Corfu Kanoni

The first of these two short routes from the town takes us to the famous beauty – spot known as ‘Kanoni’ and to the remains of ancient Corcyra.

On a day at any time except the summer it would be pleasant to do at least part of this route on foot. However, those without their own transport would be able to take Town Bus no. 2, which goes to Kanoni and circles Analipsi hill, the destination of our itinerary.

We start from the Spianada and move south, passing on our left the Yacht Club installations at the foot of the castle. On the right is a statue of Count John Capodistrias.

When the road reaches the bottom of the hill and begins to run along the shore of Garitsa Bay, we pass a signpost to the Archaeological Museum, which should on no account be missed. Although it is not a large collection it has some excellent exhibits, which are clearly labelled in English and Greek.

Further along we come to the Obelisk erected in 1841 to Sir Howard Douglas (1776 – 1861), a leading military theorist of his day who was Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands in 1835-40. Douglas was the author of the first textbook on naval gunnery.

Behind the obelisk, in the grounds of the police station, stands the Monument of Menecrates. The area around here was the ancient cemetery, and this monument was erected in memory of a man who was in fact not buried there; he was drowned at sea. The inscription around the top of the monument, which dates from about 600 BC, is in Archaic script and is read from right to left. It tells us that Menecrates was Corfu’s consul in his birthplace, the town of Oiantheia, near Galaxidi on the north shore of the Gulf of Corinth. The monument was discovered in 1843, during road construction work, and it is supposed to have been topped by the Lion on display in the Museum.

The road continues along the front, had a narrow entrance protected by two towers, the easternmost of which has been found.

We continue up the hill. The northern side of the peninsula was protected by a wall running from the end of the Alkinoos harbour, and one part of this has survived near the modern cemetery and the monastery of the Sts Theodori. The only reason that this section of wall survived is that it was built into a Byzantine chapel. It consists of a tower about six metres high, and is locally known as the Nerantzicha tower. It is believed that the tower may have guarded one of the gates along the north wall.

Also close to this area are the very scanty traces of the Temple of Artemis. An Archaic building constructed around 590-580 BC, it had 17 columns on its long sides and 8 on its short sides, but this is more or less all that can be said about it today, since the destruction has been so great.

However, the site did produce the pediments which can be seen in the Museum, and on the site is the enormous altar, which gives some idea of the size of the original building.

The temple was brought to light during fortification work carried out by the French in 1812, diggings which also uncovered part of the ancient aqueduct.

After meandering among the fairly scattered houses at the foot of Analipsi hill, our road suddenly swings up and we burst out on to a little square with a superb view – one that has to some extent become Corfu’s trademark.

This is the Kanoni, which we might translate as One-Gun Battery. The name originates with the French, who installed a cannon here. The cannon stands above the little square, next to the tourist pavilion, on the site where the Republican French installed an artillery battery in 1798. This is one of the most beautiful places in Corfu, one which wins over all the visitors to the island. No tourist should miss the experience of the superb and unforgettable view from here, at any time of the day. During the day, the light shimmers on the water beneath, and in the evening there are wonderful sunsets. Moonlit nights are magic here, too. The view must be one of the most frequently-photographed in Greece. In front of us and slightly to the right is the entrance to the Hyllaian harbour, which in ancient times was guarded by nets and a boom. Now there is a causeway across it to Perama.

To the left are two little islets, each of which has a monastery on it, neither of which is of any particular interest to the visitor. The nearer one reached by a causeway, is to Our Lady Vlachernai, and the further one, on Pontikonisi (Mouse Island) is to the Pantocrator.

There is a myth regarding Pontikonisi which perhaps requires a little explanation. The second of the great Homeric poems, the Odyssey, which, like its companion, the Iliad is generally regarded as having been written about the 8th century BC though it refers to semi-legendary events five or six hundred years earlier, mentions an island in the west called Scheria, which is the name used by other ancient writers to refer to Corfu.

What happens is as follows: Odysseus, having escaped from Calypso, is on his way home to Ithaca at last. But the sea-god Poseidon, who has had it in for him since the beginning of the poem, sees his ship and either sinks it or turns it to stone. Odysseus is washed up on the shores of Scheria, which is the kingdom of the Phaeacians, a friendly people ruled over by King Alkinoos.

The king’s daughter, Nausica, had that day been inspired by a dream to go with her handmaidens to a distant beach to wash clothes. Of course the beach is the one on which the exhausted Odysseus is lying asleep. While waiting for their clothes to dry, the girls sing and play with a ball, and their cries wake Odysseus. Without revealing who he is, he makes friends with them and is taken back to the palace, where he admires the buildings, the harbours and everything else about the city and is made thoroughly welcome.

Indeed, he might well have thought about marrying Nausica and staying on Scheria, but his home is calling. A minstrel singing about the Trojan War forces him to reveal his identity and tell the Phaeacians about his travels, after which he leaves.

The relevance of this story to the route we are describing is that Pontikonisi is, according to legend, the ship which Poseidon turned to stone.

It is not alone in claiming that honour, however: one of the islets off Palaiokastritsa is also supposed to be Odysseus’ ship. The truth of the matter (if there is one; Homer is not always to be relied on in matters of geography) is still far from clear, since no archaeological findings have come to light to support any of the theories.

Let it be said, however that Ermones beach on the west coast is a principal claimant for the site of the meeting between Odysseus and Nausicaa: it even has a stream of fresh water where she could have washed her clothes.

We leave Kanoni along the continuation of the one-way road system round Analipsi hill, passing amongst the hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities which, in spite of the proximity of the airport, have made this one of the busiest parts of the island in summer.

After about 1 kilometre a road branches off to the right, in the direction of the top of the hill, and we take this.

Most of the top of Analipsi hill, which was the site of the acropolis of ancient Corcyra, is occupied by the Mon Repos estate. The mansion house which stands at the centre of the grounds (to which there is no admission) was built for High Commissioner Sir Frederic Adam in 1824 and then passed into the hands of the Greek royal family. The Duke of Edinburgh was born here in 1921. Since the abolition of the monarchy in Greece, by referendum, in 1974, the former royal properties have been the subject of legal disputes and Mon Repos, like the others, is not currently in use.

Opposite the gates to Mon Repos are the ruins of the Paleo-Christian church of St Kerkyra or Palaiopolis, which was certainly built before 450 AD, using ancient materials, and was rebuilt a number of times since then after destruction by various raiders. Its most recent destruction was by bombing in 1940. The inscription over the west entrance refers to the founding of the church by Bishop Jovian of Corfu after he had destroyed the pagan altars on the island. Pieces of the mosaic floor of the church and some other remnants of it can be seen in the Museum of Christian Art.

Most of the remains of ancient Corcyra lie inside the densely – wooded grounds of Mon Repos and thus cannot be visited. These ruins include that of the city’s largest temple, a Doric building reconstructed in the 4th century BC and probably dedicated to Hera. The temple was mentioned by the historian Thucydides.

However, if we continue on up the road towards the top of the hill we can visit the Kardaki temple, another Doric building of which, however, little has survived. The temple was probably dedicated to Apollo, and was discovered by chance in 1822 by British troops digging to find out why the Kardaki spring, which was used to water passing ships, had suddenly dried up. The eastern side of the temple has fallen into the sea.

The view from the top of the hill is excellent and it is possible to see quite a large part of the Mon Repos estate, including its charming little harbour.

Returning to the Analipsi one-way system, we wind round and down the hill and come out at the southernmost extremity of Garitsa Bay. Here is the Church of Sts Jason and Sossipatros, one of Corfu’s finest Byzantine monuments – indeed, one of the few buildings to have survived from this period. The saints to whom the church is dedicated are said to be those who spread Christianity on the island. Both were disciples of St Paul, and tradition has it that Sossipatros was martyred here in the time of Caligula.

Their church dates from the 11th century at the latest, to judge from the wall-painting of St Arsenius on the east wall of the narthex, which has been dated to that period. The building itself incorporates three ancient columns, each carved from a single piece of stone. The paintings of the two saints are the work of the late 16th century artist Emmanouil Tzanes, one of the principal representatives of the Cretan School of icon painting.

We are now back on the front at Garitsa, which is the end of this route.