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Sunday, October 16, 2016

10/8: Corfu's Changing Allegiances

Thank goodness, a beautiful day dawned after the torrential rains from yesterday. However, I discovered after turning on the computer first thing, that our flight to Athens two nights hence would be cancelled because of a nationwide air traffic controllers’ strike planned to begin the next day. Steven was unable to get through to the airline so we gave up and took one of the few buses into town to see Corfu, known locally as Kerkyra.

According to one travel source, Corfu is certainly the lushest (because of all the rain it receives!), and quite possibly, the loveliest of all Greek islands. Homer’s “well watered gardens” and beautiful rich land” were Odysseus’ last stop on his journey home. Corfu is also said to be the inspiration for Prospero’s island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The town is a blend of European influences. The Venetians ruled Corfu for four centuries and elegant Italian buildings with balconies and shutters can be seen above French-style colonnades. British rule also left a wealth of monuments and public buildings as well as the cricket pitch. On the eastern side of town is the Old Fortress standing guard over the town, a reminder that Corfu was never conquered by the Turks.

The bus let us off in a spot differently from what we had been told by the apartment owner but Steven easily managed to get us into the historic center of Corfu Town which was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Cafes and restaurants lined Town Hall Square:

The Town Hall is a grand Venetian building that started out in the 17th century as a single story meeting place for the nobility. It was then converted into the San Giacomo Theater in 1720 which made it the first modern theater in Greece. The British added the second floor in 1903 when it became the town hall.
There were sculpted portraits of Venetian dignitaries over its entrance; one was actually a lion, the symbol of Venice.
Adjacent to the Town Hall was the Catholic Agios Iakovos Cathedral also known by its Italian name of San Giacomo. 
It was erected in 1588 and consecrated 50 years later to provide a grand place of worship for Corfu Town’s Catholic occupiers. We liked it well enough but didn’t find it striking. It had chapels lining each side. What was unusual for us was seeing the Greek flags outside the church.

We walked next to the Esplanade, a huge open parade ground bordered on one side by a street lined with beautiful Venetian and English Georgian homes. 
The Liston, a famous arcaded building, was built in 1807 by the French under the rule of Napoleon. The name Liston comes from the Venetian practice of having a 'List' of noble families in the ‘Libro d’Oro’ or Golden Book; only families listed in the book were allowed to promenade there.
Views of the picturesque pedestrian-only side streets we would later explore:
The red-domed Greek Orthodox St. Spyridon Church:

The Esplanade overlooked a park which was once a Venetian firing range before being developed as a cricket ground for the British. It was empty though, probably because it would have been a mud bath from all the rain yesterday! The park is still used for cricket matches and other games as well as Corfiot celebrations and concerts.
At the other end of the park was the Palace of Sts. Michael and George built by the British between 1819 and 1824 from Maltese limestone for the residence of the Hugh Commissioner and headquarters for the order of Sts Michael and George. 
The elegant, colonnaded colonial palace was abandoned after the British left in 1864 and renovated about 100 years later by the British ambassador to Greece.
The former British palace is now home to the Museum of Asian Art, a collection of 11,000 items that were amassed by a Corfiot diplomat during his travels overseas. He offered his vast collection to the state on the condition that he could retire and become curator of the museum. Unfortunately, he died before he could realize his dream though he was able to see its opening in 1927.

We looked first at the museum’s collection of Chinese porcelain and learned that it had been exported continuously since the 8th century.
The vast majority of export objects were decorated in the 'Famille verte (green)' and 'Famille rose' palettes; also important were the blue and white porcelain which only used a blue under the glazing.
China, a country with abundant deposits of jade, has always been known worldwide for its artists' special skill with carving that mineral. The art of jade carving started in the early Neolithic period.
I had always thought that jade was a shade of green but it actually comes in a variety of colors. Pure nephrite and jadeite are white but contain different trace elements of a variety of minerals that give them a range of colors.
In early Chinese societies, circa 7,000-1900 BC, jade had an important role in both life and death. It was used in death rituals, possibly to protect the deceased's body or spirit. During China's Bronze Age, circa 1900-221 BC, as leaders fought amongst themselves and dynasties grew, jade was an important symbol of power and wealth.
Another favorite part of the massive collection were the ezquisitely carved ivory pieces.

I particularly loved the cloisonné pieces as they reminded me of bowls my British grandfather brought home from China and ended up being my mother’s. Steven and I are lucky enough to have them now.
In the early 14th century, the Chinese were taught indirectly by the Byzantines through artists who worked in the Armenian and Georgian monasteries, the cloisonne technique or working with inlaid enamel. Before reading this information at the Museum, I had always thought the origins of cloisonne had been Chinese.
Gilded binoculars:
China had been inhabited since the most ancient times, as proven by the remains of the Yuanmou Man (1.7 millionyears BC), the Lantien Man (700,000 BC) and the Peking Man (500,000 BC). The Homo Sapiens appeared around 40,000 BC. About 4,500 BC, Neolithic communities and settlements covered an area roughly equivalent to today's China. Each Neolithic community developed its own pottery.

During the 14th century AD, Chinese pottery was enriched with the systematic use of blue and white decoration under the glazing.
There were a number of paintings by Jamal, a contemporary Syrian artist, in an exhibition titled 'The Great Sill Road.' The Silk Road was the trade route that for centuries connected China with the West. This was one of his paintings:

There was also an extensive collection of Buddhist and Hindu art.
Bronze Buddha heads from the 12th-16th centuries:
Nepalese and Tibetan figurines are blessed during religious rituals. Inside the figurines, the believers place coins, beads, seeds and paper cylinders with prayers. Gilded bronze figurines with color and inlaid with semi-precious stones dating from the 16th-19th centuries from Nepal and Tibet:
Thangkas are Buddhist ritual banners which are unrolled during meditation and religious ceremonies. They depict holy figures and mandalas - diagrams in a cosmic order - and are painted according to strict iconographic rules. 

Thangkas were created with silk or cotton fabric, tempered with lime water and fish glue and made smooth with oysters. Steven bought a lovely Thangka on his first visit to Kathmandu, Nepal, some 40 years ago. 
In Japanese, gei means art and sha, person. Calligrapher, poet, musician and dancer at the same time, geishas are meant to entertain wealthy and powerful mken who wish for beauty, elegance, grace and culture. The first geishas appeared at the beginning of the 17th century in the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and the most famous one in Edo. I certainly never knew they were actually men initially who were disguised and had a comic role. From the 18th century onwards, women began working as geishas. They reached the height of their fame in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The basic part of the costume is the kimono, the elaborate style of which reflects each one's rank and wealth.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is called chado. It is a traditional ceremony influenced by Zen Buddhism during which powdered green tea is prepared and served according to specific ceremonial rules. Tea was first imported into Japan from China in the 8th century. In the12th century, green tea became very popular with the rise of Zen Buddhism because monks used it to sustain their state of awareness and concentration. The way the monks drank their tea, with defined and ritualistic movements, became the forerunner of the Tea Ceremony.
Traditionally, the Tea Ceremony is performed in a special room called a chashitsu secluded in a Japanese garden. The tea room is extremely austere with the only decorative elements being a scroll hanging down in a special wall alcove and a flower vase positioned under the scroll. The subject of the scroll and the flower arrangement vary depending on the season of the year.

Lina: I wonder whether Joanne and Michael will particiapte in a chado when they visit Japan soon. Please let me know if they do.
Steven and I must have spent a good couple of hours at least at the Museum as it was one of the best museums we've been to. The collection was first rate in all areas, the English language descriptions were topnotch, the admission feee was very reasonable and there were no issues taking photos. The latter, as you must know by reading these posts, is always important to me.
The rooftop pediment had symbols with each one representing a different Ionian island; Corfu is just one of them.

In front of the Palace and Museum was a statue of Sir Frederick Adam, the British High Commissioner to Corfu from 1824 to 1831. 
Across the street was the Corfu Reading Society that was founded in 1836. It is the oldest cultural institution in modern Greece. Inside, the building was crammed with books and archives relating to the Ionian Islands. No pictures were allowed inside.

A lovely view from the top steps of the Reading Society:
Suellen: This one’s for you since I know of your fondness for Durell’s work! This sign on a gate near the Old Fortress was a nod to the British writer, Lawrence Durrell and his brother, Gerald Durrell, who was a naturalist. They spent many years in Corfu. 
At the gate to the Old Fortress was a statue to Schulenberg, an Austrian mercenary who was the hero of the siege of 1716 when the Turks tried to conquer Corfu for the last time.
Corfu’s entire population used to live within the walls of the Old Fortress or Citadel which was built by the Venetians in 1546 on the site of a Byzantine castle. The fortress stands on a promontory mentioned by Thucydides and has two heights or korypha (peaks) which gave Corfu its name. The promontory is believed to have been fortified since at least the 7th or 8th century; archeological digs are still underway. 
The fortress was separated from the rest of town by a moat.

Entrance to the Old Fortress:
Once we entered the gate, we took some time to view the Byzantine Collection:

The Latin Chapel of Madonna Del Carmine just inside the Fortress:
Most of the old Venetian fortifications were destroyed by the British who replaced them with their own military structures. The British Army Barracks:
This first level of the former Palace of the Venetian Commissioner was accessed by a long stone staircase on the left.
Annoyingly, we could hear a drone buzzing by nonstop to spoil the peace and quiet of an otherwise perfect spot. The very top of the fortress had stunning views of Garitsa Bay.

Lower down was the Church of St. George built by the British in 1840 to look like an ancient Doric temple. It had then been converted into an Orthodox church before becoming an exhibit space. 

The drone operator: I wonder if other people are as bothered by the noise from the drones. 
I thought the former Britrish garrison church was pretty impressive; it certianly had a commanding location on the bay too.
We wandered next through the medieval quarter of Campiello, a charming labyrinth of narrow, winding streets, steep stairways, old churches and little cobbled squares. First though, we had to pass the Liston again - it was far busier mid afternoon than it had been several hours earlier!

Kumquats, I learned, were a Corfiot specialty.

We entered the stunning Church of St. Spyridon that was built in 1596 and is the tallest on the island due to its distinctive red-dome bell tower. Spryidos was not a Corfiot but a shepherd from Cyprus who later entered the church and became a bishop before his death in 350 AD. 
His miracles are said to have saved the island four times: once from famine, twice from the plague and once from the hated Turks. During WWII, a bomb fell on this holiest place on the island but never exploded. Perhaps that is why it seemed every other man on Corfu is named Spiros!
The church was filled with silver treasures brought by the constant stream of religious pilgrims. The patron saint’s remains, smuggled here after the fall of Constantinople, were contained in a silver reliquary or casket in a small chapel. Devout Corfiots visited to kiss the casket and pray to the saint. Four times a year, his remains are carried aloft through the streets.
Agios Spyridonos, the street in front of the church, was crammed with shops selling religious trinkets and souvenirs.
Traditional olive wood handicrafts:

The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Panagria Spiliotissa or St. Mary of the Cave was built in 1577 and was dedicated to St. Theodora, a Byzantine empress and the island’ second patron saint. As it was unfortunately closed, we couldn’t see the silver coffin by the altar containing her headless body that was brought to Corfu at the same time as St. Spyridos’ remains. The Cathedral's cross was only visible once we had walked down to the bottom of the steps.
Steps from the Cathedral which was located on Mitropoli Square led down to the Adriatic.

The maze of streets in the Jewish Quarter was home to the area’s Jewish population from the 1600s to 1944 when the community was decimated. Fewer than 100 of the 3,000 Jews sent to Auschwitz by the occupying Nazis survived. 

At the southern edge of the ghetto was the 300 year old small synagogue. Sadly, it too was also closed.
Washing strung by Corfiot housewives across the streets from their balconies was one of the more unusual sights we've ever seen.

The New Fortress was built only three decades after the construction of Venetian fortifications on the Old Fortress to strengthen town defenses. The French and British subsequently expanded the complex to protect Corfu Town from a possible Turkish invasion.

Statue at the New Fortress: I wish I had seen a description of it as I liked it.

Port Area:

Seeing so much of what Corfu had to offer had taken us a good chunk of the day. The day was not over yet though, so look for the next post to find out what an exciting end of the day we had!

Posted from Santorini, Greece on October 16th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. I will definitely encourage Joanne and Mike to participate in a chado while in Japan -- they are leaving this Friday .. thanks for thinking of them.
    xo Lina


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