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Corfu Town - The Capital

Corfu Town is a very elegant and charming capital.  Recently added to UNESCO's World Heritage List, the old town, with its Venetian forts and neo-classical housing was inscribed as a fortified Mediterranean port town of high integrity and authenticity.

The population of Corfu is approximately 110,000 and almost half live in the main town. Its cosmopolitan atmosphere and fabulous architecture are a big attraction to visitors. The Venetian influence is very strong in Corfu Town, but very much in evidence are French and English styles. The elegant terrace of buildings with arches along the front is known as the Liston and was built by the French in the style of the Parisian rue de Rivoli. At the northern end of the Liston is the impressive Palace of St. Michael and St. George, the most striking relic of the 50 year presence by the British on Corfu, from 1814 till 1863. During this period the British built some fine buildings, established cricket and introduced ginger beer.

Despite the demand by the islanders for union with Greece close ties were knit and no bitterness remained, which is proved by the fact that the British visitor is always made welcome and encouraged to feel at home.

 
  • Corfu Town - A General Guide.

Corfu Town is a very elegant and charming capital and a delight for the visitor.   For those who just want to shop there are hundreds of charming stores selling everything from cheap trinkets and souvenirs to expensive designer goods, leather products and sparkling jewellery.  Many boutiques line the streets selling all the latest fashions, as well as shoes and accessories. If your preference is sightseeing you will find plenty to keep you interested.  As well as museums, you can admire the beautiful architecture of the Liston and surrounding buildings and visit the famous church of St. Spiridon.  You will need a map of the town to find these places but Corfu is fairly small and quaint and it is doubtful that you will lose your way.

  • The Famous Church of St. Spiridon.

The Patron Saint of Corfu is St.Spiridon.  Spiridon was brought up as a shepherd on Cyprus. He first became a monk, then a bishop and many minor miracles had been credited to him before his death in 350 AD. When it was discovered that his remains had not decayed he was taken to Constantinople but was later smuggled out, along with the remains of St. Theodora, before the Turkish occupation of 1453. Unceremoniously strapped to a donkey the remains arrived in Corfu in 1456.

This church is undoubtedly the most famous of all the island’s churches and houses the relics of this saint who is credited with saving the islanders from famine, various plagues, invasions and other disasters. On special days of the calendar the mummified remains of St Spyridon are paraded around the town with much pomp and ceremony. The actual casket containing his remains is exposed annually on St.Spyridon’s Day, which falls on the 12th December, at Easter and on 11th August. In the church the casket is situated to the right of the altar, in a small chapel of its own.

The tall, red-domed church is like no other on the island and is a famous landmark of Corfu Town. You will find that most families in Corfu will have at least one family member called Spiros, named after the Patron Saint. On entering all churches in Corfu, as in the rest of Greece, it is important to be dressed respectfully.

  • The Liston and The Esplanade.

The Esplanade is a charming area of Corfu Town, overlooked by the Old Fortress, and is a wide open space for relaxed promenading, reading or gossiping over Greek coffee. At the northern section of the Esplanade is the terrace of arcaded buildings known as the Liston, which was built by the French in the style of the Parisian rue de Rivoli. This is a very smart area of the Esplanade and looks out over the wide green space which is occasionally used for cricket matches, a legacy of the British. 

At Easter time and on St. Spiridon's Day there are often parades with brass bands marching through this area and it is here you will see the Pot-Throwing custom on Easter Saturday morning (see our 'Festivals and Traditions' section in Introducing Corfu).

A perfect spot to relax and have a drink and to watch the world go by from many stylish cafes and restaurants. At the southern end of the Esplanade you will find a garden area which is landscaped with flowerbeds and a fountain and also an elegant bandstand where you may be lucky enough to find one of the town’s brass bands performing on a Sunday afternoon.

  • The Old Fort.

Towering proudly, just beyond the Esplanade, the Old Fort was erected around the 6th century to protect against raiders and has twin peaks which offer panoramic views of the capital. There is a small Byzantine museum to visit and see the fort’s pretty boat-lined moat. Rebuilding was done over the centuries and the fortifications that survive today were built between 1558 and 1588. Across the connecting bridge just beyond the arched entrance to the fortress is the old Church of the Madonna of the Carmelites, in which various exhibitions are occasionally held.

As well as being a place for sightseers to wander during the day, in the summer evenings there are often openair concerts held in the vast court.  One such concert was held by the Athens State Orchestra to celebrate the inscription of Corfu's Old Town on UNESCO's World Heritage List.  Occasionally, the fort is also used to stage pop concerts by well known Greek performers.  Concerts such as these are advertised on flyers pinned up around the town, tickets can be bought at the entrance and everyone is welcome.

  • The New Fortress.

Now a naval base, the New Fortress was built around the 16th century. The massive outer works of the building were built by the Venetians but the buildings that survive within the walls, a maze of tunnels, chambers and stairways were added by the British. Public entrance is via steep stone steps that lead up from the far end of the square past the Roman Catholic Church of Tenedos. Improved facilities for the visitor include a café bar and an exhibition centre.

  • Museums.

For people who prefer sightseeing to shopping there are many museums to visit around the town. Amongst others are the Museum of Asiatic Art, at the Palace of St. Michael and St. George and the Municipal Art Gallery. Visit the Paper Money museum in St. Spiridon Square to see an extensive display of Greek banknotes and of course St. Spiridon church itself, the most famous of all the churches in Corfu and well worth a visit. As in all churches in Corfu and the rest of Greece it is important to be dressed appropriately on entering. The Byzantine Museum houses a beautiful collection of icons and paintings from the 16th to 18th centuries.

The Archaeological Museum contains wonderful delights such as the famous Gorgon pediment, from the 6th century, a beautiful limestone sculpture of the Lion of Menekrates and other treasures such as classical pottery, some excellent tomb monuments and Bronze Age artefacts as well as an impressive collection of coins dating from the 6th to the 3rd centuries BC. Located just a short walk from the Esplanade, on a side street next door to the Corfu Palace Hotel, this museum is open daily, 08:30 to 15:00, except Mondays. You will need a good street map and a guide to make it easier for you to find the streets where these museums are located. Pop into any good bookshop, of which there are many in the town, or you may even find them at the street kiosks.

  • The Old Town.

Otherwise known as “Campiello,” this area is the fascinating maze of narrow streets, alleyways and steps that are squeezed into the north-eastern part of the town. You will need a map to show you exactly which area it is in. Situated between the Old Fort and the Old Port, it is like a miniature Venice with much of its appeal being the residential atmosphere. 

In centuries gone by this area was surrounded by city walls, long since torn down, but the only way to expand the living quarters was to go upwards. Therefore it is full of high buildings and you can often see laundry strung across the alleyways. Set in the Plateia Kremasti is the 17th century Venetian Well, where you can find one of Corfu Town’s best restaurants. This is a lovely part of the town worth visiting.

  • Churches.

As previously mentioned, the church that stands out above the rest on Corfu is the famous church dedicated to St. Spiridon, the island’s Patron Saint. The red-domed bell-tower of the church is the tallest on the island and can be spotted rising above the rooftops from many parts of the town. It was built in 1590 to house the mummified remains of this beloved saint. In honour of St. Spiridon many families on the island have at least one member called Spiros.

There are churches in all of the villages across the island and if you make time to travel around it is well worth having a look at some of them.  It is important to note that although everyone is very welcome to go inside the churches they must be dressed respectfully and be quiet.

There is a small Catholic community and services are held at the beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral situated in the Town Hall Square in Corfu Town, quite close to the Esplanade.

There is also a little Anglican church, The Holy Trinity, in Corfu Town and English services are held on Sundays. This church is very much involved in the local community and often holds little functions to raise money and awareness for good causes. At Christmastime, Carol singing and other services are arranged.

In the old part of the Town there is a synagogue for the small Jewish population.

  • Shopping in Corfu Town.

Corfu Town is a shopper's paradise. There are shops of every description everywhere. From smart designer products you can easily find cheap trinkets and souvenirs. There are many boutiques, shoe shops, leather shops, accessory stores and jewellers. For anyone who is slightly homesick, there is even a Marks $ Spencers and a small shop that sells imported British goods, both of these sell a small selection of food products. 

If you decide to take one of the many boat trips or coach trips on offer from the Travel Corner, you will be dropped off either at the Old Port, which is very close to the centre, or at the coach drop off point near the Esplanade.

Corfu Town is a maze of streets and alleyways and you will find the centre very easily. If you hire a car, also possible at the Travel Corner, it is very easy to park. Car parks are situated at the Esplanade, the Old Port, and just behind the bus station. It will cost around 3€ to use these car parks but you can park all day. It is also possible to park along certain streets and you will find an attendant close by to buy a ticket.

You will find that a lot of the shops will close in the afternoons around 2.00pm. Some may close a little later and on the afternoons of Tuesday, Thursday and Friday they will re-open again around 6pm till 9pm. The banks usually open around 8am and close at 1.30pm. They do not re-open in the afternoons. However, you will find ATM machines allocated all around the town, mainly outside the banks. Therefore, if you are traveling into town by car it is advisable to set off early to get there for around 8.30am, when the shops start opening. At this time it should be fairly easy to park.

Make sure you have a certain amount of cash with you if shopping for souvenirs as you will find a lot of the smaller shops do not accept credit cards. Most of the larger stores and boutiques will accept most credit cards. 

  • Banks and Post Offices.

Banks:  You will find numerous banks located around the town where you can exchange foreign currency and travellers cheques.  You will be asked for some form of identification, such as your passport,  when using these facilities.  Most banks have a desk specifically for exchange and you shouldn't need to queue for too long. 

The banks usually open around 8am and close at 1.30pm and as they can get very busy most of them have now adopted the simple system of queueing, whereby you take a ticket from a machine, usually located inside by the entrance, and this will give you a number and some indication of how long you will have to wait to be served.  This means you do not need to wait, you can return when your ticket number is due to show up on the monitor. 

They do not re-open in the afternoons.  However, you will find ATM machines allocated all around the town, mainly outside the banks.

Post Offices:  There is one main post office in the town, located on Alexandros Avenue, which is fairly central and offers all postal services.  As in the banks they also have a system of queueing, just take a ticket from the machine and wait till your number comes up on the monitor.  On busy days this enables you to avoid waiting, you can go off and do other jobs first.  The post office opens from early morning till early afternoon and does not open again in the late afternoon.

Occasionally you will find some of the small supermarkets scattered around the town operate a very limited postal service (stamps etc), if this is all you need it may be worth asking at the till.  You may be able to avoid a trip to the central post office.