Category Archives: UNESCO Greece

Greece – Old Town of Corfu

 

he Old Town of Corfu, on the Island of Corfu off the western coasts of Albania and Greece, is located in a strategic position at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, and has its roots in the 8th century BC. The three forts of the town, designed by renowned Venetian engineers, were used for four centuries to defend the maritime trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire. In the course of time, the forts were repaired and partly rebuilt several times, more recently under British rule in the 19th century. The mainly neoclassical housing stock of the Old Town is partly from the Venetian period, partly of later construction, notably the 19th century. As a fortified Mediterranean port, Corfu’s urban and port ensemble is notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity.

Corfu, the first of the Ionian Islands encountered at the entrance to the Adriatic, was annexed to Greece by a group of Eretrians (775-750 BCE). In 734 BCE the Corinthians founded a colony known as Kerkyra to the south of where the Old Town now stands. The town became a trading post on the way to Sicily and founded further colonies in Illyria and Epirus. The coast of Epirus and Corfu itself came under the sway of the Roman Republic (229 BCE) and served as the jumping-off point for Rome’s expansion into the east. In the reign of Caligula two disciples of the Apostle Paul, St Jason, Bishop of Iconium, and Sosipater, Bishop of Tarsus, introduced Christianity to the island.

Corfu fell to the lot of the Eastern Empire at the time of the division in 336 and entered a long period of unsettled fortunes, beginning with the invasion of the Goths (551).

The population gradually abandoned the old town and moved to the peninsula surmounted by two peaks (the korifi) where the ancient citadel now stands. The Venetians, who were beginning to play a more decisive role in the southern Adriatic, came to the aid of a failing Byzantium, thereby conveniently defending their own trade with Constantinople against the Norman prince Robert Guiscard. Corfu was taken by the Normans in 1081 and returned to the Byzantine Empire in 1084.

Following the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantine Empire was broken up and, in return for their military support, the Venetians obtained all the naval bases they needed to control the Aegean and the Ionian Seas, including Corfu, which they occupied briefly from 1204 to 1214. For the next half-century, the island fell under the sway of the Despots of Epirus (1214-67) and then that of the Angevins of Naples (1267-1368), who used it to further their policies against both the Byzantine Empire now re-established in Constantinople and the Republic of Venice. The tiny medieval town grew up between the two fortified peaks, the Byzantine Castel da Mare and the Angevin Castel di Terra, in the shelter of a defensive wall fortified with towers. Writings from the first half of the 13th century tell of a separation of administrative and religious powers between the inhabitants of the citadel and those of the outlying parts of the town occupying what is now the Spianada.

In order to assert its naval and commercial power in the Southern Adriatic, the Republic of Venice took advantage of the internal conflicts raging in the Kingdom of Naples to take control of Corfu (1386-1797). Alongside Negropont (Chalcis), Crete, and Modon (Methoni), it would form one of the bases from which to counter the Ottoman maritime offensive and serve as a revictualling station for ships en route to Romania and the Black Sea.

The ongoing work on defining, improving, and expanding the medieval fortified perimeter reflects the economic and strategic role of Corfu during the four centuries of Venetian occupation. In the early 15th century activity concentrated on the medieval town, with the development of harbour facilities (docks, quays and arsenals) and continued with the renovation of the defence works. Early in the following century a canal was dug, cutting off the medieval town from its suburbs.

Following the siege of the town by the Turks in 1537 and the burning of the suburbs, a new programme of works was launched to isolate the citadel further and strengthen its defences. The strip of land (now the Spianada) cleared in 1516 was widened by demolishing houses facing the citadel walls, two new bastions were raised on the banks of the canal, the elevation of the perimeter walls was lowered, and the two castelli were replaced by new structures. The work, based on plans drawn by Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli (1487-1559), were completed in 1558, bringing the town’s defences up to date with the rapid progress made in artillery in recent decades.

Yet another siege by the Turks in 1571 decided the Venetians to embark on a vast project covering the medieval town, its suburbs, the harbour, and all the military buildings (1576-88). Ferrante Vitelli, architect to the Duke of Savoy, sited a fort (the New Fort) on the low hill of St Mark to the west of the old town to command the surrounding land and at sea, and also the 24 suburbs enclosed by a ditched wall with bastions and four gates. More buildings, both military and civil, were erected and the 15th century Mandraki harbour was restructured and enlarged. At the same time, the medieval town was converted to more specifically military uses (the cathedral was transferred to the new town in the 17th century) to become the Old Citadel.

Between 1669 and 1682 the system of defences was further strengthened to the west by a second wall, the work of military engineer Filippo Vernada. In 1714 the Turks sought to reconquer Morea (the Peloponnese) but Venetian resistance hardened when the Turkish forces headed towards Corfu. The support of Christian naval fleets and an Austrian victory in Hungary in 1716 helped to save the town. The commander of the Venetian forces on Corfu, Giovanni Maria von Schulenburg, was inspired by the designs of Filippo Vernada to put the final touches to this great fortified ensemble. The outer western defences were reinforced by a complex system of outworks on the heights of two mountains, Abraham and Salvatore, and on the intermediate fort of San Rocco (1717-30).

The treaty of Campo Formio (1797) marked the end of the Republic of Venice and saw Corfu come under French control (1797-99) until France withdrew before the Russian-Turkish alliance that founded the State of the Ionian Islands, of which Corfu would become the capital (1799-1807). The redrawing of territorial boundaries in Europe after the fall of Napoleon made Corfu, after a brief interlude of renewed French control (1807-14), a British protectorate for the next half-century (1814-64).

As the capital of the United States of the Ionian Islands, Corfu lost its strategic importance. Under the governance of the British High Commissioner Sir Thomas Maitland (1816-24), development activity concentrated on the Spianada; his successor, Sir Frederic Adam (1824-32), turned his attention towards public works (building an aqueduct, restructuring the Old Citadel and adding new military buildings at the expense of the Venetian buildings, reconstruction and raising of the town’s dwellings) and the reorganisation of the educational system (the new Ionian Academy was opened in 1824), contributing to the upsurge in intellectual interests sparked during the French occupation. At the same time, the British began demolishing the outer fortifications on the western edge of the town and planning residential areas outside the defensive walls.

In 1864 the island was attached to the Kingdom of the Hellenes. The fortresses were disarmed and several sections of the perimeter wall and the defences were gradually demolished. The island became a favoured holiday destination for the aristocracy of Europe. The Old Town was badly damaged by bombing in 1943. Added to the loss of life was the destruction of many houses and public buildings (the Ionian Parliament, the theatre, and the library), fourteen churches, and a number of buildings in the Old Citadel. In recent decades the gradual growth of the new town has accelerated with the expansion of tourism.

(whc.unesco.org)

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Greece – Athens – Acropolis

The word “Acropolis” means city by the edge, and there are many acropolises all over Greece. They were always situated on a high spot, and were often used as a place for shelter and defence against various enemies. The one in Athens is the best known of them all, and is therefore often referred to as “The Acropolis”.

The Acropolis is believed to have been inhabited since at least the 7th Millennium BC. During the Mycenaean civilization walls were built around it and there is evidence that there was a Mycenaean palace here as well. The tomb of Cecrops also lie here, and the Athenians might have kept a snake here – symbolizing their first king. There were also other tombs and temples here, all connected to kings, heroes and gods that had to do with Athens.
In the 6th century BC the Acropolis had changed quite significantly. It was no longer a place for palaces, but had turned more into a sanctuary that anything else. Every year a huge procession to the Acropolis took place, and the wooden statue of Athena was dressed and sacrificed to. The Panathenean games were also very important. The games included both athletic and musical competitions and the winner would receive an amphora filled with olive oil – the olive tree being the sacred tree of Athena.
During the Persian wars in the 5th century the Athenians started building the Parthenon, but the Persians burnt the Acropolis and all focus was put on the battles. It was during Pericles era, the so called Golden Age, when the Acropolis got the structure we see today. Starting in the middle of the 5th century, the Parthenon, the Propylaea and a huge bronze statue of Athena was made. It is said that Pericles used unemployed Athenians for workers, and that it was thanks to this initiative, every Athenian had food on his table. The Parthenon was made by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates, and the statue by Phidias.Towards the end of the 5th century the Erechteion was built, as well as the temple of Athena Nike.

 

When the Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century BC, many of the sanctuaries were looted. Statues and other works of art were taken back to Rome from Olympia and Delphi for example, but the Acropolis was pretty much left alone. Some of the emperors did make a few additions, though. In the 2nd century AD Herodes Atticus had his great theatre built, and to this day, Athenians are enjoying concerts and ballets here.

During the Middle Ages several of the temples on the Acropolis were converted into Christian churches. Quite characteristic is the fact that the Parthenon, which had been a temple to the virgin goddess Athena, now became a church to the virgin saint Mary.

When the Turks came towards the end of the 16th century, they turned the Parthenon into a mosque. Until the 17th century the temple was relatively unharmed, but in 1687 the Venetians bombarded the Acropolis, and a projectile hit the Parthenon, which the Turks used as a storage room for gunpowder. The temple exploded and this is why the temple does not have a roof today.

In the beginning of the 19th century the Englishman lord Elgin was allowed by the sultan to take with him various objects from the Acropolis. It was now he took the famous Parthenon marbles, which until today is a matter of controversy since they are housed in the British Museum despite the Greeks plea to get them back.
Despite all that the Acropolis has been through, it is really the pollution in modern Athens that is its worst enemy. The problem has been known for many decades now, but still no real solution has been found.