South Corfu Island

South Corfu Island


Hotel Corfu Secret - South Corfu

Towards the south end of Corfu town is gently-curving Garitsa bay, whose shore is an ideal place for a stroll or a trip in a horse-drawn carriage. At the south end of Garitsa bay stands the Kanoni promontory, where most of the oldest monuments of Corfu are concentrated. Those closest to the town are the circular cenotaph of Menecrates and the church of Sts Jason and Sosipater. Not far away is the Palaiopoli district, where the ancient city of Corcyra stood. Further to the west, near the ancient Hyllaean harbour, are the remains of the temple of Artemis, while in Palaiopoli itself, by the entrance to Mon Repos, we can see what has remained of the Early Christian basilica of St Cercyra.

Corfu - Paleokastritsa (kanoni)The densely wooded Mon Repos estate was used after 1831 as the summer residence of High Commissioner Frederick Adam, and later belonged to the Greek royal family. Inside it, the High Commissioner's miniature palace has survived, and archaeologists have excavated the Kardaki temple and the temple of Hera. At Kardaki, close to the sea, is the spring by the same name which supplied the ancient city with water. Today, there is a fountain there, with a lion's-head spout, from which rushes a constant flow of cool water. Lorenzos Mavilis describes the Kardaki spring in one of his finest sonnets, while there is also a folk saying according to which, "any stranger who wets his lips at the spring will nev­er return home to his own people". Above Kardaki rises Analipsi hill, with a magical view across the sea to the coast of Epirus and also north over Corfu itself. The village of Analipsi is the site of the ancient acropolis, on which a few traces of buildings still remain.

Corfu - Kanoni VlachernaAt the southern end of the promontory, 4 km. from the centre of Corfu town, is Kanoni, a place of international renown. It took its name from a cannon which the French set up there. Although Kanoni is one of the busiest places on the island and despite the number of hotels and other tourist facilities that cluster around it, it is still as picturesque as ever thanks to its unique view. Below the viewpoint, a metal bridge leads out from the promontory to an islet on which stands the seventeenth-century Vlacherna Monastery, Corfu's immediately recognisable trademark. Further out is another islet, Pontikonisi, whose clump of cypress trees has served as a source of inspiration for artists from all over the world. According to tradition, the islet was originally the ship of the Phaeacians which Poseidon turned to stone as it sailed back from taking Odysseus to Ithaca. On Pontikonisi stands the Byzantine church of Christ Pantokrator (eleventh-twelfth century), to which there is a pilgrimage on 6 August. Caiques from Kanoni take visitors out to Pontikonisi through the summer months. From Kanoni, a narrow bridge runs across the Chalkiopoulou lagoon (the ancient Hyllaean harbour), close to the end of the runway of Corfu airport, and ends on the other side of the lagoon at Perama. This is a small tourist village set among olive trees, with good swimming beaches.

Close to Gastouri, 13 km. south of Corfu town, is Benitses, once, a small village but in recent years a centre for tourist development and a place whose night-life is renowned. The village stands in an area rich in orange and lemon trees and has a pebble beach. The remains of a Roman baths have been excavated in the area, and a Roman villa (of the third century AD) with a mosaic floor has come to light. Moraitika, another former fishing village, is now equally cosmopolitan in atmosphere. It is 7 km. south of Benitses and has a sandy beach.

Corfu - BenitsesHere, too, a Roman house has been discovered; it may well have been the summer residence of an Imperial official. At Mesoggi, 2 km. further along the road south, there is a long beach and a camp site, and the little Mesoggi River flows into the sea close to the village. A turning near Mesongi leads to Chlomos, consisting of old houses built on a hill. A turning in the other direction will take us to the Korission lagoon, separated from the sea by sand hills which have an excellent beach on their outer side. The lagoon is now a scheduled wetland and serves as a natural breeding-ground for fish. A few specimens of the threatened Caretta Caretta species of turtle have also made their home here.

Argyrades, 33 km. south of Corfu town, is one of the largest villages on the island and is interesting for its traditional architecture, in which many features dating back to the Venetian period can be distinguished. To the southwest is the long and attractive beach of Ayios (Agios) Yeorgios, but the whole area is wellknown for its beaches with their fine sand (including Marathia, Maltas near the village of Perivoli, and Gardenias near Vitalades). To the northwest of Argyrades, at a distance of 3 km., is the pretty fishing village of Petriti, where there is almost always fresh fish to be had. However, the largest community in south Corfu is Lefkimmi, 42 km. from Corfu town, which has a population of 5,000.

Corfu - LefkimiIt stands in a fertile area dense with olives and vineyards, where some of the island's best wine is made. On the outskirts of the town is the convent of Our Lady of the Angels, founded in 1696 by the Varlaam family in thanksgiving for having been saved during a storm at sea. The convent holds its feast day on 15 August, while Lefkimmi itself celebrates St Prokopius' day on 8 July and also holds riotous festivities at Carnival time. There are ferry boats from Lefkimmi harbour to Igoumenitsa, on the mainland coast. A further 4 km. from Lefkimmi brings us to Kavos, a small village which stands amongst huge olive trees and cypresses. In recent years, thanks to its wide sandy beach, Kavos has developed into a major tourist centre. Small boats operate up the coast from Kavos to Corfu town, and in the other direction to the island of Paxi. Nearby (2 km. from Kavos), is cape Asprokavos, the southernmost point on the island, with the monastery of Our Lady "Arkoudila" standing in a prominent position on top of Arkoudila hill, where there is a superb view. The monastery is a fortified structure, built in 1700 by the Varlaam family in further commemoration of their salvation.

A road leads off from the bridge at Mesoggi to Ayios (Agios) Matthaios, and from it another turning brings us to the spot known as Gardiki. The principal attraction of Gardiki is a ruined Byzantine castle of the thirteenth century, octagonal in shape and with eight imposing towers. Two of the towers have interesting ornamental brickwork built into their walls, and here and there throughout the entire structure are architectural members from ancient buildings that once stood round about. Another turning before we reach Ayios (Agios) Matthaios crosses the slopes of the hill called Mathios. The hill is also known as the Gamelion Horos ('Wedding Mountain') because of the tradition that the marriage of Alcinous and Arete took place there. On the hill stands the monastery of Christ Pantokrator, some 500 metres from which is the Cave of Pelaou, which is believed to run as far as the sea. Inside the cave, traces of human habitation in the Palaeolithic era have been discovered. Ayios (Agios) Matthaios (22.5 km. from Corfu town) is a large village on a naturally amphitheatrical site, surrounded by a wood of oak trees and olives.

Ano ('upper') Pavliana is an inland village which stands on a verdant hill. Kato ("lower') Pavliana is very close at hand. In the church of St Demetrius which has a well-attended feast day on 26 October is an interesting iconostasis carved out of stone by the Kardamis family of sculptors. Another sculpture by the same family is to be found in the village of Garouna (Ano and Kato), which has a particular tradition in this art. The statue, created by Stefanos Kardamis in memory of his late father, depicts that self-taught stonemason. Garouna, also known for its carpet weaving workshop, is the venue - in mid-August - of lectures, performances, competitions and mountain-climbing contest.

Corfu - Agios GordiosAyios (Agios) Gordios, on the coast below Garouna, is one of the most popular resort areas on the island; it has a sandy beach some five kilometres long, with strange rock formations at both end and green hills on the landward side. Of particular interest is Ortholithi, an isolated rock in the sea, about which there is a short story by Iakovos Polylas. Three kilometres from Ayios (Agios) Gordios is the village of Sinarades, which has the only Folklore Museum on the island. Located in a traditional village house, it contains a reconstruction of a typical nineteenth century rural dwelling.

Pelekas, an old style village 13.5 km. to the south-west of Corfu town, stands on the top of an idyllic hill with an amazing view. At the highest point of the village is a flat area called 'the Kaiser's throne', since Wilhelm II often made his way to Pelekas to admire the unforgettable sunset. The view at sundown out to sea, over the interior of the island and even as far as Corfu town is a unique experience. Pelekas is something of a resort area, thanks partly to the fine beach not far away at Glyfada (3 km.).

Corfu - GlyfadaIt takes about 45 minutes to walk from Glyfada to the monastery of Our Lady 'Myrtiotissa', which stands among olive groves, cypresses and banana trees (the only ones on the island; the fruit they produce is small, but extremely tasty). The monastery is said to have been founded in the fourteenth century by a Turk who converted to Christianity and to have taken its name from an icon of Our Lady found in a clump of myrtles. The monastery holds its feast-day on 24 September each year. The beach at Myrtiotissa is one of the finest on Corfu; very few people go there, the water is cool and clean, the beach is sandy and the whole area is set about with pine trees. To the north of Myrtiotissa is yet another beautiful bay, whose beach is called Ermones. The landscape here is imposing, with steep cliffs and wooded hills, and it is said to have inspired the poet Lorentzos Mavilis. According to one version of the story, Ermones was the place where Odysseus was washed ashore, and where he met Nausicaa and her companions. Traces of human habitation in the Neolithic and Mycenean periods have come to light in the vicinity. At the village of Vatos, near Ermones, is a camp site, and further north, in the Ropa valley, is Corfu golf course.

Gastouri is a small village close to the sea, 11.5 km. south of Corfu town. In the village square, beneath a tree, is the socalled Spring of Elizabeth, which has now run dry. The whole area is connected with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, often known as Sissy, whose summer palace, the famous Achilleio, stands a mere two kilometres from Gastouri. The life of the Empress Elizabeth (1837-1898) has repeatedly been the subject of novels and films, as a result of her beauty, her strength of character, and the story of her love for the Emperor Franz Josef. Elizabeth married the Austrian Emperor in 1854, and the couple had two daughters, Sophia and Gisela, and a son called Rudolf. But Elizabeth's liberal notions displeased her mother-in-law, the Archduchess Sophia, who personally took in hand the upbringing of the royal children and denied their mother access to them.

Corfu - Achilleio 1Such little contact as there had been between the children and their mother came to an abrupt end when, on one of the journeys of the Imperial couple, young Sophia died and Elizabeth was held responsible for the tragedy. Her health broken, she travelled to Madeira to recuperate, and on her way back to Austria On 1861) stopped off at Corfu, whose beauty made an immediate impression on her. In the summer of the same year, Elizabeth returned to the island and stayed at Mon Repos, returning in the autumn to Vienna to give birth to Valeria, her last daughter. Over this period, she began to take a much greater interest in politics. In 1869, Franzjosef and Elizabeth were declared monarchs of Hungary.

Corfu - Achilleio 2In 1876, Elizabeth travelled on her own to Athens and Corfu and threw herself into a study of ancient Greek literature especially of Homer. She also took a keen interest in the excavations being carried out at the time by Heinrich Schliemann in Troy, Mycenae and Tiryns. After a long trip to Troy and many other parts of the ancient Greek world, she returned to Corfu in 1888 and stayed as a guest in the Vrailas villa. A year later, Elizabeth bought the estate and began work on the construction of the palace - in an atmosphere of profound mourning, because in the meantime her son Rudolf and his lover had been found dead. During her time at the Achilleio, Elizabeth learned the Greek language and much about the ancient literature from eminent teachers, notable among whom was the scholar and writer Constantinos Christomanos, who was officially employed for this purpose by the Imperial court. In 1898, the 'melancholy queen', as Elizabeth had come to be called, was assassinated in a hotel in Geneva by an Italian anarchist

Corfu - Achilleio 3Elizabeth called her palace at Gastouri the Achilleio, dedicating it to her favourite hero, Achilles; as she herself wrote, "here presents the Greek spirit, the beauty of the land", and is "as strong, as proud and as obstinate as a Greek mountain". The Achilleio was constructed in 1889-1891, by the Italian architects Rafael Corito and Antonio Lanti, under the personal supervision of the Empress, who also took charge of the ornamentation of the palace with paintings and sculptures, most of which were purchased from the Borghese family. It is a luxurious three storey building in the 'Pompeian 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.

Corfu - Achilleio 4We 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 Witterhalter. 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).

Corfu - Achilleio 5There 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 portrait of the Empress, two poems written by her, and a bust of Franz Josef. The next room contains some of the personal effects of Wilhelm II: his desk, a stove, a wash-hand basin, a mirror, plates, medals, documents, three paintings of ships and the Kaiser, photographs, etc. A small room in the left wing of the Museum leads to the palace banqueting hall, a few parts of whose original decoration have remained. Here there are more mementoes of Elizabeth and Franz Josef: photographs, a sword, a clock, a mirror, etc. The rococo furnishings are from the time of Kaiser Wilhelm. Of interest in the next small room are five sculptures on mythological themes (the Apple of Discord, Paris and Helen, Sappho, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Dionysus with his entourage) and two sculptured amphorae. The last room on the ground floor contains Elizabeth's desk, bookcase, chaise-longue and other items of furniture, three carved mirrors, bronze statues and busts, photographs, pieces of jewellery and an oil-painting on the theme of the meeting on Scheria between Odysseus and Nausicaa (Ludwig Thiers). The grand staircase ends, on the top floor, in a balcony with an Ionic peristyle ornamented with busts and with statues of the Nine Muses. The wall above the balcony is decorated with an impressive painting of The Triumph of Achilles, by the German painter Franz Matz. Achilles is shown up the right on his chariot as he races in triumph around the walls of Troy, dragging the body of Hector behind him and holding the dead man's helmet. (As Homer tells us in the Iliad, from which the painter was inspired for this scene, Achilles killed Hector and dishonoured his corpse in this way in vengeance for Hector's having killed Achilles' beloved friend Patroclus in battle.) The horses of Achilles are strikingly rendered, and the entire composition is very vigorous.

Corfu - Achilleio 6The gardens of the Achilleio are among the most beautiful places on Corfu and enjoy a superb view across to the Kanoni, Pontikonisi, the Chalkiopoulou lagoon and Mt Pantokrator. They, too, are a kind of open-air museum, being full of outstanding sculptures. Notable among this statuary are compositions showing Apollo, Hermes, Artemis and Aphrodite near the entrance to the palace, the statues of the Nine Muses and the Graces in the Ionic peristyle of the rear veranda, the busts of ancient philosophers and poets behind the columns of the peristyle, the marble statue of Lord Byron on the topmost balcony on the side facing the forest, and the statue of Elizabeth herself close to the sea. However, the most important statues in the grounds of the Achilleio are the Dying Achilles and the Tri­umphant Achilles. The former of these originally stood on the large terrace in the gardens, where the latter is now located Kaiser Wilhelm decided to move the Dying Achilles because it was too small to ensure that it could be seen among the tall palm trees. After moving it, he installed the Triumphant Achilles on its former position; this is an enormous bronze statue, eleven metres in height, on a tall marble plinth, which was created in 1909 by the German sculptor Getz and was so heavy that it had to be moved to Corfu in sections and assembled on the spot. Achilles is shown in triumph - a pose suitable for a ruler as powerful as Wilhelm - and upright, with his shield, his spear and his helmet.

The Dying Achilles now stands on the terrace in front of, and slightly below, the peristyle with the Muses. It is a marble statue by the German sculptor Ernst Herder, made to a commission by Elizabeth in 1884, and originally located in her palace in Vienna. Achilles here is semirecumbent, almost nude, wearing his helmet and attempting to draw the fatal arrow shot by Paris from his heel. This outstanding work, now the established emblem of the Achilleio, is notable for the skill with which the artist has rendered the hero's anguish and pain as death approaches.