The first image seen by the visitor who approaches Corfu Town by sea is the formidable, Old Fortress. Built on a rocky peninsula with two characteristic hills (Corifes), it is positioned at the eastern end of the citadel. Apart from the historical and cultural interest, what makes the Old Fortress special is, without a doubt, the awe-inspiring 360 degree, panoramic view it offers of the Ionian Sea and UNESCO Heritage Listed Old Corfu Town.
Corfu Town is separated from the fortress by an artificial moat, which was created for additional protection and is called "Contrafossa". To enter, one must cross the bridge that connects the town with the island.
This location of the moat was ideal, as it allowed easy access to the sea and full control of the neighbouring shores. The high fortifications, in combination with the artificial moat, made it impossible for any raiders to gain access.
For many centuries the Venetian built fortress underwent transformations and extensions. Today, the Old Fortress along with the New Fortress, Old Corfu Town and its other fortifications, Angelokastro and Gardiki Castle are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In addition to The Venetian built prison, is the building which was erected by the British, and utilized as barracks. From the barracks the path winds around, leading to steps to the apex of the fort, from which the bird’s eye view is extremely impressive.
Unique architecture of each period of occupation is to be observed, such as the embossed Venetian emblem with the marble, winged lion of St. Mark, the inscriptions, the coats of arms, the cannons and the British built Doric-style church of St. George.
The small, postcard pretty, port of Mandraki, with its beautiful Soranza Gate, is on the north side of the peninsula where you can enjoy delectable cuisine at the unique Corfu Sailing Club Restaurant, in its idyllic position next to the sea.
In the open area of the fortress, called Versiada, cultural events and concerts take place. Directly above is a cafeteria, with a lovely outlook across Garitsa bay, which offers refreshments, lovely light meals and snacks.
The Old Fortress houses the Archives of the Prefecture, the Public Library, the Ministry of Culture as well as departments of the Ionian University.
Old Fortress, back to past
During the mid-6th century AD, the ancient city of Corfu (Paleopolis), on the peninsula of Kanoni, was destroyed in barbaric raids. Consequently, its inhabitants gradually began to move to the naturally fortified peninsula of the Old Fortress, where the Byzantine city called Koryfo developed (Corfu’s name is a derivative of Koryfo). The Byzantines and later the Andeans (1267-1386) walled up the peninsula and built towers on both peaks.
The current fortifications of the Old Fortress were mainly the defensive works undertaken during the Venetian occupation (1386-1797). Corfu had strategic and commercial importance. For this reason, they modernized the Old Fortress, in order to withstand the attacks of the Ottomans. With the introduction of heavy artillery, the construction of the moat came about.
At the same time, for defensive reasons, an unstructured zone was created between the Fortress and the settlement outside the walls, the "spianata" today's Spianada Square.
After the devastating Turkish siege of 1537, the Venetians again added additional fortifications to Koryfo. Veronese architect, Michele Sanmicheli, designed the fort’s characteristic shape, according to the bastion system (fronte bastionato) and added two pentagonal bastions to the western front, the wall between them and the middle entrance.
The connection to the land was reached by a mobile bridge. In the 2nd half of the 16th century the cape at the northeastern tip was walled. When the capital was moved to Xopoli at the end of the 16th century, Koryfo remained, mainly, a military base.
During the period of British rule (1814-1864) large-scale interventions were made in the area of the Old Fortress with the construction of new buildings, mainly of a military nature. During World War II, important Venetian buildings were destroyed by bombings, such as the Provident’s Palace and the Paschal Strata.The fortifications of the fortress were built in a significant historical period of about 15 centuries. During this period, three special historical phases stand out: –
- The Byzantine period, during which the Eastern Hill (Castell Vechio) was fortified.
- The Early Venetian period when the peninsula was transformed into an island, and the Western Hill (Castell Novo) and the Late Venetian Fortress were fortified in order to deal with the new modern threat of the time namely cannons.
- In the last phase, the buildings in front of the Fortress were leveled and the imposing “Spianada Square” was built
Thus many nations managed to leave their mark i.e. Byzantines, Venetians, French, Russians, English, Greeks, Italians and Germans, eventuating in the composition of this particular jewel of Corfu
The city remained under Venetian occupation until 1797, when Napoleon the Great overthrew the Republic of Venice. Corfu then became the capital of the Ionian State for seven years. During the period 1807-1814 it came under French occupation. British Rule followed from 1815 until 1864 when Corfu was incorporated into the Greek state. In the 1950s it experienced impressive tourist development.
The church of St. George (Agios Georgios) dating back to 1840, which was built as a garrison church for British troops, was 20 years later, turned into a Catholic Church and decorated with icons from the church of Agios Spyridon in Corfu Town.
Inside the Old Fortress are several buildings, including a prison built in 1786 by the Venetians and later expanded by the British, the military chapel, two English-built barracks which were constructed around 1850, and a military hospital that is now a music school. The church of St. George (Agios Georgios) dating back to 1840, which was built as a garrison church for British troops, was 20 years later, turned into a Catholic Church and decorated with icons from the church of Agios Spyridon in Corfu Town.
ΔΑΦΝΗ, Νατάσσα (2014). “Τα κάστρα της Κέρκυρας: η μακραίωνη ιστορία κατακτήσεων“, My Kerkyra magazine:the real Corfu, Issue 32|2014, p. 34-38
ΚΑΣΤΡΟΛΟΓΟΣ: κάστρα της Ελλάδας. “Παλαιό Φρούριο Κέρκυρας“, https://www.kastra.eu/castlegr.php?kastro=kerkyrold
ΥΠΟΥΡΓΕΙΟ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΣΜΟΥ ΚΑΙ ΑΘΛΗΤΙΣΜΟΥ (2012). “Παλαιό Φρούριο Κέρκυρας“, http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/2/gh251.jsp?obj_id=954