The etymology of Corfu, also known as Kerkira in Greek, is an interesting aspect of its history and nomenclature. The name “Kerkira” is believed to have ancient roots dating back to Greek mythology.
According to one popular myth, the island was named after a nymph named Korkyra (or Kerkyra), the daughter of the river god Asopos. Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, fell in love with Korkyra and brought her to the island, naming it after her.
Another interpretation suggests that the name might have originated from the Greek word “korys,” meaning “peak” or “summit.” This etymology could be connected to the island’s geographical features, especially its mountainous terrain.
Over the centuries, Corfu’s name has evolved and been influenced by various cultures that have inhabited or ruled the island. Its name in different languages—such as Corfu in English, Kérkira in modern Greek, and Corcyra in ancient Greek—reflects this historical evolution.
The exact origins of the name “Corfu” or “Kerkira” may have some variations and interpretations, but they generally revolve around mythical tales or the island’s geographical characteristics, contributing to the island’s rich history and cultural identity.
A Brief History
The historical significance of the Ionian Islands, including Corfu, transcends their seemingly secluded geographical position. Despite lacking strategic importance, these islands have witnessed numerous conflicts throughout history. Remarkably, the Ionian Islands remained relatively untouched by Turkish invasions, an anomaly compared to other regions of Greece, largely due to resilient defences. Conversely, the Venetians held sway over these islands from the 15th to the 18th century, leaving an indelible mark evident in their architectural marvels, albeit suffering damage from recurrent earthquakes.
The shift in power continued as the French, following the upheaval of the French Revolution, ousted the Venetians in 1797, only to face a subsequent expulsion by the Russians. During this time, under Russian protection, the Independent Republic of the Seven Islands emerged (1800-1807). While the independence of these islands existed nominally, this period coincided with a burgeoning wave of Greek enlightenment, a precursor to the broader movement against Ottoman rule across the country.
The islands fell once more into French control in 1807, remaining under their occupation until Napoleon’s downfall. Eventually, in 1864, after half a century as a British protectorate, the Ionian Islands were formally ceded to Greece. This transition back to Greek governance occurred almost four decades after the rest of the country had gained independence. Interestingly, despite this delay, the Ionians displayed unwavering patriotism. Ioannis Kapodistrias, a native of the islands, served as the first president of modern Greece, while the poet Dionisios Solomos, born in Zákynthos, composed what became the Greek national anthem on Corfu. The Ionians maintained a deep-seated affection for their homeland, emulating the resilient spirit of their esteemed predecessors.
This historical narrative highlights the Ionian Islands’ unique journey, characterized by shifts in dominion, cultural contributions, and a profound commitment to their heritage, culminating in their integration into Greece while upholding a cherished legacy of patriotism and cultural distinction.