The world famous summer residence of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, as known as Sissi
Corfu has been visited by tourists for well over 3,000 years. One of the first was Odysseus who spent some time there dallying with the lovely Princess Nausicaa in her palace at Paleocastritsa. Not long after, Jason and Medea arrived whilst on their quest for the Golden Fleece. They did not actually marry on the island but they certainly had a most romantic interlude there early in their tragic relationship.
In 734 BC Corfu was occupied by the Corinthians who developed it to such an extent it became a powerful little nation allied to Athens. It had its own fleet and in about 530 BC it sent 60 ships to assist the Athenians in the battle of Salamis. However they arrived late and the Athenians felt it was a deliberate attempt to avoid taking part in the actual conflict.
The Romans gained control of the island in 229 BC.They used it as a naval base and it was visited by such notables as Julius Caesar, Nero, Vespasian and Cicero. After the Romans left in around 400 AD Corfu became part of the Byzantine Empire in which it remained until 1081 when it was captured by the Normans who must have felt a long way from home. They ceded it to Venice in 1204 but it was passed on to Naples in 1250. However Venice bought it back in 1402.
It remained under Venetian control for 400 years. In that period Corfu Town was built very much in the style of Venice with a myriad of narrow streets and alleys bordered by arcaded shops and a multitude of tiny churches. It is hardly surprising that the island was coveted by the Turks who launched a series of incursions in an endeavour to secure it for themselves.
The most determined of these took place in 1715 when an army of 33,000 Turkish soldiers invaded. They were brought by ships which anchored off Gouvia and Ipsos. They swept across the island and laid siege to Corfu Town which was defended by a motley force commanded by the brilliant mercenary Saxon general Johann von der Schulemberg. They held out for 42 days until the night of 11 August when the final Turkish assault was thrown back by the local forces with the aid of St Spyridon, a few angels and a ferocious storm. Next day the Corfiots found the Turks had sailed away leaving behind a large number of artillery pieces and equipment.
The French under Napoleon evicted the Venetians in 1797. A combined Russian and Turkish force captured the island two years later but it was restored to the French in 1807. The French were responsible for the creation of the elegant Esplanade which fronts the old town. They ruled until 1814 when following the fall of Napoleon it was put under the protection of the British who remained in charge until 1864 when Corfu became part of Greece. The British left behind the first Greek university, excellent roads, a functioning water supply system and Cricket.
Our little island became one of the favourite resorts of Europe’s highest society after 1864 when King George 1 of Greece took over the absolutely beautiful villa Mon Repos to use as his holiday home. Prince Philip, now married to the Queen of England, was born in Mon Repos in 1921.
Princess Elizabeth of Austria, better known as Sissi, decided to outdo the King by having the magnificent Achillion Palace built further down the east coast so as to have her own place to stay on her visits. It was completed in 1892. Sadly she was assassinated in Geneva six years later.
The next event of any real significance was the advent of the Croquet Club of Corfu.