Corfu town has not one but two fortresses so we set about visiting both of them.
We stared with the Old Venetian Fortress set on a high piece of ground and with two towers, one to protect the town from the sea and the other from the land.
There was a line of people and a pay kiosk so I joined the queue and in the midday heat without any protection shuffled slowly forward and then handed over the €5 entrance fee and then was surprised to see that clearly printed on the ticket were the words “ENTRANCE FREE” – in bold typeface! I concluded that the entrance fee must be a recent thing and that they were using up old stock!
We decided that we needed to get our money’s worth so we wandered around the lower levels where there wasn’t a lot to see because seventy years ago the German army destroyed most of it at the end of their occupation of the island. So then we tackled the long climb to the top but it was a hot day and the children weren’t enjoying the experience so I abandoned the task about half way leaving others to carry on and returned with the girls to the café at the bottom which I thought might be a good place to stop for a while.
Actually, it turned out to be a very bad place to stop for a while and it was colossally expensive at €6 for a bottle of local beer (500ml) which was bad enough but a whopping €5.50 for a slush puppy – ice,water and a bit of colouring!
After that I wasn’t sorry to leave the Old Fortress, cross the canal moat and head once more to the centre of the town where we passed a memorial to the two thousand Jews of Corfu who were deported from the island during the Nazi occupation.
On 8th June 1944 they were told to present themselves the next morning at the old Fort. When they heard the ultimatum, some Jewish people escaped to the countryside but most did as they had been told. There, the Nazis forced them to hand over their possessions and subsequently they were led to the prison inside the Fortress. The incarceration at the jail of the castle, under harsh conditions and without rudimentary amenities, lasted for some time until finally they were transported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe.
Out of the two thousand that were forced to leave Corfu only one hundred and twenty eventually returned.
It is facts like these that can make me feel temporarily uncomfortable as we nonchalantly drift through history enjoying our holidays and our travels and then occasionally stumbling across unpleasant pieces of information that serve to remind that times were not always so good.
Back now in the cramped shopping streets and back alleys the girls did some souvenir and gift shopping and then to the other side of the town to the New Fortress.
There was a long climb to the entrance and seeing a pay kiosk I was prepared for another entrance fee but bizarrely there was no one there to collect money and a sign in the window saying free admission between nine in the morning and five in the afternoon. It didn’t explain what the arrangements were if you wanted to visit outside of these hours!
The New Fortress was built by the Venetians to compliment the older one and it was completed by the British during the Protectorate period of 1815–63. The British liked building fortresses in other people’s countries and also built some elaborate sea defences but rather like the Germans in 1944 they blew these up when they left and Corfu was handed over to the new Greek State in 1863.
It was a long hot walk but it was worth the effort for the views from the top of the battlements and from the flat roof of the old barracks and on balance (and I am not just saying this because it was free entrance) I think the New Fortress was more interesting to visit than the Old.