CORFU’S VENETIAN LEGACY

From clas­sic ar­chi­tec­ture to spicy cui­sine

Seabourn Club Herald - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Richard Varr

From clas­sic ar­chi­tec­ture to spicy cui­sine

A stroll through the streets of Old Town Corfu brings to mind a touch of Venice. No, there aren’t singing gon­do­liers or the greentinted canals weav­ing around the cen­turiesold build­ings you might see in a Canaletto paint­ing. You will, how­ever, no­tice a church tower or two in the ar­chi­tec­tural style of a Venetian bel­fry. A closer look at the lower sto­ries of the cen­tral Town Hall re­veals uniquely Venetian rounded arches above its win­dows and door. And you may hear Ital­ian words in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion.

“Venice in Greece?” you might ask.

Yes, and there’s good rea­son for it. Old Town Corfu’s wind­ing street grid and some of its build­ings, with their muted red and ochre fa­cades, date back as far as 500 years, to the cen­turies when Venice ruled this north­ern­most Ionian is­land. That era, from 1386 un­til 1797, left be­hind a legacy of Venetian ar­chi­tec­ture, cui­sine and tra­di­tions that re­main to this day.

“Corfu was un­der Venetian rule long enough to be able to say that a very spe­cial cul­ture was cre­ated here on this is­land, bring­ing to­gether some of the finest el­e­ments of the Venetian and Greek Byzan­tine tra­di­tions,” ex­plains Maria Voul­gari, pres­i­dent of the Ionian Is­lands Li­censed Tourist Guides As­so­ci­a­tion. “When walk­ing in the nar­row al­leys of Old Town, you get the feel­ing you are in Venice or at least in an Ital­ian town. The al­leys form a maze and some­times end up in a small pi­azza with a well in the mid­dle, so much re­sem­bling the Venetian ones.”

“One can also lis­ten to the peo­ple speak­ing in the lo­cal di­alect which is a blend of Ital­ian and Greek words. Even when the Cor­fiots speak in Greek, they have a strong Ital­ian ac­cent,” Voul­gari adds. “And some lo­cal mu­sic is in­flu­enced by tra­di­tional Ital­ian songs.”

Ar­chi­tec­tural styles in Corfu Town, Kerkira or Kerkyra in Greek, run the gamut from older Greek and Byzan­tine struc­tures, to Venetian-built three- and four-story build­ings with arched win­dows. Th­ese are painted in the tra­di­tional col­ors of Corfu — yel­low and ochre, with win­dows in dark green and doors with an oc­ca­sional splash of ter­ra­cotta pink. Town Hall’s gold and yel­low trim is one ex­am­ple, built over 30 years and com­pleted in 1693. First used as a no­ble­men’s club, it be­came the San Gi­a­como Theater in 1720, a famed venue for Ital­ian mu­si­cians and com­posers. Con­verted to Town Hall in 1903, the build­ing crum­bled dur­ing World War II bomb­ing but was soon ren­o­vated to what stands to­day.

Some build­ings in­clude a carving or motif of the Lion of St. Mark — symbolizing not only the Serene Republic of Venice and her patron saint, but also the emblem of the Ionian Republic, the first Greek in­de­pen­dent state.

Dur­ing Ot­toman in­va­sions, Corfu never fell un­der Turk­ish rule thanks to Venetian mil­i­tary en­gi­neers who built the town’s two im­pres­sive forts, both prom­i­nent sym­bols of Venetian rule. “In all of its his­tory, the is­land suf­fered from the fre­quent in­va­sions of pi­rates, so in a way it was a vol­un­tar­ily sub­mis­sion of Corfu to Venice in their at­tempt to pro­tect the is­land against the pi­rates and the Ot­tomans Turks,” ex­plains Voul­gari. “The weak­en­ing of the Byzan­tine Em­pire al­lowed Venice to con­quer and rule through­out the north­west­ern part of the Em­pire.”

The Old Fortress or Palaió Froúrio was com­pleted in 1559 on the cen­tral is­land’s east­ern­most penin­sula. Its stone walls stand tall with far-reach­ing views stretch­ing over Old Town and out to the Ionian Sea. The builders sep­a­rated the fort from the main­land by dig­ging a fosse or nar­row canal — an added de­fense orig­i­nally used to de­ter en­emy pen­e­tra­tion of the fort, but to­day a peace­ful moor­ing

SOME BUILD­INGS IN­CLUDE A CARVING OR MOTIF OF THE LION OF ST. MARK — SYMBOLIZING NOT ONLY THE SERENE REPUBLIC OF VENICE AND HER PATRON SAINT, BUT ALSO THE EMBLEM OF THE IONIAN REPUBLIC.

area for plea­sure craft. What looks like an Ital­ianate tower rises from the fort’s rocky base, while the columned, tem­ple-like Church of St. Ge­orge was added by the Bri­tish in the 1800s.

Con­struc­tion of the New Fortress, also called Fortress of St. Mark or San Marco, was com­pleted in the mid 17th cen­tury. Lo­cated on the town’s western edge, the new fort bol­stered Old Town’s de­fenses and pro­tected the har­bor. Ram­parts were later com­pleted dur­ing French and Bri­tish rule. On the main gates are two winged Lions of St. Mark, and the fort’s dry moat now serves as the grounds for a veg­etable mar­ket near the har­bor.

Ru­ins of Venice’s mil­i­tary pres­ence also re­main about five miles north­east

THE MOST RECOGNIZED VENETIAN-ERA CHURCH IS AGIOS SPYRÍDON WITH ITS RED-DOMED BEL­FRY, THE HIGH­EST POINT IN OLD TOWN.

of Corfu Town at the vil­lage of Gou­via. Arches, col­umns and walls of a former ar­se­nal, where re­pairs were made to Venetian navy ves­sels, are still in­tact.

The most recognized Venetian-era church is Agios Spyrídon with its red­domed bel­fry, the high­est point in Old Town. “The bell tower, built in 1620, is plain and squarely pro­filed in an Ital­ian style which re­sem­bles the bell tower of the Greek Church St. Gior­gio Dei Greci in Venice, but with a red dome,” points out Voul­gari. “Un­derneath the bell is a clock with Latin num­bers and gold point­ers.”

The lo­cals will tell you Agios Spyrídon is the holi­est place on the is­land — the fi­nal rest­ing place of the is­land’s patron saint. St. Spyrídon, en­tombed in a sil­ver cas­ket, his re­mains smug­gled out of Con­stantino­ple in the 15th cen­tury, is said to have warded off Turk­ish in­vaders in 1716 and spared Corfu from the plague

twice in the 17th cen­tury. Mod­ern-day mir­a­cles are still at­trib­uted to him. Paint­ings and icons em­bla­zon the in­side of this sin­gle-nave church, up­dated in the mid-19th cen­tury with two white-mar­ble rail­ings from Venice.

Artist Pana­gi­o­tis Doxaras’ 1727 paint­ings in Agios Spyrídon, notes Voul­gari, are to­day con­sid­ered some of the most im­por­tant ex­am­ples from the Ionian School of paint­ing. “Art in the Ionian is­lands shifted to­wards Western styles by the end of the 17th cen­tury with the grad­ual aban­don­ment of strict Byzan­tine con­ven­tions and tech­nique,” she ex­plains. “Artists were now in­creas­ingly in­flu­enced by Ital­ian Baroque and Flem­ish painters rather than from their Byzan­tine her­itage.”

Palaces and other Venetian-era build­ings in­clude the 17-cen­tury Ricci Man­sion at Mous­toxy­dou Street, No.

15, with its clas­sic ar­cade sup­port­ing a spa­cious bal­cony where town lead­ers watched joust­ing events. The man­sion at 4th Street off Ypa­pan­dis Street, No. 4, has Venetian-style balus­ters along the bal­cony, the only ones sur­viv­ing within a Corfu-Town home. St. Ja­cob’s Cathe­dral’s Venetian style is de­scribed as hav­ing a Baroque curve and a laced Gothic tower. Like many Corfu build­ings, it was re­stored af­ter World War II dev­as­ta­tion.

Venetian in­flu­ence reaches the din­ner table cooked into Corfu’s most pop­u­lar dishes, in­clud­ing sofrito, sliced veal or lamb cooked with vine­gar, gar­lic and pars­ley, and the fish stews bour­deto and white bianco, spiced re­spec­tively with pep­per and gar­lic. Pastit­sada is a sig­na­ture is­land dish of­ten served dur­ing hol­i­days or at of­fi­cial din­ners. It’s made with poul­try or veal browned with spices, then cooked with toma­toes, to­mato paste and mac­a­roni and sprin­kled with ke­falo­tyri, a strong Greek cheese.

The Vene­tians brought opera to the is­land start­ing in 1733 at the San Gi­a­como Theater, the first mod­ern Greek theater and opera house. The cos­mopoli­tan city was quickly noted for its high stan­dards.

“In fact, the peo­ple of Corfu were con­sid­ered such a dif­fi­cult au­di­ence,” ex­plains Voul­gari, “that when a new opera was pre­sented and was dis­tin­guished with the ap­plau­dito a Corfu (ap­plauded in Corfu), then the suc­cess in the rest of the the­aters all around Europe was guar­an­teed.”

VENETIAN IN­FLU­ENCE REACHES THE DIN­NER TABLE COOKED INTO CORFU’S MOST POP­U­LAR DISHES, IN­CLUD­ING SOFRITO.

Corfu Old Town

City Hall

Church of St. Ge­orge at the Old Fortress Corfu from the New Fortress

The Old Fortress

Venetian Ar­se­nal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.