Fortress Corfu (and why we didn’t see Butrint)

MV Aegean Odyssey arrived in Sarande harbour, Albania at 7am on 11th October 2016. We were there to visit ruins at Butrint, attributed to various periods of occupation by the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Venetians. But Maggie and I were not feeling well that morning, so we passed on that tour.

Later in the morning I took these photos from the ship, while docked at Sarande.

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The Dock Area
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Stranded Boats – Meltemi (left) on a trailer with no wheels, Scaraa (right) sitting on black sand bags

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With all passengers back on board MV Aegean Odyssey from Butrint, we “set sail” for Corfu, a 14 nautical mile journey (approx.), and arrived there around 2pm.

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Our Voyage to Antiquity so far (although I didn’t include the stop at Sarande). Map courtesy of Google Maps. Map data ©2017 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009)

Corfu is the name of the city and the second largest island in the Ionian sea, just off the coast of Albania and Greece. While it has been associated with Greek history for thousands of years it was only formally annexed to modern Greece in 1865.

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Corfu harbour and part of the city from MV Aegean Odyssey, with the old Fortress in background to left

… and yes there was rain in “them there” clouds.

At 3 pm we disembarked for a tour of the Old Fortress, built by the Venetians in 15th century, on the remains of a Byzantine castle and a large rocky headland.

The Venetians added a moat, which effectively cut off the headland fortress from the rest of the city.

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Gate to footbridge and entry to Fortress

Our access was via the footbridge (previously a drawbridge) with a view of the moat, fishing boats and a multitude of ramshackle huts on both sides.

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The Venetian built moat, viewed from the footbridge

I first thought the huts were slum residences, but no, they are privately owned fishermen’s storage huts. When the government tried to remove the huts there was such an outcry that they were left as they are.

After crossing the bridge and passing through the wall arch we were confronted with the Corfu Library (Archives of Corfu) housed in what was once the British army barracks. Passing under the barracks via one of the two archways (shown below) our entry to the old fort was complete.

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Library of Corfu

Within the fort there is a large open space along the south wall, which includes this church.

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Church of St George

The Church of St. George was built by the British in 1840, apparently in the “Georgian style” then popular in England, however it looks more like a Greek Temple to me.

The church provided a place of worship for British soldiers who served in Corfu during the period of the English Protectorate (1814-1864).  So its practices were that of the Church of England. However in 1865 , with the incorporation of Corfu into modern Greece, the Church of St. George became Greek Orthodox.

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Church of St. George with view of the Fort’s peak

Going to the top of the fortress was not part of our rather brief tour (unfortunately), but we saw the following.

Looking south-west across the square from the church …

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Part of the southern wall and fortification

The Ottoman empire tested the worth of the forts defences during two “great sieges”, the first of which began in 1537 and the second in 1716. While the island of Corfu was overrun by the Ottoman army, the fortress held out against these attacks.

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The Clock Tower that doubled as a lookout

There are four clock faces on the tower and each shows the Roman number four as IIII. If you remember the Roman numerals, four is IV.

Behind the church was a stock pile of various cannons awaiting restoration, similar to the one on display (above).

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View from the northern wall of the Fortress

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After leaving the Fortress we began to explore the city of Corfu and entered the city square, Spianada (Esplanade). A large section of Spianada (or Liston from the Venetians) is devoted to an old cricket ground. This is rather unusual, as Greece is not a cricketing nation. However, the cricket pitch was built by the British during their rule (between 1815 and 1864). After the British left, cricket was adopted by some of the locals and so the ground and “the pitch” was kept.

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The Cricket Pitch, Corfu – Photo by Jean Housen April 2014, used under free licence

Link to Licence under which the above photograph is used – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

To the left (and outside of this photo) is the Venetian built Promenade, which I will return to later.

These are some of the scenes we saw while wandering through the “old” section of the city.

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Note the Paragon Cafe sign

There was a time in Australia (now gone) when every self-respecting country town had a Paragon Cafe. This makes me reflect on just how much the Greek, Italian, Asian and other immigrants have contributed to Australia.

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Corfu City Hall

Nobilo Teatro di San Giacomo di Corfu was the first Opera House in modern Greece, but has now been converted into the Corfu City Hall.

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The Catholic Cathedral of St James and St Christopher in Theotoki Square
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Cafes and souvenirs as far as the camera can see
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The aroma of the bakery

I wanted to buy lots of goodies from this bakery, but bread and pastries are not supposed to be part of my diet. So I had to restrain myself.

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The all familiar Greek fruit and veg shop
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The small red dome of the Virgin Mary of Foreigners Church

There are more than 20 churches in Corfu and several of them have red domes. The next dome and tower is of Venetian design.

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The red dome of St. Spyridon Church Bell Tower, the most famous church in Corfu
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Making our way back to the main city square, MacDonalds straight ahead in the arches of the orange building
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The Liston Cafe (or collection of cafes in the one building), constructed in 1807 during the French occupation

This is complicated. “Liston” is a Venetian word that came to be used for a city square or part of a square. The Venetians constructed the main square and the pedestrian Promenade during their occupation of Corfu (1386 to 1797), so it came to be known as the Liston. Perhaps naturally, the French built cafe complex took on the Venetian name of the area, to be called the Liston Cafe.

The British built cricket pitch and cricket ground runs parallel to The Promenade (to my left in the photo below).

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During free time at the end of our tour, Maggie and I  visited one of the cafes in the Liston complex, sat right on the edge of the marble tiled promenade to watch the passing parade and ordered a Greek white wine, Greek beer and “Mezze Plate” (not quite what we were accustomed to on a “Messe Plate”, but we enjoyed it).

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A much welcomed drink and shared “snack” – Photo by Maggie

What a great finish to our Corfu excursion.

“It’s just a hop to the left…” – Next time we catch up I’ll be sharing our experience of Taormina, on the east coast of Sicily. Hope you can join us.

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3 thoughts on “Fortress Corfu (and why we didn’t see Butrint)

  1. Interesting photos, Alister (Maggie’s contribution captured the dissolute lifestyle you both were forced to adopt….I had to pause to enjoy my envy).
    Except for the cricket pitch, I did’nt see any sign of British influence. Must follow-up on that.
    Thank you, K’n’B.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it was definitely a hard life we were forced into while cruising 🙂

      The Venetian and French influence is far more visible, but the British were only there for 50 years, so no time to establish anything other than cricket.

      Like

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