The most elegant places in Corfu - Citimarks

Nobles and popolo

Statue of Giorgios Theotokis, former Prime Minister of Greece.
Female statues at the Achilleion Palace, in Corfu, Greece

Young female statues, “Kores”, adorning the Achilleion Palace in Corfu, Greece.


The island is one of the most cosmopolitan places in Europe. Half of the locals are Greek but have Italian blood, Italian garments and Italian manners.
Charles Henry Hanson, The Land of Greece: Described and Illustrated, T. Nelson and Sons Paternoster Row, 1886
chapter 1

Melting pot

Each ruler, another culture.

All nations of the world have reigned here: first Corinth, then Macedonia, Syracuse, Rome, Byzantium, Epirus, Sicily, the Turks, Venice, France after Campo-Formio, Russia after Amiens, and then France, for the second time, after Tilsitt, England after Waterloo, and today Greece. […]

The esplanade is a work of the French, of General Donzelot. The English built a Greek temple in memory of Sir Thomas Maitland and an obelisk to honor Sir Howard Douglas. Nothing survived from the (era of the) Turks. Here and there, one can catch sight of the old lion of Saint-Marc still trying to stretch his wings; or, the motto of the Revolution that reminds of the passing to Corfu half-erased by the rains.

Joseph Reinach, Voyage en Orient, Charpentier, 1879.

The tribes 

I think that nowhere else will you be able to find a greater variety of man-made figures and costumes together.

Porters panting; barefoot fishermen; sailors from every nationality -some with clothes stained by everyday work, others with their clean Sunday shirt on; Jews seeking profit; Corfiots with dark coats and blue, baggy shorts; agile Greeks with ornate waistcoats noticed by their Foustanelles (note: traditional pleated skirt-like garment); handsome Arvanites (notes: a community from Albania) with wool capes thrown over their shoulders; even people from Montenegro, armed to the teeth next to cautious Turks; all of them mixed together. Among them, numerous priests move around like spectators, from the self-centered seminary students to the proud high priest with his long cassock and a tall cape; and on the other side, one sees the blond carefree faces of the English soldiers walking in pairs…

Albert Mousson, Korfu und Cefalonien, Druck und Verlag von Fr. Schulthess, 1859.

Half-way between Italy and Greece

Brindisi is a Greek city and Corfu an Italian island. When you travel from one to the other, you tend to believe that geographers made some sort of a mistake…

…these eternally careless (geographers) who delineate borders with a line drawing, dividing the world and sowing the seeds of war.

After all, the Adriatic is not quite a border, but rather a vehicle: a kind of a rolling carpet, badly stretched, with folds and hollowed spots that carry ships and islands detached from the land; large spots of yellow mud, trees, and human bodies…all the things that Europe devoured and threw up from Venice to Trieste, from Fiume and along the Dalmatian coast.

The remnants of a monstrous, indigestible meal descend to the Mediterranean that scatters them, throws them into its deepest pockets; but when sometimes it gets angry, it pushes them away with fury, stirring in them its own shipwrecks that wash up on the coast of the Ionian islands.

Michel Déon, Le rendez-vous de Patmos, La Table Ronde, 1971.

Stone plaque of the Lion of Saint Marc

Stone plaque of the Lion of Saint Marc, emblem of the Venetian maritime republic. The plaque is a remnant ornating the Royal Gate of the New Fortress built by the Venetians in the 16th century and completed by French and British colonial rulers.

Sir Frederick Adam, Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands between 1824 and 1832. His statue, crafted by Corfiot artist Pavlos Prosalentis, ornates the Palace of St. Michael and St. George which served as residence for the British High Commissionners.

A 17th-century Greek church of a style clearly influenced by the Italian Baroque. 

A 17th-century Greek church of a style clearly influenced by the Italian Baroque.

A stroll along the Promenade of Garitsa, overviewing the Old Fortress from afar, in a photograph taken in 1900.

chapter 2

The Sunday walk of a noble

The distance between the nobility and the popolo -the common people- was chaotic. […] The nobles took their titles for the services they rendered to the Venetian state. The Libro d’Oro was the official index of the nobles. On the esplanade plaque (note: the so-called Spianada) their names were engraved. The coats of arms on their house doors attested to the aristocracy of the tenants.

The crowd was far away. The bourgeoisie at a certain distance. Even public walks had their points of separation. The plebs, so called popolari, walked in the middle of the Spianada. The aristocrats were walking by the Volta: a picturesque line of arches below the building complex that frames one side of the Spianada.

This was the work of the French when they were in possession of the island: a miniature of rue de Rivoli in Paris; with arches and large lanterns hanging from each arch.

The Volta witnessed all the nobles passing through: wearing cardigans, stiff collars, and Mirabeau hats that men would solemnly raise every now and then to exchange greetings or pay tribute to the Countess; she would take her walk holding, with one hand, the tail of her skirt, and, with the other, the golden handle of her walking stick.

[…] What I wouldn’t give for a Sunday morning walk, even in the middle of the Spianada, to enjoy the show of the nobility, walking up and down, taking bows, flirting, kissing the fingertips of the ladies…

[…] The distinctions are long gone. The flames of the (French) Revolution cremated the Libro d’Oro; erased the nobles’ names from the esplanade’s plaque, removed the heraldries from the mansions. […]

But, why do they need all that today, if they are deprived of the riches of their ancestors? (At the time) there was no nobleman who would start his meal if his servant did not announce the big moment with a cannon firing at the yard of his mansion. Dinner and cannons.

If I am not mistaken, his descendant is now a secretary at the tax office…His poor means no longer allow him to have a cannonball announcing his Lilliputian meals. […] Today, the Countess will forgive your poverty. If your financial situation is not prosperous, she may not even deny giving her daughter to you…a sine nobilitas, a man “without-title”, a descendant of an ox trader coming from a mountain village. […] Today, the distance between classes survives only in the subconscious of the common people who, due to their respect for tradition and heredity, still reserve a special place for their lordships.

Pavlos Paleologos, Corfu, my love, Saliveros, 1958.

Παύλος Παλαιολόγος, Αγάπη μου Κέρκυρα, Σαλίβερος, 1958.

elegant buildings in Corfu town
Spianada Corfu Greece
Spianada's arcade
Kids cycling on Spianada Corfu
chapter 3

Once a noble, always a noble

Every morning Sior Georgis walked down from the Vianelou alley to the Cofineta and entered the alley of the Saint (note: refers to Saint Spyridon, the island’s patron saint) to worship his grace. Back then, the alley was like a neighborhood yard: behind every door there was a worker or a craftsman and all of them were connected to the city and the everyday life with a bond of friendship.

Sior Georgis always stopped in front of every door to say good morning to everyone. […] Every day, the shoemaker would invite him in: “Sior Georgis, on your way back, get yourself a cup of coffee and come over…” […] “With pleasure”, Sior Giorgis responded.

Indeed, he was happily accepting (the invitation), because that would give him the opportunity to leave his dark basement apartment, a former coal warehouse. “I put nothing in my mouth, before I worship his grace”. His religious respect was as real and big as his deprivation. Tall and underweight, he was floating in a greasy suit which was obviously not his size. A stiff collar over a weary shirt and a tie that was almost the same age as the hat. But, everyone was calling him “Sior” with the unshakable belief of a noble ancestry.

His return (from the church) marked the beginning of the “show”. They all gathered in a good-natured mood to tease Sior Giorgis.

– “I don’t get it.” said the carpenter. “Why is he called Sior Georgis, when I am simply called Georgis?”

– But Sior Georgis descends from Counts!

– So much for his barony!

– “The rings may have fallen, but the fingers remain” said Sior Georgis calmly, with his thin voice.

– Didn’t you know that Sior Georgis was a Count? His father even had a horse-drawn carriage of his own and a stable at Saint Caterini. […]

– “And with our own box seats at the theater! Every second evening we were going to the opera! And what an opera that was!” added Sior Georgis with nostalgia. “What fantastic Lucias, Figaros, Rusticanas, Rigolettos …”

– […] Not just a Count, but a Count with a heraldry.

– […] And what if he had that…how did you call it? Herady?

– “A heraldry…Sior Georgis patiently explained, “…of a wild goat whose horns were holding the globe.”

– […] The whole world standing over horns??? Oh, that’s why there are so many of them!” (note: in the Greek slang language, people who have been cheated on by their partners can be ironically described as “horned”). 

The yard burst into laughter. Every day the carpenter would invent another joke to tease Sior Georgis. But Sior Georgis was like a lamb: a Corfiot sparrow that was happy to live for today and let God take care of tomorrow. […] He would smoke the cigarettes he was offered laying back with his legs crossed, and start singing arias…“la donna è mobile….!”, keeping the rhythm with his hand. In the reminiscence of a youth long gone, he was the happiest man in all Corfu.

Gerasimos Chitiris, Notes of a Corfiot, Gavriilidis, 2010. 

Γεράσιμος Χυτήρης, Σημειώσεις ενός Κερκυραίου, Γαβριηλίδης, 2010. 

Achilleion Palace courtyard

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