The Old Town of Corfu, a site on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has been described as “an architectural example of outstanding universal value.” Surrounded by Venetian fortresses of the 16th century and the sea, the actual city is divided in a densely situated urban area (which bears a strong resemblance to Venice), and the vast open square of ”Spianata” to the east. The architecture of the urban area was transformed throughout the 19th century, while the European neoclassical style returned to its cradle – the Palace on the Spianata (now Museum of Asian Art) being the very first neoclassical building in Greece. Just opposite the palace, the dual “Liston” ensemble is a monument of the brief French occupation; a reminder the “Rue de Rivoli” in Paris.
Situated on the peninsula to the south, the ancient city of Corcyra (Corfu’s predecessor) remains partially unknown. Nevertheless the excavations have uncovered the ancient “Agora”, some quarters, the fortified ports of the triremes, and the “Necropolis” (graveyard). Important for the history of sculpture and architecture are the marble gables of the Corcyraean temples, especially the one of “Gorgo” (570 BC). A comprehensive representation of the ancient city can be seen today in a Museum in the “Mon Repos” estate, which is by itself worth seeing for its gardens.
The “Achilleion Palace” is the creation of the eccentric empress of Austria Elisabeth, who was impersonated by Romy Schneider as “Sissy” in the popular film trilogy. Sissy, obsessed with the Homeric hero Achilles, had this pompous summer villa erected, in 1890, in the middle of another worth-seeing garden. Later on it was purchased by another eccentric royalty, the emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. Today, after being used as a Casino and a set for a James Bond film, it houses a museum of its past imperial owners and the “Belle Epoque”.
Gardiki (pronounced Ghardhiki) is a byzantine rural fort, built in the 11th century between the middle and the south district of Corfu. St. Mathews, the nearby village, was a camp of Armenian and Viking (Armeniakoi and Varangouli) soldiers of the Byzantine Empire, who were stationed there. In the vicinity, the cave “Grava” produced evidence for human presence in the Paleolithic period (ca. 50.000-40.000 before present day), the oldest known in Corfu.