When you visit Corfu, one of the first things you will certainly notice is its cosmopolitan character. This is the product of the island’s rich and diverse history and of various influences from those who have occupied it. Corfu has been for many years a cultural hotspot, attracting liberal thinkers, fostering new ideas and artistic creation. It has always been open to western ideals, bringing together pioneers and influential figures, from music, literature, politics and theatre, who were either born here or lived and created on the island. Even during the first days of the modern Greek state, Corfu promoted learning and constituted a true source of inspiration . Here are only some of the most prominent figures, whose life was connected in one way or the other to Corfu.
Gerald Durrell captured the comic adventures of his family in Corfu, in his work “My life and other animals”. The Durrells lived in Corfu for some four years in the island’s lush and pristine natural setting. Gerald roamed Corfu’s verdant hills, which are still unspoiled and ideal for trekking if you want to retrace the young boy’s steps. The family’s homes are still standing today, in Kalami, one of Corfu’s most idyllic spots which must have stimulated young Gerald’s curiosity and imagination.
Kapodistrias was born in Corfu and he is known as the first governor of independent Greece, the man who established the modern Greek state and asserted its independence. He was an acclaimed politician and diplomat, a progressive thinker and a true believer in democracy, despite his noble origins. Throughout his career he always placed great emphasis on education, which he considered to be the driving force of social progress.
Solomos was born on the island of Zakynthos and he is known as Greece’s national poet, as the first two verses of his Hymn to Liberty became the Greek national anthem, along with the music written by Nikolaos Mantzaros. His contribution to the preservation of Greece’s early poetic tradition was substantial. He arrived in Corfu wishing to establish an intellectual circle that would stimulate Greek literary production. Thus, the Heptanese School was created.
Empress Elisabeth (Sissi)
The Austrian royal was famous for her intelligence and progressive thinking. The otherwise troubled aristocrat visited Corfu in one of her many travels and was mesmerized by the island’s natural beauty. After falling in love with Corfu she often came back, as she and deeply admired the Greek language and civilization. Ultimately, after the tragic loss of her son, she decided to build her summer retreat in her beloved island, which is no other than the stunning Achilleion you can still visit today.
Did you know the French-Jewish novelist, diplomat and journalist was born in Corfu? Although Albert Cohen spent the first years of his childhood in Marseille, he was originally born in Corfu to Greek-Jewish parents. Throughout his career Cohen worked as a civil servant for the United Nations and received an award from the French Academy for one of his novels. Today, there is still an Association in memory of the famous novelist in Corfu, and one of its streets also bears his name.
The composer is best known for creating the music for the Greek National anthem, but apart from that he has had a significant contribution in the musical production of his era and his artistic activity far surpassed composing the Greek anthem. He was an important figure in the Ionian School of Music and one of Corfu’s brass bands bears his name today.