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The history of Corfu (Korfu) island is very long and tumultuous, as many different cultures and nations sought to capture the island as their own. Their influence can be seen in every aspect of present day Corfu (Kerkyra), from its physical appearance and historical monuments to its inhabitants' disposition and the local cuisine.
The ancient inhabitants of Corfu were most probably descendents of the Phaeacians, Nafsika and King Alkinoos. The island has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Era. It was originally occupied by the Eretrians and then by the Corinthians, by whom the island was named Korkyra, after the daughter of the river-god Esopos.
During the Corinthian occupation, Corfu (Kerkyra, Korfu) became a large commercial and naval power of the ancient world and produced many notable works of art. In 585 BC, the island recovered its independence from Corinth. It contributed 60 triremes to Persian War battles. Later the alliance of Corfu with Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 431 - 404 BC led to the island's eventual decline. In order to protect itself against pirates, Corfu (Kerkyra) voluntarily accepted Roman sovereignty, which lasted up to 337 AD. The island converted to Christianity around the 1st century AD.
The Medieval Era
Following the division of the Roman Empire, Corfu joined the Eastern Roman Empire in 395 AD. The island at various times during the Medieval Ages was plundered by the Huns, Vandals, Goths and Arabs. These raids devastated Corfu and resulted in the Corfiots moving to more secure grounds, a naturally fortified location between two rocks, from which the name Corfu was derived (Koryfi means peak in Greek). Later the island was occupied by the Normans and was eventually liberated by the Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel I Komninos.
The First Era of Venetian Rule–The Despot of Epirus–The Anjou Rule
In 1204, the Venetians laid claim to Corfu (Kerkyra) after the conquest of the Byzantine Empire by the 4th Crusade. In 1214, the island was recaptured by Michael I Aggelos Komninos, Despot of Epirus, who restored the old privileges of the inhabitants and reinforced the island's fortifications until 1258-1259, when the region was ceded by Duke Michael II to his son in law Manfred. The battle of Beneventum and the Treaty of Viterbo resulted in the transfer of the island to Charles I of Anjou for the next 120 years. Charles I of Anjou had many anti-orthodox feelings and replaced the Orthodox churches with Catholic churches. More and more people were gathering in the basin between the two hills, seeking protection and refuge. It was during this time that the Old Fortress was constructed.
The Second Era of Venetian Rule
In the second half of the 14th century, the island once more sought the protection of Venice, which bought the island from Naples and undertook to defend it for the next 412 years. The Venetian administration was carried out by short-term members of a council that was appointed by Venice. During this period the Byzantine fortifications were further reinforced. The island was besieged by Turkish forces in 1537. Many acres of cultivated land were destroyed and at least 20,000 inhabitants were killed. The island though, was not captured due to its great defence. From 1576 to 1645, the New Fortress was constructed on the hill of St. Marcus. The fortress included some of the most powerful and advanced defensive constructions. The fortifications were again reinforced in the 17th century with the building of a second wall. In July 1716, a Turkish fleet besieged the island but the Turkish forces were repelled by the Venetians.
The First French Rule
In 1797, Napoleon Bonaparte took over the administration of Corfu (Kerkyra) along with the other Ionian Islands. French occupation brought with it the ideas of the French Revolution. A municipal council was instituted, headed by Spyridon Theotokis. During this occupation, a municipal library was established, the police force, the judicial system and the educational system were reorganized for the better, and the first Greek printing press was established.
The Russian Rule
In 1799 the island came under the control of the Russian Admiral Ushakov, while the Septinsular Republic Constitution was implemented in 1800. Corfu (Korfu) then became the first Greek State to be recognized as a semi-autonomous republic since 1453. During this period, the Orthodox Bishop of Corfu was reinstated.
The Second French Rule
In 1807, with the Treaty of Tilsit, the 7 Ionian Islands were ceded to Napoleon again, who also continued the reinforcement of the fortifications to counteract a possible British attack. The French improved the stylistic appearance of the city by planting trees on Splianada Square and the Liston Promenade, in the style of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. They introduced the cultivation of potatoes and the vaccination of citizens, founded the School of French Art and the Ionian Academy in 1808, the first university of Modern Greece.
The British Rule
In 1814 the French surrendered Corfu to the British. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna recognized the Ionian Islands as an independent state under the protection of Great Britain. During the British administration, the infrastructure was improved, the Greek language was established as the official language of the island, the Constitution was amended to include freedom of press and various literary and financial societies were founded.
The Unification of Corfu with Greece - Modern Day Corfu
Corfu (Kerkyra) and the Ionian Islands were united with Greece on May 21st, 1864 by a decision of the Ionian Parliament and the ratification of the British Government. Soldiers of Corfu participated with distinction in the Balkan Wars, WWI and WWII. In September 1943, the Nazis bombarded Corfu, causing considerable damage to the island. The Nazi occupation was terminated on October 9th, 1944. Since then, Corfu (Kerkyra) has worked on developing its natural resources and tourism, becoming one of Greece's most prosperous islands and most popular tourism destinations.