Corfu - Writing

From the Encyclopedia Britannica, originally published 1911

CORFU (anc. and mod. Gr. Κέρκυρα or Κόρκυρα, Lat. Corcyra), an island of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, off the coast of Albania or Epirus, from which it is separated by a strait varying in breadth from less than 2 to about 15 m. The name Corfu is an Italian corruption of the Byzantine Κορυφώ, which is derived from the Greek Κορυφαί (crests). In shape it is not unlike the sickle (drepanē), to which it was compared by the ancients,—the hollow side, with the town and harbour of Corfu in the centre, being turned towards the Albanian coast. Its extreme length is about 40 m. and its greatest breadth about 20. The area is estimated at 227 sq. m., and the population in 1907 was 99,571, of whom 28,254 were in the town and suburbs of Corfu. Two high and well-defined ranges divide the island into three districts, of which the northern is mountainous, the central undulating and the southern low-lying. The most important of the two ranges is that of San Salvador, probably the ancient Istone, which stretches east and west from Cape St Angelo to Cape St Stefano, and attains its greatest elevation of 3300 ft. in the summit from which it takes its name. The second culminates in the mountain of Santi Deca, or Santa Decca, as it is called by misinterpretation of the Greek designation οἱ Ἄγιοι Δέκα, or the Ten Saints. The whole island, composed as it is of various limestone formations, presents great diversity of surface, and the prospects from the more elevated spots are magnificent.
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Charm Of Corfu, originally published 1913
A sea of brilliant, luminous blue; an atmosphere whose perfect transparency suggests some interior of pearl and alabaster; the very faintest hint of golden light in the crystal air, and cliffs of richest violet, rose-shadowed, rising against the sky, - a country in which, as Euripides pictured, one is "ever delicately tripping through the pellucid air; " an areal country, whose valleys and defiles are all aglow with pink of oleander blooms, and where the fragrance of orange-blossoms burdens the breeze. This is Corfu!
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Greece - Corfu, originally published 1899
Twenty Five years ago I had the sharp zest of the explorer. It whets one's curiosity to a feather-edge to enter a country which, so far as modern civilization is concerned, is devoid of a past; where there are no works of man except the few traces of nomadic Indian occupancy and the only history revealed is that written by the great forces of Nature. Thus it was very interesting to enter the Black Hills with Custer in 1874; to penetrate a country unmapped and unnamed; to see washed out the first thimbleful of gold ; to plant the standard of nationality and civilization on a lofty height and listen to strains of patriotic music resounding for the first time through those silent hills. We were the harbingers of a new civilization. The practical question to the enthusiastic miner was, " Where shall I stake my claim?" There is another zest, more delicate but not less keen. It is the zest of the mythologist, the archaeologist, the philologist and the student of letters whose interest in a country is heightened by its long past, the mellowed accretions of myth, tradition and language, its rich treasures of art and the resplendent glow of imaginative literature which invests it like a halo. That is the difference between the Black Hills and Greece. Greece was an illuminated palimpsest, the Black Hills a blank page.

There are two ways of entering Greece. You may sail directly to the Piraeus, the port of Athens, and come at once under the spell of Propylaea and Parthenon. That is to enter by the front door. Or you may land at Corfu, and go from one to another of the Ionian Islands. That is to go through the back lane of Homeric tradition. When I went to Greece, I determined, if possible, to enter by the portal of the Odyssey, and to leave by the portal of the Iliad. If I had lived in the Orient, I should have reversed the programme; but, living in the Occident, it was easier to read the second story first. The centre of the Odyssey is Ithaca; the centre of the Iliad is Troy. In going from one to the other, my trip included nearly all the most important isles and shrines of Greece.

Hardly less important than Ithaca in the Odyssey, and more fascinating in charm of incident and beauty of description, is the land of the Pheacians, the ancient Scheria. The island and its inhabitants are invested with a certain mythical and superhuman character, and the poet gives full rein to his imagination in describing its marvellous fertility and beauty. It is the island which tradition, rightly or wrongly, has identified with the modern Corfu. As we entered the harbor it seemed as if we were sailing into mythic waters. But the captain sails by a modern chart.
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