From the first moment you dock on the ship you realize that Corfu is almost unlike any other island. The fairytale landscape with its unique buildings prepares you for an experience out of the ordinary.
Taking a walk in the old town you will find architectures of incomparable charm with rich historical, cultural, structural and aesthetic interest. Among them are the glamorous old mansions of Corfu. Some are preserved, some occupied, some barely a shadow of their former grandiose self. But surely they all have their tale to tell and leave no one unmoved at their sight.
One of the most abandoned mansions of Corfu with twenty-four rooms dominates the street just before one enters the centre of the island from Methodiou Street. Overgrown by wild plants, but with wonderful architecture and wonderful colours, it has not been touched by human hands for many decades.
The legendary Villa Rossa (Red Villa), villa of the Aspiotis family experienced days of glory, wealth and admiration. Always lit, full of people and a hub of receptions, it has written its own history in Corfiot society. It hosted kings, princes, political intellectuals and personalities of Europe, who by staying on the island made Corfu famous in their homelands. The tennis court it once had is covered with wild grass but also its large gardens, which were so famous for the variety, quality and abundance of flora, today, are uncultivated and abounding in unwanted vegetation.
The villa is named after the historic Corfiot family, pioneers of graphic arts and tourism. It gave the name to the wider area.
Going up Athenagora Kavvada Street and just before turning for Mon Repo, one cannot miss the beautiful, forgotten building. The magnificent house belonged to the family of Alexandros Kokokos, mayor of Corfu, and Princes Philip godfather.
In the so-called "Kokotou plot" port facilities were discovered that served the port of Alkinou.
This is part of a neorio, (shipyard) which was used as early as the 5th century BC until Roman times, when the city and the port were destroyed by Agrippa’s troops. The port of Alkinou was in the bay of today’s Garitsa, while the Ylaikos Port was located in the Halikiopoulou Lagoon.
The magnificent, but completely abandoned, building is decorated not only with antiquities but also with a magnificent garden with unique trees such as the huge arocaria which may have been planted during the English rule in the Ionian Islands, when the English custom was to plant exotic trees in Corfu mansions obtained from their colonies. One or two identical trees were inside the Mon Repo estate, but withered and fell a few years ago. In the same area, behind the villa, there is also an arokaria but probably younger than the old tree.
After the entrance of Mon Repo, going up to Kanoni, at the corner formed by Paleopolis and Faiakon streets, we see an impressive building, which stands out for its architecture, colours and location. This is the well-known villa Kalavrentzou, built about a century ago, as written on the facade of the building “YEAR 1900” and which became a place name in this area.
Today, uninhabited, neglected and allegedly haunted, with a large untidy garden, it takes one back to bygone times, where the secular events of Corfiot society were often held in this area.
The country house bears the surname of its wealthy former owner, Georgios Kalavrentzos, son of Konstantinos Kalavrentzos, who built the villa and came from Calabria (southwestern Italian peninsula). The French general, General De Mondesir, set up his headquarters in Villa Kalavrentzou in 1916 during the French occupation.
After the Museum of Asian Art or Old Palace we find the mansion Kapodistria. Its marble facade, its Corinthian pilasters made of pink stone, the decorative strips that separate the floors and the beautiful railing make the building one of the most beautiful architectural monuments in Greece.
It was built in 1840 for the younger brother of the Governor Georgios Kapodistrias by the Corfiot architect Ioannis Chronis, who endowed his birthplace with buildings, which are not only architectural monuments of Corfu but also of the whole of Greece.
In the building that pre-existed at the back of the mansion, Ioannis Kapodistrias was born in 1776.
Today, the building houses part of the Ionian University (Translation and Interpretation Centre).
A walk in Campiello definitely compensates every visitor. There, tucked away, in the centre of the island, is one of the few houses that have remained today; the Venetian mansion, Saoulis.
Situated near the church of Antivouniotissa, at 29-31 Prosforou Street, it hides a large garden behind it, an element unique for the particularly dense construction of the city and especially of Campiello. The imposing portico with the family coat of arms is very similar to the Venetian Well. The facade is decorated with embossed designs on plaster. The decoration of this type is a rare example for the city and we find it only on the north side of the church of Panagia Kremasti.
At 10 Kapodistriou Street, on the side of Spianada Square, is the old mansion of the Petreti family. This building is associated with the baptism, in the Orthodox Church in 1791, of the founder of the Ionian Academy, Lord Frederick Guilford, who at the age of 25 was baptized as Demetrios.
Its characteristic element is the facade and specifically the upper part which is decorated with the emblem of Corfu the "idle naut".
The private school “Kapodistrias” operated there at the end of the 19th century until 1937. When it ceased to house the private school, it was used during the Occupation period for Italian and German services. After the war, it housed the Prefecture, the Corfu Guard, the Corfu Studies Society and the Mountaineering Association.
The building is currently under renovation.
Giallina’ s Mansion
A little further from the Petreti mansion, at 12 Kapodistriou Street, we find the Giallina mansion, prior home of the well-known Corfiot watercolourist Angelos Giallinas (1857-1939), who quickly gained European fame. His fame is connected with the study of Corfiot nature, which is why he is and will remain the painter of Corfu.
The house has undergone many alterations and additions. The last one was made in 1840. The external staircase leading to the first floor and the small space that surrounds it is later. Its characteristic portico is still in good condition. The current form of the building comes from the union of two neighboring buildings. The porch was then added.
The road behind was not closed from the beginning of construction, but passed under an "arch", a phenomenon that we often encounter in the city.
The cruciform arches that covered this arch can still be seen on the ground floor.
Opposite the church of Saint Vasileios, at 43-47 Nikiforou Theotoki Street, is the mansion Kompitsi. The current form of this building is a result of older and newer alterations and additions. Its staircase is made of red Sinia stone, which is rare for the city and has been built with special care. Each staircase is illuminated by two large windows. The second floor is the most important floor of the building. The most remarkable element of this floor are the doors of the reception hall with a luxurious configuration.
Characteristic of the building are the mulberries ("mourionia" decorative stone heads).
At 15 Moustoxydi Street next to the Serbian Museum, one can immediately see this special building that stands out from the porch with its stone walk. It belonged to the noble Rikki family. The building is very carefully constructed and portrays the work of a remarkable and gifted craftsman. The keys of the six arches of the portico are decorated with the characteristic decorative stone heads, the “mulberries” (mourionia).
Moustoxydi Street (Strada Larga) was much wider than it is today. There, during the days of the Carnival, equestrian competitions of the nobles (Giostre) took place.
The balcony of the mansion served as a gallery for the judges who were the Provider and the Synods. The fights were held in memory of the bloody duels and fights of the Middle Ages and were the most important event of the year in Corfu during the Venetian occupation.
Are you ready to discover the history behind the old mansions of Corfu?
ΣΟΥΡΤΖΙΝΟΣ, Γιώργος Χ. (2008). “Τοπωνύμια: γλωσσικές μαρτυρίες στην ιστορική διαδρομή της Κέρκυρας“, Ιστορική – Λαογραφική Εταιρεία Κέρκυρας, β’ έκδοση
ΣΟΥΡΤΖΙΝΟΣ, Γιώργος Χ. (2006). “Κέρκυρα: ταξίδι στο χρόνο“, Ιστορική – Λαογραφική Εταιρεία Κέρκυρας, γ’ έκδοση, Κέρκυρα
Αιωνόβια δέντρα – Μνημεία της φύσης στην Κέρκυρα, https://www.facebook.com/AionoviaDentra/
Η Καθημερινή, ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ “Η βάπτιση στην Κέρκυρα και το σπάνιο ενθύμιο“, https://www.kathimerini.gr/society/561326719/i-vaptisi-stin-kerkyra-kai-to-spanio-enthymio/