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Corfu Between Tales and Reality

Among all religious beliefs, the Greek pantheon of colorful gods is perhaps the best described in the history of all human religiosity. There is literally no piece of Greek land or portion of the sea or the tiniest island that has no origin in radiant old mythology. The island of Corfu is no exception as well. Apparently in the mythological history, it was one of those unnamed islands in the region of Scheria where the mighty Poseidon spent a portion of his eternity with fresh water nymph Korkyra. Their descendants, the Phaeacians as described by Homer in Odysseus' adventures inherited the island and named it to the Poseidon's lover. The final shape of the island owns the appearance to Poseidon as well when he separated Paxos from Corfu with his trident in order to create a love nest for him and his wife Amphitrite (sea nymph this time). I don't blame him, both Korkyra and Paxos are beautiful and colorful islands and he obviously knew his craft well. I understand his affection to nymphs as well, he was the sea god after all and in the aftermath of the mythological creation, he alone is most likely responsible for the origin of the human race on a total of 227 Greek islands including Atlantis, but that's different story.

However, the reality and history of Corfu is much different and much less idyllic. Being in the cross worlds in the middle ages between Ottoman empire and western civilization, the history of Corfu was turbulent to say the least. The island managed to survive and keep its Greek identity after numerous raids by barbarians and conquests by Europeans during the medieval period. The origin of first people on the island is not much known. According to Homer, they had some relationship with the Mycenaeans (Dorians) but it is not scientifically proved true. Furthermore, there was no ancient ruins dedicated to Poseidon at all. There are two ruins excavated so far, one of a temple dedicated to Hera and the other, the most significant temple built in around 580 BC dedicated to goddess Artemis which was monumental in dimensions for the time. In the above picture is its full, around 20 meters long, pediment portraying a living Gorgon (mythical creatures with hair made of living, venomous snakes, most likely Medusa or one of her sisters).

After the ancient times, the island was ruled by Romans first and then went under Byzantine empire. After the Byzantine period ended (around 1267 AD), Corfu was vulnerable to the constant pirate attacks and raids by its neighbors and crusaders and stabilizes only when Venetians occupied the island in 1386. These olive trees from the picture above are seeded by Venetians and considered to be more than 500 years old. The Venetians ruled more than 400 years and ended their rule in 1797. The most of the Venetian domination left a big remark in todays island architecture, including the large fortress. After that, the island was occupied by French followed by strange alliance of Russians and Turks, then British and finally on 21 May 1864 after the London treaty, Corfu and all Ionian islands united with Greece.

The most important milestone in the history of Corfu happened during the Turkish siege of 1716 when Venetians managed to defend the island and stopped the Turks in their advances toward Europe. Fighting alongside Corfiot’s were Venetians, Germans, Italians, Maltese ships, Papal galleys, galleys from Genoa and Tuscan, Spanish galleys, and even Portuguese forces. The Turkish failure in Corfu was a historical event of enormous importance - who knows what would happened if the result of the battle went otherwise. However, the other parts of Greece and their southern islands weren't that lucky and went under Ottoman occupation causing large number of refugees and migration toward Corfu. In the following centuries, more immigrants arrived from Illyria, Sicily, Crete, Mycenae, and the Aegean islands. Of course in this small blog story, I didn't mean to go much into historical events but I always like to learn a bit more about places we travel to. If you want to know more, reference links below are good point to start googling.

This summer, we visited Corfu and it's picturesque village of Messonghi. In the same point of history, the small village along with neighboring Moraitika were established by Cretans and Peloponnesians. With it's interesting feature of Messonghi river, small and nice beach, crystal clear waters and amazing people, this village was our host for 11 days of our vacation and we fully recommend the stay. Beside archaeological museum we also visited Serbian House dedicated to the Great War events and one nice museum called "Casa Parlante", dedicated to the ordinary life of one British aristocrat family from British rule in the middle of 19th century. The most impact on me personally was the traditional Corfu dishes called Sofrito and Pastitsada and their recipes dated back 200 years in the past. The last but not least our big thanks goes to Spyros, his family and their fine Georgina Apartments where we staid the entire time.


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