Corfu town, the capital of the island, has a population of around 30,000 and is the centre of economic, political and cultural life for the Corfiots. It is the chief town of the Prefecture of Corfu, and as such is the location of most of the public authorities (banks, law-courts, prisons, hospital, consulates, the National Tourist Organisation, etc). It is the seat of the Metropolitan Bishop of Corfu and Paxoi, whose official church is Saint Spyridon. A complete educational system consists of primary and secondary schools (junior and senior), private schools, foreign-language schools, vocational training schools, and a university (the Ionian University, with departments of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting, Music, and History). There is a good public transport network, with town buses and services to nearly all the villages. There are daily flights and ferry departures to other parts of Greece and other countries, which facilitate the highly developed commerce and tourism of the island. The large numbers of tourists who visit Corfu each year give the island a cosmopolitan air. In order to meet the needs of the tourist trade, many hotel and apartment units have been constructed in recent decades; these are fully-equipped and comply fully with modern requirements. Shops and other establishments dedicated to the tourist industry are to be found all over the town, together with quaint taverns and deluxe restaurants, old style coffee shops and modern outdoor cafes, and discos and bars which are open until late into the night.
There is a casino, while there are also football pitches, golf courses and tennis courts, a stadium, a swimming-pool and a Yacht Club, all open to visitors as well as local people. The beaches at Mon Repos and the Yacht Club are suitable for swimming and sea sports. The Corfiots have been known since ancient times for their love of song, dance and merrymaking. Today they hold frequent cultural events and festivals each year. Their religious feasts are of particular interest, consisting of services and processions through the town to the accompaniment of music played by the town band. The procession of St Spyridon and that in which the icon of Our Lady is carried round the town on 15 August rival Easter itself in the number of people whom they attract to the alleys and churches of Corfu and in the atmosphere of devotion which they create.
The religious parts of these feasts are accompanied by secular merrymaking, with much eating, singing and dancing. The anniversary of the union of the Dodecanese with Greece is celebrated on 21 May each year, while the festivities of the Carnival occupy the last three Sundays before the beginning of Lent. During the summer, there are lectures, concerts, theatrical productions and performances of folk dancing and ballets. From May to September, a 'Son et Lumiere' event is held at the Old Fortress, and on 10 August the so called 'Barcarola' is celebrated. In September, the Corfu Festival attracts the participation of artists and ensembles from all over Greece and from other countries and games of cricket against visiting English teams are often held on the Spianada during the summer months. The centre of all these events and indeed of social life in Corfu more generally, has for centuries been the Spianada. Divided by Dousmani St into the Upper and Lower Piazza, the Spianada is surrounded by some of the most notable monuments in Corfu and has a superb view of the Municipal Gardens, the Contrafossa and the Old Fortress, on its eastern side.
On the west side, cafes and restaurants operate beneath the arches of the Liston, and visitors can enjoy their coffee or try one of the specialities of the local cuisine ('pastitsada' beef with spaghetti, "sofrito" beef with garlic, fish in a "bourdeto" sauce), washed down with a good island wine or perhaps with ginger beer, one of the relics of the period of British rule. On the Spianada, traditional horse-drawn carriages are available for hire, and the driver provides a tour of some of the prettier parts of town. North of the Spianada - behind the Palace - begins Arseniou St, which runs above the sea-order, with neo-Classical elements, and it is surrounded by densely-vegetated gardens adorned with important works of art. In 1908, after the death of Elizabeth, the Achilleio was bought by Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser, and in 1914 - on the outbreak of the First World War it was abandoned. In 1915, it was used as the headquarters of the Serbian Army and as a hospital, coming into the hands of the Greek state in 1919. During the Second World War it served as a hospital again - and as the headquarters of the German and Italian occupying forces - and after liberation it houses a variety of schools and institutions. Today, it belongs to the National Tourist Organisation and from 1962 to 1992 Corfu casino operated there. The ground floor of the building functions as a museum.
We enter the Achilleio through an iron gate ornamented with two bronze relief's, of Zeus Cleft) and Achilles (right). The first room on the ground floor, the reception hall, has a fresco in the centre of its ceiling, by the Italian painter Galopi, on the theme of The Four Seasons and the Hours. Also of interest in this room are the Italian marble fireplace, two statuettes of Athena and Hebe (above the fireplace, by the German sculptor Heinemann), and a painting of Elizabeth by the German artist Witter halter. At the far end of the reception hall, a magnificent staircase flanked by bronze statues of Zeus and Hera and by a large collection of marble and plaster sculptures (of Zeus, Niobe, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes and Pan) leads to the upper floors. To the right of the reception room is the Empress's Catholic chapel. In the sanctuary apse are representations of Christ and Pontius Pilate, beneath which is an icon of Christ and Our Lady (by Franz Matz). There are two recesses with statues of Christ and Our Lady, an altar and a harmonium. Next to the chapel is a room with mementoes of Elizabeth: medallions, photographs, paintings, candlesticks, furniture, a front through the district called the Mourayia, along the Venetian sea-walls. There is a wonderful view from here across to the coast of Albania. The sea-front road, now called Athinagora St, leads down to the harbour, one of the busiest in Greece. Not far out at sea is the islet called Vido, ancient Ptychia, to which caiques ply daily. Until 1864, there was a Venetian fortress on Vido. Now it is disused.
Above the harbour towers the hill on which stands the New Fortress, with its Venetian outworks. At 79 Solomou St, close to the entrance to the New Fortress, is a modern museum of considerable interest: the Maritime Museum of Napoleondas Sayias. Founded in 1989 with exhibits which its owner had collected from all over the world, it contains shells, pieces of coral, fossils, shark jaws, crabs, lobsters, snakes, starfish, sponges, micro-organisms and much more. The most unforgettable experience awaiting the visitor is, however, a stroll through the centre of Corfu town and in particular through the old-world Campiello district. The narrow alleys ("kantounia") lined with tall buildings, often spanned by arches or by the washing-lines of the townsfolk, the attractive little squares with their carved stone wells, the churches with their elegant bell-towers, and the occasional mansion with skilfully wrought balconies and hanging lanterns help to create a medieval atmosphere to be found nowhere else in Greece. Of al-most equal interest is the market, in the streets to the west of the Spianada: Nikiforou Theotoki St, spanned with arches ("volta"), still retains many traces of the Venetian period.
The Ionian Bank building, at the intersection of N.Theotoki and Filarmonikis Sts, houses a collection of banknotes covering the period from Turkish times down to the present day. There is also an exhibition of photographs showing how coins are minted. Despite the number of new buildings that have been constructed to meet the needs of tourism and the merciless destruction that others have undergone over the centuries - culminating in the German bombing raids of 1943. Corfu can still boast private and public buildings of the greatest value for the Greek cultural heritage. In every corner of the town are traces of all those whose fate it was to tread the ground of the island and add another piece to the mosaic of its history. Since 1976, Corfu town has been on the list of Europe's most historic cities, and efforts are still being made to conserve as much as possible of its historic atmosphere. An enormous programme of maintenance work on the monuments of Corfu began in 1992-1994, on the occasion of the town being chosen as the venue for the European Union summit meeting during the Greek Presidency of the Community.