that touched Corfu: Achilleion Palace, built for Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary in 1890, named (and decorated) in tribute to her hero Achilles. After her death (by assassination in one of the complex steps that led up to World War I), it was purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
Wilhelm, who also had a thing for heroes and large statues, had a huge version of Achilles installed in the garden, with the inscription “To the Greatest Greek from the Greatest German.” Humble, no?
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