The best attractions in Corfu - Citimarks
citinotes

A town of roommates

campiello in Corfu town, Greece
Laundry hanging from windows in Corfu town, Greece

Citinotes

Enclosed within its walls, the city was compelled to expand vertically. What was sacrificed in terms of width was compensated for in height. Certain streets were so narrow that pedestrians could not traverse them with an open umbrella.
Pavlos Paleologos, Agapi mou Kerkyra, Saliveros, 1958.
chapter 1

Confined to grow upwards

The buildings are abundant and closely clustered, with their roofs nearly touching each other. This arrangement serves to shield the inhabitants from the direct glare of the sun.

Pietro Casola,
Viaggio a Gerusalemme, 1494, Milan, 1855.

The architecture of this city is Venetian.

The houses above the old harbor are built on scales, as if on small terraces, with narrow alleys and colonnades everywhere. Red and yellow, pink and ocher – a mix of pastel nuances that the moonlight transforms into a dazzling white city, like a decoration piece on a wedding cake.

Lawrence Durrell,
Journals in Κωνσταντίνος Τσουμάνης, Η Κέρκυρα μέσα από τα μάτια των περιηγητών, Έψιλον, 2010.

Streets were intentionally designed to be narrow and perpendicular to the Spianada, facilitating swift escape routes into the fortress during times of danger. Churches were strategically constructed around an imaginary central axis, closely packed together to create a formidable wall of orthodoxy.

Enclosed within its walls, the city was compelled to expand vertically. What was sacrificed in terms of width was compensated for in height. Certain streets were so narrow that pedestrians could not traverse them with an open umbrella.

Παύλος Παλαιολόγος,
Αγάπη μου Κέρκυρα, Σαλίβερος, 1958.
A small square, campiello, in Corfu Town
laundry hanging in Corfu town, Greece
chapter 2

Like one single family

In 1401, the people of Corfu appealed to the Venetians to construct fortifications for the city’s protection. They didn’t just request simple walls; rather, they asked for the tallest walls possible. These fortifications inhibited the horizontal expansion of the city, compelling it to ascend vertically. As a result, some old houses boast up to seven floors […].

Behind these towering walls, within the narrow streets known as Kantoùnia, living conditions were challenging and unwholesome. The houses were frequently devoid of sunlight, and the climate, marked by continuous rains from mid-November through Christmas, exacerbated the dampness.

In the Kantoùnia streets, poverty, humidity, and darkness prevailed. Corfiots faced weariness, poverty, and illness, perennially haunted by the apprehension of a Turkish raid or a new plague. The proximity of neighbors was such that one could almost reach out and touch hands with those in the opposite building. Their lives were so intertwined that they could hear every nuance of the other’s existence—it was as if they shared a common abode.

So, those living under the same roof were not the sole occupants considered roommates; in Corfu, the denizens of entire neighborhoods had become akin to roommates. In close proximity to each other, they shared numerous aspects of daily life, from the ropes that crisscrossed between walls, holding their drying laundry, to the baskets transporting groceries from one window to another. It was akin to one large family.

[…] During summer evenings, women would bring out a chair to the alley to enjoy some fresh air and engage in lively conversations; there was so much to discuss after a full day of work. Many times, these “roommates” would also share their evening meals, be it an Italian noodle soup or a boiled wild cabbage, cooking together […] at the courtyard of a neighbor. They would light a fire using old wood boards gathered from around the corner.

 

[…] During festivities, guitars and mandolins would be retrieved from storage chests, and group singing would commence. Known as the Kantada to locals, these songs were heartfelt expressions inspired by wine. They were sung spontaneously, devoid of any artificial embellishments or artistic interventions.

[…] While strolling through the narrow Kantoùnia streets today, one can appreciate the charm of the small courtyards and blossoming terraces […] that appear in unexpected places, making the most of limited space. Honeysuckle, oleanders, carnations, and jasmine bloom abundantly, with the fragrance of jasmine continuing to define the aroma of the Corfiot evening. Even today, within the alleys, the evening has not lost its tranquil silence.

Νινέττα Λάσκαρη,
Κέρκυρα μια ματιά μέσα στο χρόνο, Ποταμός, 2016.
detail from street in Corfu town, Greece
laundry hanging from balconies in Corfu town, Greece
Yasemi (jasmin) restaurant in Corfu town, Greece
young girl crossing the Venetian well square in Corfu, Greece
chapter 3

Camera scura

In the past, doctors in Corfu didn’t operate private clinics. Instead, they would frequent a pharmacy of their choice, making it their day-to-day workspace. […]

The “camera scura” served as a cold, dark room at the back of the pharmacy. Here, doctors would examine patients, and at times, the treatment would commence immediately—following the principle of “dal detto al fatto.” […]

The pharmacy stocked a variety of remedies, including powders and herbaceous plants for diverse ailments, antimalaria pills, band-aids, and iodine solutions for wounds, rhubarb for coughs, Sloan’s liniment for massages, essence of chamomile and labdanum for nausea, Iodotanico vitamin supplements for strength, and bromuro for nerve-related issues.

At times, doctors had a separate entrance to this room accessible from the back alley. This space, devoid of windows and often part of a warehouse, varied in furnishings based on the opulence of the pharmacy and the social standing of the doctors. Typically, it included a substantial writing desk equipped with a pen rack and inkpot for prescribing medications. Rows of chairs and armchairs, a securely closed cabinet housing drugs, and a framed reproduction of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson adorned the walls.

Bookshelves held volumes on diverse subjects, carpets covered the cold floor slabs, and a medical recliner served for patient examinations. A caminetto, a large fireplace, was situated on the dividing wall—a crucial element for managing the humidity and winter cold, both challenging aspects in a dark and sunless room like the camera scura. Towards the back, a coat rack was provided for hanging capes, shawls, tall hats, and umbrellas.

The camera scura in Corfu had no connection whatsoever to the botteghe oscure, the dark bodegas of the Middle Ages, nor with Leonardo da Vinci. […] It was simply a space that attracted learned individuals, most of whom were graduates from universities in Padua, Bonn, Pavia, Florence, and other centers of learning; a significant number identified as “medical philosophers.”.

At that time, with no free press and restrictions on public gatherings and citizen debates (clubs were not permitted until 1843), the camere scure became the focal point where new ideas were conceived, communicated, and openly discussed.

This was the space that ignited the flame of liberation movements against foreign dynasties, fostered criticism of the French Revolution and other European movements, and fueled the desire for the union of the island with the Greek State.

[…] At a time when very few medical interventions were available […] and with limited means for diagnosis and treatment […], those doctors followed an honorable path marked by selflessness and dignity. They navigated their profession with scientific knowledge and a keen sense of duty, demonstrating self-sacrifice, and above all, a profound love for mankind.

Νινέττα Λάσκαρη,
Κέρκυρα μια ματιά μέσα στο χρόνο, Ποταμός, 2016.
Skiadopoulos drugstore facade, Corfu town, Greece
Detail from the ceiling light of Skiadopoulos drugstore in Corfu town, Greece
the classy interior of Skiadopoulos drugstore, Corfu town, Greece

Skiadopoulos drugstore with its elegant cabinets designed according to the Florentine style.

subscribe to our newsletter
chapter 4

The pharmacist vow

A distinctive type of pharmacy thrived in the Ionian Islands. Beyond functioning solely as a pharmacy, it served as a hub for friendly gatherings. Doctors frequented the establishment, along with intellectuals who relished engaging in discussions on a myriad of topics and good-natured teasing. Even today, remnants of these unique pharmacies can be found, often featuring a special lounge for such social purposes (referred to as the aforementioned camera scura).

These pharmacies weren’t confined to selling drugs alone; they offered a diverse array of products. Pharmacists would travel to Venice to place orders, expanding their inventory to enhance business turnover. Books, candles, guitar strings, musical instruments, masks, and spices—particularly the so-called Spitzerika—were among the varied items exclusively sold in these pharmacies.

During the Venetian rule and subsequent periods, pharmacists underwent education in Italian universities. When facing examination committees, students were expected to provide accurate responses not only to scientific queries but also to adhere to the code of conduct established by Saladin in the 15th century:

“The pharmacist should not harbor pride, vanity, womanizing tendencies, overindulgence, alcoholism, gambling habits, or greed. Instead, they should embody qualities of honesty, piety, conscientiousness, fairness, diligence, and compassion towards the less fortunate. Mastery of their scientific discipline is imperative, given that human lives depend on their expertise. Furthermore, they ought to responsibly gather and cultivate pharmaceutical plants, roots, seeds, and flowers during the appropriate seasons, all while maintaining a sense of reverence for God.”

Γεράσιμος Χυτήρης,
Σημειώσεις ενός Κερκυραίου, Γαβριηλίδης, 2010.
tea and herb bags in store, Corfu town, Greece
Skiadopoulos drugstore window, Corfu town, Greece.

Corfu for alley walkers

The most picturesque spots in Corfu old town.

More from the Greek Islands