Fortresses in Corfu Town.
When the Venetians conquered Corfu they began a great project of fortifications, in an attempt to defend their acquisition from continuously increasing raids (especially by the Turks). Within three centuries fortresses, walls and underground tunnels had been constructed, some parts of which survive today.
Apart from the fortifications, the Venetians were responsible for general improvements to the town, with buildings which continue to delight the eyes of today's passers-by and provide constant inspiration for the photographer. The French and the English, who continued the occupation of the island, preserved these buildings, adding to them with their own building techniques, with the result that the Corfu of today reflects the building traditions of six centuries.
The two great fortresses were linked by two rows of walls, between which the townspeople lived in safety. The northern sea-wall was called the 'Mourayia' a name which lives on today in the part of town where remains of the wall can still be seen. The southern wall started at the Old Fortress passing by today's Aktaion Cafe, NAOK, the statue of Capodistria, the Phoenix Theatre, the Gymnasium, and the Market, ending at the New Fortress.
Two other fortresses, one on Avrami Hill, one on Salvatore Hill, completed the town fortifications. Of these, only the Salvatore fortress remains today, however, only criminals can visit it as it now houses the Prison. Four main gates in the city walls permitted access to the city centre and to the sea. The first, the Spilia Gate, is still to be seen facing the old port beside the Agricultural Bank, and is known as the Bonati Arch.
The second, the Saint Nicholas Gate, is on the northern side of the Esplanade, at the base of the walls below the level of the coastal road. The Porto Remounda was on the southern side of the Esplanade, in the district of the same name, and led to Garitsa. It was destroyed in the 19th century. The fourth gate, the 'Royal' Gate (Porta Reale), shared the same fate. It stood in G. Theotoki Street, next to the site of what used to be the Pallas Cinema but all that now remains of it is the name of the area - Porta Riala.
An impressive example of the Venetian infrastructure is the system of subterranean communication throughout the town. The four fortresses and certain central points in the town were linked by underground tunnels, the so-called 'Mines'. Rumour has it that the tunnels reach as far as the island of Vido. Most of the tunnels have now been closed, either by building works or by subsidence. Those which might still be functional have been closed on government orders: our penal system is not so enlightened that it would leave open the tunnel connecting the prison with Vido!
This was built by the Venetians upon the remains of a Byzantine castle and was completed in two stages. During the first period (1400-1500) the Venetians strengthened the Byzantine walls and dug the Contra Fossa moat, turning the promontory into an artificial island accessed by a movable bridge. In more recent times the Contra Fossa became notorious as the classic site of romantic suicides. The second period (16th-18th centuries) began with the completion of this work (1546-1588) and ended with the additions and alterations made by the British. Today two impressive bastions remain, which bear the names of the Italian engineers Martinengo and Savorgnan, as well as later British buildings and accretions, such as the church of St. George, built in 1840 as a basilica with Doric columns. Most of the churches and other buildings have however been destroyed, most important amongst them the Palace of the Venetian Proveditore.
Built between 1572 and 1645 by the Italian architect F. Vitelli, on the hill of St. Mark, the inner buildings of the fortress were constructed by the British. It consists of two massive twin bastions and is considered to be a marvel of fortress architecture. It should be visited not least for the magnificent view of the town and sea that it affords, preferably in the late afternoon, when the heat is less intense. Recently restored, it is often used by the municipal authorities of Corfu for exhibitions, concerts and many other cultural activities ( for full details of the programme of events contact the Municipal Information Office). There is a bar/cafe within the fortress, and a 'gallerie' where you may obtain various publications issued by the municipality, prints, tourist guides and maps. In the wing on the left-hand side of the first floor of the barracks there is an exhibition centre, where interesting collections of paintings, sculpture and photographs, by artists of international repute, are often displayed. The stairs you ascend in order to penetrate into the Fortress lead to one of the tunnels, which in turn leads to the centre of the town by way of the local market-place. The area in which the market is located was a 'dry moat', overlooked by ramparts and connected with the Fortress as part of its fortifications.
Fortresses in other areas of Corfu.
The byzantine fortress known as Aggelokastro (Castle of Angels) is situated near the Krini, opposite Palaiokastritsa, at an altitude of 330 m. It was built in the 13th century by Michael Angelo B' the son of Epirus's archbishop Michael Angelo Α'. Tradition says that the founder was looking for the most dangerous and the steepest rock to build upon it an impregnable fortress. The forts' purpose was to protect the inhabitants from the pirates of Africa and the Venetians. For a while it served as the island's capital as the governor lived there. In 1403, from the castle, they fought successfully against the pirates of Genoa. The castle's entrance is an arched gate, but inside there are only ruins of the chambers and the storage rooms. In a dark cave, there is a church dedicated to the archangels Michael and Gabriel where one can admire a remarkable fresco of the Virgin Mary.
This byzantine fortress stands on a hill between Agios Mathaios and Messogi. It is said to have been built by Michael Angelo B'. The only reminder of the castle are ruins dating back to the 13th century. The fortress consists of eight strong towers creating its octagonal shape. The excavations in the surrounding area shed light upon the tolls used in the Paleolithic Era.
Castle at Cassiope.
In the village Cassiope stand the imposing ruins of a fortress, built in the thirteenth century by the Angevins of Naples. Today the encircling walls and bastions with the imposing main gate, though crumbling and mostly clad in creepers, still bear witness to a long vanished power.