Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Old Fortress, Corfu

The Old Fortress’s history dates back to the mid-6th century AD, when the ancient city of Corfu on the Kanoni Peninsula (Chersoupolis, modern-day Paliopolis) was destroyed in barbarian incursions. It was then that its inhabitants began gradually moving to the naturally-fortified peninsula of the Old Fortress with its two peaks, where the Byzantine city, Koryfo (from which the island took its name Corfou/Corfu) developed. The Byzantines and later the Angevins (1267-1386) walled the peninsula and built towers on both its peaks. The settlement west of the peninsula, the “Xopoli” (outer city) or Borgo, began to grow at the same time as Koryfo at approcimately the site of the modern city.

The current form of the Old Fortress’s fortifications is mostly owed to the defensive works done during the period of Venetian rule (1386-1797). The Venetians took care to secure possession of Corfu due to its strategic and commercial importance. This was why they modernised the Fortress’s defensive works in order to withstand Ottoman attacks. The form these works assumed was dictated by the new developments brought about by the introduction of heavy artillery into the art of war. Initially the peninsula was separated from the island itself through construction of a sea moat, the so-called contrafossa. For defensive reasons, a zone that remained unbuilt was simultaneously created between the Fortress and “Xopoli” (spianata, the modern Spianada).

Following the destructive Turkish siege of 1537, the Venetians once again modernised Koryfo’s fortifications. The great Veronese architect Michele Sanmicheli and his nephew Gian Gerolamo Sanmicheli gave the fort its characteristic from in accordance with the principals of the bastion system (fronte basionato). Their major projects included the front of the Spianada with two pentagonal bastions, the intervening wall, and the entrance which opens in the centre of the wall. The land connection was achieved by a movable bridge. A short time later (second half of the 16th century), Cape Kavosidero at the northeast end of the peninsula was also walled. When the capital was transferred to the “Xopoli” in the late 16th century, Koryfo remained primarily a military base.

During the period of English rile (1814-1864), large-scale interventions were made at the site of the Old Fortress with the construction of new buildings, chiefly military in character. During World War II, bombing destroyed important Venetian buildings such as the palace of the Provveditore (Governor) and the Pasqualigo’s Barracks.

Today the Old Fortress, the New Fortress, the Old City of Corfu together with the rest of the fortifications of the city are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments. 

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