With the rise of Byzantium, the island gradually came into its sphere of influence. Its first fortress was built then.
The Goths ravaged the island in 550 AD and its surviving populace decided to relocate to a more easily defended site at Cape Sidaro (iron cape). What is today's Old Fortress of two peaks.
The Normans captured the fortress in 1081 and again in 1148, causing consternation through out the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus finally recaptured the island after several attempts.
It was ruled by a series of overlords and beset by difficulties until the fall of Constantinople in 1204, when the Normans of the Two Sicilies obtained possession of Corfu.
In 1386 Venice took the islands, and retained them until the end of the eighteenth century.
In 1204, the Venetians claimed Corfu as part of its spoils from the 4th Crusade. The islands inhabitants viewed these claims with vehement disapprobation, resisting valiantly but unsuccessfully. A generation latter, the King of Naples, and brother to St. Louis of France, Charles the 1st of Anjou, acquired Corfu and Achia when his son married The Princess of Villehardouin.
For 120 years this particularly vile, despotic and intolerant monarch made things miserable for the Corfiots. In 1386 a local delegation was sent to Venice to request the protection of the Venetian Republic as the lesser of two evils.
In 1537, Suleiman the Magnificent, the most successful and aggressive of the Turkish Sultans, landed at Igoumenitsa across the straits on Greece's mainland. His goal: the subjugation of Corfu as a base for attacking Italy and the rest of Europe. He had already conquered most of Greece itself.
The Venetians, with their Corfiot co-defenders, tore down houses to repair fortress walls and although suffering great losses in the cross fire managed to inflict huge casualties on the Turks. The infamous, murdering, plunderer, Barbarossa led the Turkish assault, capturing thousands of Corfiots abandoned when they hadn't the time to enter the defensive gates. Most were slaughtered or sold as slaves in Constantinopoli.
Suleiman, learning of bad weather and his heavy losses ordered the lifting of the siege and the island was granted reprieve. Twenty-one years later, under intense pressure from the islanders, the Venetians expanded the islands fortifications, this time to include the town itself. Not all houses were included and when in 1571, another Turkish army reappeared under Ouloudj Ali, all that remained outside the defensive walls was destroyed, including villages, homes, vineyards and olive trees. The Turks massacred all inhabitants they were able to catch. Once again their attack was finally repulsed.
Two years later in 1573, another Turkish pirate Admiral Sinan Pasha surprise attacked and only 1/10 of the islands inhabitants were left among the living.
The island still remained in Venetian hands however and in 1576 they finally began the sort of fortifications necessary to withstand constant attacks. These fortifications were designed by the famed military architect Sammicheli and are of a stature with his Heraklion, Crete ramparts.
The Venetian also attempted to restore the islands economic vitality for exploitation and offered islanders 45 tsekinia for every olive tree planted. This resulted in today's over 4,500,000 Corfiot olive trees, which produce 3% of the world's supply of olive oil.
The Venetian had by this time become accustomed to Corfu as a more or less permanent protectorate and in order to increase political and economic ties with the more affluent islanders allowed them to buy Titles of Nobility instead of killing them. This created a class society unique to Corfu and in all Greece.
In 1716 the Turks returned to lay siege to the new fortifications and after a month were repulsed by a combination of the weather and the brilliant tactics of the German mercenary soldier in command of the the defense, Field Marshal Schulenberg.
See our Greece hotels for a complete look at accommodations available on this island.
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