In the heart of the Old Town, on one of the main streets leading to Liston, Eugeniou Voulgareos, dominates one of the most beautiful buildings of the island, San Giacomo, the old City Hall on the homonymous square.
It was built in the 17th century, in 1690 by an unknown architect and operated as the first theatre on Corfu, where opera was performed for the first time in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. It remains, to this day, a jewel of the Renaissance style, decorated externally with arches, mulberries and baroque sculptures. The eastern façade is adorned with a marble relief of the Captain of the Sea, Doge Francis Morosinos, for his military victories against the Turks.
It was originally built for the Club of the Nobles (Loggia) and for the entertainment of the officers of the Venetian fleet.
The then-occupied Corfu, faithfully following Venice, which functioned as a pan-European opera centre with its sixteen theatrical stages, followed the cultural current of the time and converted its original Lounge where members of high society gathered from “Stoagas” (Loggia) views and discussion in the theatre.
The theatre was named "Nobile Teatro di San Giacomo" because of the Diocese of the Catholics (Duomo) which was next door and was dedicated to the memory of St. James.
Historical sources of San Giacomo
According to historical sources, the entrance to the “San Giacomo” theatre was made from the last arch, which had been specially arranged, while the square was at the same height as the entrance and one entered from the back seats. Two stairs at the ends of the east side led to the galleries. The stage was on the west side, the total spectator capacity of the theatre being about 350 people.
The curtain of the theatre created by either by Giovanni Buzatto or, according to others, by Napoleone Genovesi is a work of exceptional art that depicts the reception of Odysseus on the island of Phaeacus. This curtain later adorned the New Municipal Theatre and by chance was saved from the great destruction of the 1943 bombings.
Another interesting element of the theatre was the “portantina”. This was a gilded stretcher with a velvet seat, which brought the prima donna of each performance from their hotel to the theatre. The curtain and the portina are still kept today in the Municipal Theatre of the city.
In 1832, the need arose for the reconstruction and improvement of the interior space and the parallel external expansion of the theatre with a new addition, the so-called “Ajuda”. It was therefore modified substantially; a square was created, the hitherto square room was transformed into a semicircular and exterior. A new entrance was created in front of the central part of the façade as well.
Initially, entry to the theatre was prohibited for women. Later, married women were allowed to enter the galleries only with the obligation of having to attend the performances with specially made lattices (LOGES GRILLEES). Over time the regulation changed and women could watch the performances wearing masks thus ensuring they remained incognito. Eventually this measure was abolished and everyone was able to enter the theatre freely.
These additions – Ajudas- were removed in 1902 when the theatre was converted into a town hall with the design done by the engineer Serpieris. It functioned for about a century as a town hall. In 2009, the modern requirements of the municipality, led the then municipal authority to relocate to the historic, but at the same time, modernized building, on Alexandra Avenue, Maraslio. “San Giacomo” today houses the services of the Mayor’s office, the press and public relations office, the store licenses and tourist promotion.
protothema.gr. “Κέρκυρα: Το Παλιό Δημαρχείο Σαν Τζιάκομο, ένα αρχιτεκτονικό κομψοτέχνημα“, https://www.protothema.gr/travelling/article/891846/kerkura-to-palio-dimarheio-san-tziakomo-ena-arhitektoniko-kompsotehnima/
ΣΟΥΡΤΖΙΝΟΣ, Γιώργος Χ. (2006). “Κέρκυρα: ταξίδι στο χρόνο“, Ιστορική – Λαογραφική Εταιρεία Κέρκυρας, γ’ έκδοση, Κέρκυρα, σελ. 64