Corfu (Greek: Κέρκυρα, Kérkyra; Ancient Greek: Κέρκυρα or Κόρκυρα; Latin: Corcyra; Italian: Corfů) is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. It is the second largest of the Ionian
Islands, and, including its small satellite islands, forms the edge of the northwestern frontier of
Greece. The island is part of the Corfu regional unit, and is administered as a single municipality. The municipality includes the island Corfu and the smaller islands Ereikoussa, Mathraki and Othonoi. The principal city of the island and seat of the municipality (pop. 33,886) is also named
Corfu. Corfu is home to the Ionian University.
The island is bound with the history of Greece from the beginning of Greek mythology. Its Greek name, Kerkyra or Korkyra, is related to two powerful water symbols: Poseidon, god of the sea, and Asopos, an important Greek mainland
river. According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Korkyra, daughter of Asopus and river nymph Metope, and abducted
her. Poseidon brought Korkyra to the hitherto unnamed island and, in marital bliss, offered her name to the place:
Korkyra, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra (Doric). Together, they had a child they called Phaiax, after whom the inhabitants of the island were named: Phaiakes. This term was transliterated via Latin to
The island's history is laden with battles and conquests. The legacy of these struggles is visible in the form of castles punctuating strategic locations across the island. Two of these castles enclose its capital, which is the only city in Greece to be surrounded in such a way. As a result, Corfu's capital has been officially declared a Kastropolis ("castle city") by the Greek
government. Corfu was long controlled by Venice, which repulsed several Turkish sieges, before falling under British rule following the
Napoleonic Wars. Corfu was eventually ceded by the British Empire along with the remaining islands of the United States of the Ionian Islands, and unification with modern Greece was concluded in 1864 under the Treaty of London.
In 2007, the city's old city was designated for the UNESCO World Heritage List, following a recommendation by
Corfu is a very popular tourist destination. Up until the early 20th century, it was mainly visited by the European royals and elites, including Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and Empress Elisabeth of Austria; today it is also widely visited by middle class families (primarily from the UK, Scandinavia and Germany), leading to mass
tourism. It is still popular with the global elite however, and in the island's northeast the homeowners include members of the Rothschild family and Russian oligarchs.
The north-eastern coastline of Corfu lies off the coast of Sarandë, Albania, from which it is separated by straits varying in width from 3 to 23 km (2 to 15 mi), while the south-east side of the island lies off the coast of Thesprotia, Greece. The name "Corfu", an Italian version of the Byzantine Κορυφώ (Koryphō), meaning "city of the peaks", derives from the Greek Κορυφαί (Koryphai) (crests or peaks), denoting the two peaks of Palaio
Frourio. In shape it is like the sickle (drepanē, δρεπάνι), to which it was compared by the ancients: the concave side, with the city and harbour of Corfu in the centre, lies toward the Albanian coast. With the island's area estimated at 227 square
miles (588 km2), it runs approximately 40 miles (64 km) long, with greatest breadth at around 20 miles (32 km).
Two high and well-defined ranges divide the island into three districts, of which the northern is mountainous, the central undulating, and the southern low-lying. The more important of the two ranges, that of Pantokrator (Παντοκράτωρ - the ancient Istone) stretches east and west from Cape Falacro to Cape Psaromita, and attains its greatest elevation in the summit of the same name.
Bay of St. George in northwestern Corfu
The second range culminates in the mountain of Santi Jeca, or Santa Decca, as it is called by misinterpretation of the Greek designation Άγιοι Δέκα (Hagioi Deka), or the Ten Saints. The whole island, composed as it is of various limestone formations, presents great diversity of surface, and views from more elevated spots are magnificent. Beaches are found in Agios Gordis, the Korission lagoon, Agios Georgios, Marathia, Kassiopi, Sidari, Palaiokastritsa and many others. Corfu is located near the Kefalonia geological fault formation;
earthquakes have occurred. Neither Corfu city or the countryside of the island have lost their traditional architecture hailing from the 16th century.
Corfu's coastline spans 217 kilometres (135 mi) including capes; its highest point is Mount Pantokrator (906 metres (2,972 ft)); and the second Stravoskiadi, at 849 metres (2,785 ft). The full extent of capes and promentories take in Agia Aikaterini, Drastis to the north, Lefkimmi and Asprokavos to the southeast, and Megachoro to the south. Two islands are also to be found at a middle point of Gouvia and Corfu Bay, which extends across much of the eastern shore of the island; are known as Lazareto and Ptychia (or Vido). Camping areas can be found in Palaiokastritsa, Agrillia, with four in the northern part, Pyrgi, Roda, Gouvia and
Homer identifies seven plants that adorn the garden of Alcinous: wild olive, oil olive, pear, pomegranate, apple, fig and grape vine. Of these the apple and the pear are (as of 2011) very
inferior in Corfu; the others thrive, together with all the fruit trees known in southern Europe, with addition of the kumquat, loquat and prickly pear and, in some spots, the banana. When undisturbed by cultivation, the myrtle, arbutus, bay and holm
oak form a rich brushwood, along with fir and
turkey oak in the hills. The minor flora of the island are extensive.
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